In times of crisis people often turn to local news sources, and Hurricane Sandy was no exception, with many finding weather updates, a sense of community and, yes, music on their radio dial, particularly from college and independent radio stations. Despite the harsh conditions and the technical challenges at hand, many of these stations continued to broadcast throughout the storm.
Multiple stations stayed on the air and online, but not all were so fortunate. William Patterson’s WP 88.7 reportedly went off air due to power outages in the area, and independent free-form station WFMU lost power in both of its FM transmitters on Monday night and eventually went dark online as well.
WFMU Studios & Signals Still Dead, WFMU Cut Off By Water on All Sides but Station Itself is Dry (& Dark). Chat: http://t.co/prnzE7kJ
— WFMU (@WFMU) October 30, 2012
However, many stations managed to weather the storm. Princeton’s WPRB, New York University’s WNYU and Seton Hall’s WSOU all remained broadcasting throughout the evening, and according to a post on Radio Survivor, students at Haverford college were inspired by the storm to relaunch their station online, which you can find here.
The stations that remained on air did their best to hunker down in preparation for the storm, but like many of us, they found that there’s only so much you can do to prepare for a storm of such magnitude.
“In terms of technical precautions, there’s really not all that much to speak of,” WPRB’s development director James Corran wrote via e-mail. “We made sure that there was a flashlight and batteries in the station in the event of a power cut, and appropriate personnel knew how to restart our webstream in case it went offline.”
New York University’s WNYU, which has its studios located within a building powered by NYU’s Co-Generation facility, was able to continue broadcasting despite most of lower Manhattan being plunged into darkness. “I was concerned about our transmitter, which is located in the Bronx, and our downtown booster,” wrote WNYU programming director Anna Duensing via e-mail. “But those were elements that would ultimately be out of our control once the storm set in. Despite expected jitters, things remained fairly calm.”
— WNYU 89.1 FM (@WNYU) October 29, 2012
Duensing also reported a clear uptick in listeners and community involvement. “I would say we’ve definitely had more listeners, simply for lack of power or internet, who are tuning in the ‘old school’ way on their actual radios,” she said. “Folks [have been] calling in curious about things like the Halloween Parade, folks in general calling to chat… I personally have weathered this whole thing with an attitude that can only be described as Lieutenant Dan-esque.”
At the same time, these stations still faced staffing and personnel shifts throughout the week, with many DJs unavailable to fill in their slots because of safety and availability issues. For the stations that did remain broadcasting, this often meant pulling long hours in the studio, extending certain shows and rearranging schedules.
Perhaps one of the best stories of college radio stations weathering the storm came from Seton Hall University’s WSOU, which broadcasts out of South Orange, NJ. Facing severe weather conditions outside, the essential staff stayed at the station overnight on Monday.
We're officially locked in the station until the storm is over. We'll be giving you updates on Sandy starting tomorrow morning. Stay safe!
— WSOU 89.5 FM (@WSOU) October 29, 2012
“We had 13 people stay at the station overnight starting Sunday and into this morning,” said WSOU station manager Omar Ahmad via e-mail. “I had left yesterday as my house took some damage and I needed to get home, but I will most likely be staying at the station for the next few days.”
That level of commitment was common at many stations, with the host of WNYU’s Plastic Tales From The Marshmallow Dimension driving in to host his show then getting stranded for the night at the station.
While these stations have been providing news updates about school closings and transportation, they’ve also kept playing the type of eclectic, free-form content that people expect from college radio. “I’m about to go on air right now, and I’ll definitely be a bit more freewheeling with the tunes I play,” said Duensing. “Possibly playing more storm and rain related songs.”