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How One New Jersey Station Battled Hurricane Sandy


Denis Brown (pictured here with morning man Mark Hunter) is News Director (among other things) at Coastal Broadcasting's WCZT-FM in Rio Grande New Jersey, which is located in Middle Township just off the Garden State Parkway. WCZT is another shining example of what radio does for its local communities when a killer storm like Hurricane Sandy pays a visit. Brown has been preparing for a monster like Sandy ever since Irene hit the area last year. Brown tells Radio Ink how bad the storm was, how his team prepared and what listeners are saying about WCZT's coverage.

Brown says he had lunch with local officials at the beginning of 2012 because he believed his station could do more with its hurricane/storm coverage. "I suggested allowing someone from the station to be placed inside of the headquarters for emergency management so that we could get the updates on the air as soon as they get them. He agreed and for the first time ever in our region, we had a reporter stationed inside on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. Also, the station's owner, Bob Maschio, invested in generators at both our tower site and at the physical studios, so in the event of the power going out, we could remain on the air and continue the public service that a radio station should provide in the event of a storm such as this. We learned from one of the big blizzards a few years ago the importance of having a back up system and now we can remain on the air, while other stations were off."

WCZT, which is a Top-40 music station went wall-to-wall storm coverage according to Brown. "We went live on Saturday morning with interviews with local mayors and state lawmakers, and followed it up by carrying a live press conference by Gov. Chris Christie out of North Wildwood. We continued it with 16 hours of live coverage beginning at 6 a.m. on Sunday and Monday that I anchored both days along with our Morning Show host Mark Hunter on Monday. Both of us covered the storm on Tuesday through 5 p.m. when many of the last updates had come out for the day. Phil Pizzi was our reporter on scene at the OEM office, who also hosts the morning show and is a news anchor."

Brown says listeners were kept informed in a number of ways. "There is the old fashioned way of those listening on the radio. But we can do so much more. We flooded our facebook page with information and pictures throughout the days of the storm. Any key piece of information was posted to our

facebook page. Bigger updates were on our main website, but people interact with facebook. They shared photos and videos with us and

we with them. We also provided text alerts. We do breaking news texts throughout the year but ramp it up significantly during the storm. Facebook and texting is huge because many of our listeners evacuated. But they were able to know what was going on at the shore via these two means. We also had a number of vacationers and second home owners check in on facebook to share their well wishes for a place they love to come in the summer."

Brown emphasized how important a role social media plays in the lives of consumers these days. "Social media was huge. We started the storm with roughly 1,700 likes and ended the storm just shy on 3,000. All within three or four days. People were responding to our coverage by sharing photos and commenting on their experiences during the storm. It created great content online and kept many of those who were far away connected to the events at the Jersey Shore. Especially with a storm whose eye passed right over Cape May County and brought so much flooding with it...people were dying to know how their home or business held up. We had so many people requesting if anyone had a photo of specific street or home."

At the end of all the hard work, there's a certain satisfaction with that live and local radio family. "I was really touched by the way people responded to our stations during the storm. So many people said thank you on facebook and calling. One woman who was up in Mount Holly during the storm who lived in Wildwood said she wanted to do something for us. They know we were locked in the station and sleeping here for multiple days. I tried to let them know that we were one of them. I was a person who evacuated my home. I didn't know if it flooded. I was sleeping on an air mattress and posted the photo online before I went to bed...only to find out it had a slow leak and I was on the flood by 2:30 a.m. and on facebook updating the station site. Also, I was eating oreos and drinking soda at 9:30 a.m. Stupid stuff, but people respond because they know we are riding it out with them and bring a great public service. Here are a few of the posts we received on facebook after the storm."

Reach out to Denis HERE
Visit the station Facebook HERE

(1/3/2013 5:24:13 AM)
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- NY
(11/9/2012 10:27:41 AM)
A point I'd like to bring up:
While I appreciate the "added value" of social media and station webpages, I think many times broadcasters forget when the power is out the listener does not have internet/cell access and are limited to battery powered portable radio.

Stations need to understand when a major event like this occurs the primary focus of ALL information delivery should be ON THE AIR while letting the listener know the info is on the station FB page or Home page.

- Jay Walker

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