How a radio company covered devastating tornadoes
When 8 deadly tornadoes hit the state of Arkansas, Saga Communications was ready. Jonesboro market manager Trey Stafford told Radio Ink generators are on standby in the event of a power failure and his team is ready to do what the radio does best – educating the community. Here’s our interview with Stafford about what happened.
Radio Ink: How far are the stations from storm activity?
Trey stafford: The long quad-state tornado originated in Arkansas. The Memphis National Weather Service found the original path and damage just north of the small community of Weiner, Arkansas, which is about 20 miles southwest of Jonesboro. The tornado moved northeast within a mile of the southern city limits of Jonesboro, causing damage along the way. The tornado passed within half a mile of our KJBX transmitter site southeast of Jonesboro, heading towards Monette, Leachville and into the Missouri stand. This is all within our primary coverage area.
The second wave of storms also produced a tornado in Trumann, Arkansas, about 10 miles southeast of Jonesboro and, again, in our main coverage area.
Radio Ink: What kind of warning have you all been able to get and then communicate to the public?
Trey stafford: We talked about the severe weather forecast all day, and we were on the air with the first tornado warning at 6 p.m. when the storm started to turn in southern Jackson County. We were covered wall to wall on our six radio signals from that time until nearly 11 p.m. Friday night. There were many warnings, which probably led to the lack of loss of life in our area. We only had two deaths: one in Monette at the retirement home and one in Leachville at the Dollar General Store.
Radio Ink: Explain to the rest of the country what it is like in the affected areas?
Trey stafford: Unless you are affected by the direct path of the tornado, there is little direct effect. Life continues and power has been restored to most areas outside of Ground Zero. For those at Ground Zero, it’s a different world. The houses are devastated or badly damaged. People’s lives have come to a standstill as they figure out what their next move will be, how they’re going to get well. The patients of this retirement home have been moved everywhere and have lost all their belongings. Their families are struggling to figure out what will happen to their loved ones, where they will eventually be placed. City leaders are trying to work out their contingency plans. Honestly, these three communities have shown great leadership and the past few days have not been as chaotic as I thought.
Radio Ink: How did you cover the tornadoes the minute you knew they were going to happen?
Trey Stafford: We flip a switch and broadcast simultaneous audio to our six stations once we have a tornado warning in our immediate area. I’ve been in the weather for my 50 year career, so I’m taking the lead. We had four people in the studio. Me and Mitch Mahan on the air. Phil Jamison and Sarah Stringer provide support, screen calls, manage messaging and social media. We had at least three spars in the field and a professional storm chaser all providing active storm coverage and damage reports. As horrible as it may be, it was a beautiful illustration of how local radio is supposed to sound.
Radio Ink: How do you cover it now?
Trey Stafford: Monday morning we have special morning shows scheduled. We’ve removed all humor and cues and focused on the important information the right people need. Those who are unaffected are not afraid to hear it – it is interesting to them. We are therefore not sacrificing anything by focusing on helping regions in need. Mayors, police chiefs, claims adjusters, managers of public service companies… we hire them to disseminate the information. We sacrificed the normal programming this morning from 5am to 10am to release this stuff.
Radio Ink: How do the stations plan to help those affected by tornadoes?
Trey Stafford: During our storm surveys on Saturday, it became evident that many families had lost Christmas. Stuff they had bought, gifts on hand. Faded away. We saw the need to help Santa Claus replace what had been purchased for the children. We are therefore organizing a toy drive in collaboration with our television partner (Gray Television KAIT) and a customer of a convenience store with 60 locations. We will be collecting toys this week, and then we have partnered with churches to distribute the toys to families next week. Operation Santa Claus Help. Specials and liners were on the air at sunrise this morning. We don’t wait.
Listen to one of these promotions HERE.
Contact Trey to congratulate him and his team for doing a fabulous job keeping the community informed at [email protected]