Broadcasters and their date with Irene

By Jerry Dunklee
Board member

Prepare ahead. Respect the audience. Use social media to expand your news staff.

These are some of the lessons Connecticut broadcasters say they learned from covering tropical storm Irene.

WVIT-TV, Channel 30, went on the air at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday as the storm was moving in. They stayed on for 26 hours straight. The news staff worked 12 hours shifts. Other station employees came in to help answer phones, help with food, and support the effort.

“We have a little gym with a shower here.” said Mike St. Peter, Ch. 30’s news director. “We brought in a dozen cots. Lauren Petty, who was eight-and-a-half months pregnant, slept on a mat on the gym floor. She just had her baby. We rehearsed. We wanted to be prepared for the worst case.” Our general manager, David Doebler, had been in hurricanes before and wanted us to be ready.”

“Ray Andrewsen and I spent the night at the station,” according to Greg Little, news director of WQUN in Hamden. We stayed on continuously for 15 hours with regular updates from meteorologists Dr. Mel and Gary Lesson. We had Paul Pacelli inside and Martin Waters in the field. We thought it was important. It’s the core of what we do.”

At WTIC Radio in Hartford, Dana Whalen’s staff did storm updates the days before Irene hit and went to full live coverage at 5:00 a.m. on Sunday morning. Several staff members also slept at the station. They shared coverage, at first, with CH 61 from the emergency center set up at the state Armory in Hartford, then got their own reporter there.

“He was able to set up a broadcast quality line and we did interviews with officials there. We were also able to take calls from listeners and do utility updates.” Whalen said. WTIC’s local talk hosts handled much of the air time.

At Ch. 30 the news staff used Facebook and Twitter to communicate with viewers and to get news from viewers in various parts of the state. ”We tweeted and posted. We took e-mail questions and answered them on the air.” St. Peter said. ”We streamed coverage live online.”

Little said WQUN did a number of long interviews with local mayors trying to give listeners updates on what was happening in their towns. “We got a number of letters and e-mails thanking us for our coverage.” he said.

“We wanted to own the coverage.” WVIT’s St. Peter said. “Early on Saturday the Weather Channel had the highest ratings in the state. We dominated the evening of Saturday and Sunday.”

Many radio stations in Connecticut simulcast various TV stations’ coverage. Some stayed with syndicated programming and didn’t cover the storm.

What did St. Peter say he learned from covering Irene? He said, “I would have gone on earlier.”

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