Alana Casanova-Burgess is a native New Yorker whose childhood was split between Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Samana peninsula in the Dominican Republic. She went (slightly) north to study at SUNY-Binghamton and stayed put to earn an M.A. from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and work as a freelance reporter. She is living the intern-turned-staff dream since starting as a graduate school intern with the show in 2010.
Radio: The Port In The Storm
Wednesday, November 07, 2012 - 03:00 PM
When Travis Helwig and his girlfriend lost power in the West Village during Sandy, Twitter and Facebook went dark, too. His laptop lost charge, and cell service was down. So they turned on a rechargeable radio and listened by candlelight. When he went to “the Light Zone” to recharge the next day, he prioritized the radio before his phone.
“I felt (quite literally) in the dark about what was going on, and there was no other way to learn how long I'd be without power or if the storm was getting better or worse,” Travis told me yesterday in an email. I reached out to him after catching his post on The Brian Lehrer Show's Facebook wall asking Brian to keep “doing great work” by covering the storm instead of turning more attention to the election.
I’m a producer for WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show, so the post put a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye. I wasn’t just proud of the show – I was proud of radio. At a time when the importance of an event is measured by the number and frequency of tweets, one of the simplest and most humble forms of media stayed on line to serve journalism’s most important functions.
“There's a reason why experts recommend that every disaster kit includes a battery operated or crank powered radio,” says Irwin Redlener. He’s the director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University. “When all else fails, radio will be there.”
Travis’ note wasn’t the only kind message radio has received this week.
Crain’s called radio “the original wireless network” after Sandy, and The Daily News said that it was a “port in the storm” for people who lost all other contact. Micah Sifry, co-founder of TechPresident.com, visited the damage on the south shore of Long Island and wrote that “The one sure connection that people in the stricken zone have, however, is radio.”
I can’t speak for my colleagues, but I felt that people were listening a little more closely this week – and that our minutes were a little more precious. When we had Elmo on the show to reassure kids about the storm, it felt like every kid in the tri-state area thought he was talking to them (except that he was really talking to the Brian Lehrer Show’s youngest-ever caller, a 2-year-old named Tallulah).
In the control room, where we were screening calls, listeners without electricity but with phone lines filled the board to report on the storm and damage but also to ask questions. Did we know of any open pharmacies, or how to get more dry ice? Is it true that there was an oil spill near Staten Island? Had we heard of any reports from specific blocks in the Rockaways, or if the water was safe to drink in their town? When was power going to come back on 14th and 5th?
By Thursday, calls got so thick with frequently asked questions that we devoted nearly an hour to answering them with public officials and the newsroom created a page on the website to keep track of important information. (It’s still one of the most viewed pages on the site).
Last Tuesday, Warren Levinson of the Associated Press was reporting in the East Village when he saw a group of nearly 20 people gathered under a radio perched in a 2nd floor window. They were listening together to an address from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, as Levinson later relayed the scene to Judy Woodruff on PBS.
“It was reminiscent of a time when people would stand around waiting for word of a thing that couldn’t be immediately accessed with a mobile device,” he told me this week. It was like when corporations would put baseball score boards on their buildings so passersby could check the score.
They didn’t have television. They didn’t have internet. But they still had radio.