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Broadcasters Inform Citizens During Weather Emergencies

The tornadoes that ravaged south central parts of the United States this week knocked out cell phone service and terrestrial Internet access, but as far as I have been able to tell, major TV and radio stations in the affected areas stayed on the air, providing vital information to their communities.

CNN describes the situation well in its article Radio stations chug along 24/7 in tornado-devastated Joplin. "For the first 24 hours, there was no electricity. Both cell phones and land lines were out, as was Internet service. All that people in Joplin had were battery-powered transistors. The tornado missed the station building by a few blocks. So Zimmer Programming Manager Chad Elliot's staff cranked up the generators and turned off the music. They even canceled the commercials. All they did was provide vital information to people who had lost everything."

TV stations in the Joplin area remained on the air as well, providing news and information. NBC Nightly News Anchor Brian Williams stopped by KOAM-TV when he was in Joplin covering the aftermath of the tornado. Williams got his start in television at KOAM-TV in the early 1980's.

Other reports from Joplin indicated there were problems coordinating news crews and getting phone reports from the field due to cell phone outages. The Joplin tornadoes emphasize a point I've made in previous RF Report articles--stations need to make sure their operations do not depend on cell phones and the Internet, as in a disaster neither may be available.

Many TV and radio stations with news operations have remote pickup systems operating in the 161 MHz, 450-451 MHz and 455-456 MHz bands for communication with news crews, to receive live reports from the field for broadcast and to communicate with talent during live interviews. While cell phones now handle much of that work, this might be a good time to make sure those old remote pickup and two-way radio systems are still working.

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.