Written by: Tom Rieland
Date: November 2, 2012

An interview today with the head of the New York State Broadcasters Association in Radio World points once again to the critical importance of local broadcasters – radio and television – during a crisis like Hurricane Sandy.

David Donovan said a broadcast engineer in New York noted that “essentially, the only communications that seemed to be working in Lower Manhattan were off-air radio and television. Everything else was out. Your cellphones were out. Your cable was out. Your power was out. A lot of your land line phones were out.”

It was the local New York broadcasters that served the vital function of connecting public officials to the community. They were, as Donovan put it, “first informers.”

“I don’t think people realize what a phenomenal job the broadcast industry did here. Talk about the proverbial candle in the window. They were the only thing working in Lower Manhattan.”

Local broadcasting is far more robust and redundant than people realize with generator backups and other strategies to keep the information flowing. During the New York crisis, AM stations that went off the air shifted news content to FM stations and some radio stations broadcast their audio on local  TV stations.  This is important, life-saving information being provided to those most in need.  In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the FCC reports 25 percent of cell phone towers in the 10 states impacted by the storm were knocked out of commission. It brings into question how reliable cell phones and the Internet are in providing emergency information during such a major catastrophe.