When Hurricane Harvey's intensity became clear, employees at 93Q in Houston reserved hotel rooms across the street from the station. They were going to be very busy.
The on-air talent slept in the Cox-owned radio station for days, said Bill Tatar, digital content manager at Cox Media Group Houston. When they weren't on-air, they did Facebook Live hits.
93Q is not normally an all-news station. But when emergencies hit, local radio stations can convey vital information: which streets are open, what shelters are taking people in and where communities can rally once the water begins to recede.
"Radio has been all over Harvey doing what radio does; immediately helping with updated information," said Valerie Geller, a radio consultant. "Most stations dropped the format and went 'all Harvey,' taking calls, and across the country, stations are sending help and raising money."
The three Cox stations in Houston gathered food for fire stations around the city today. Next week, the stations will launch a three-day drive to restock the Houston Food Bank that has been a lifeline during this emergency.
Radio stations in the path of the storm also simulcast local TV coverage as Harvey swept inland. John Lopez, an announcer at KILT Sportradio 610, borrowed a fishing boat and started his own one-man rescue operation. He used Twitter to tell followers he was out and available to help.
Tired, wet, but satisfied. Got 18-20 people, two dogs and three horses. Not sure how much it helped, but glad I was there. Inspiring. pic.twitter.com/1mqXFXJJmF
— John P. Lopez (@LopezOnSports) August 29, 2017
Regardless of market size, the staffs of Texas radio stations jumped into action, said Michael Schneider, the Vice President, Legislative and Regulatory Affairs of the Texas Association of Broadcasters. KLUX in Corpus Christi, a Catholic Church-centered radio station, was doing live programming with emergency information — the only local FM that had information live when the Hurricane hit. In Liberty, Texas, KSHN went wall-to-wall with news and information, Schneider said. It has a staff of 10, and five stayed at the station for four days.
KOGT, a radio station in Orange, Texas is off the air, Schneider said.
"The station is flooded out, the owner and many members of the staff have lost their homes," he said. "But they are still pumping out information by social media and by the station website."
One tricky question for non-news format radio stations is when to go back to playing music and dip in and out of hurricane coverage. The Cox stations started mixing music into their programming midweek.
"You have to play the part people want," Tatar said. "We have to give the sense of normalcy when the emergency has passed. Music does that."
"This morning it was great to hear traffic reporting back on the radio," Tatar continued. "It means Houston is back."