Thursday, November 3, 2011
WHMP promises " a more robust response" from the station in future emergencies.
"You want a story that no one else is going to do?" said the executive secretary for a local mayor. "WHMP, that's your story. Here, we've always been taught to keep extra batteries in our radio. Why bother, if there's nothing on except garden shows? If someone had given me the key to the station I would have gone there and opened up the phone lines and listened to people and tell them what I knew."
It was Thursday morning and many people in her town were still without power. A woman had just left her office after complaining about everything she had been through since Saturday's storm. And there was nothing that city hall could do except lend a sympathetic ear and tell people to call the electric company and to keep calling them. A whole group of people had evidently come to her office earlier, really angry.
"At least," she sighed, "This woman was polite."
The first twenty-four hours after the lights went out was hard on almost everyone. In our house, we were totally out of the communications loop with no TV, no cable, no land phone, no cell phone, no internet, no nothing. My wife had a small battery-powered radio and tuned in WHMP and all there was a garden show about wisteria and dahlias and news that Christmas day wasn't too late to plant your bulbs. People have told me that other area stations were also "on automatic" with canned coverage. She finally found some real storm news on WTIC in Hartford, and bulletins on such subjects as to keep food in refrigerators and freezers from spoiling and the extreme hazards of using charcoal or propane heaters to stay warm.
We talked to the new general manager at WHMP and "The River," David Musante. He's the son of the former mayor, and has only been on the job for a couple of weeks. He said I wasn't the first call he had gotten complaining about the station's' storm coverage. He said that much of the staff at the station were newly hired, and the storm caught the station off guard. They had just hired new local people like Bob Flaherty and Denise Vozella just so they could beef up their local programming. He said that when the power came back on, they went on with their regular programming, but cut fresh news breaks and updated them hourly and on Sunday afternoon they played a message from acting mayor Narkewicz.
"Rest assured," he said, "in the event of another public emergency our response and coverage will be more robust and in line with the gravity of the situation." In the near future he plans to meet with elected officials and fire and police officials to hash out an emergency protocol that would give local governments the ability to get emergency information on the air right away.