WPTV Stays on Air for 63 Hours While Hurricane Tears at Roof

Sep 13, 2004  •  Post A Comment

In the midst of delivering 63 consecutive hours of commercial-free coverage of Hurricane Frances, Scripps-owned NBC station WPTV in West Palm Beach, Fla. was being battered by 120-mph winds that ripped panels off of the perimeter of the station’s roof. Water poured into the station’s new facility, a 3-year-old, $28 million building, and when the brunt of the storm hit in the early hours of Sunday morning, Sept. 5, the station’s Doppler radar equipment was torn off its tower.

The total damage hasn’t been tallied yet, but will likely hit a few million dollars, since a radar replacement should run close to $1 million. WPTV VP and general manager Brian Lawlor said he expects the radar to be replaced within 90 days. Insurance should cover the cost, he said. The loss of the radar didn’t significantly hamper the station’s ability to cover the storm, or future weather over the next three months, since WPTV will turn to national radar as well as radar from sister Scripps station WFTS-TV in Tampa, an ABC affiliate, Mr. Lawlor said.

The two-story WPTV newsroom, located in the middle of the facility, along with edit suites, master control and the studios, were the only areas not impacted by the water. The rain damaged offices in the promotions, graphics, marketing, management and other departments. Employees immediately pitched in to help, grabbing computers and other equipment to move them out of harm’s way, Mr. Lawlor said.

“We got after it very aggressively,” Mr. Lawlor said. “Trying to cover a hurricane for 63 consecutive hours under normal circumstances is incredibly taxing. Imagine trying to maintain that same commitment under demanding challenges.” He said WPTV did not inform viewers about what was happening inside the building. After the hurricane passed, a water repair damage services firm on retainer with Scripps began a more intense cleanup, bringing blowers and water extraction equipment into the station. “We have all the water out now,” Mr. Lawlor said.

The roof has also been temporarily repaired and should stand up during Hurricane Ivan, if it hits the East coast of Florida. However, Mr. Lawlor said the station is evaluating what sort of permanent fix or change to the design the roof will need to regularly sustain category 5 storms.

Miami Stations Go Wall-to-All

Most Florida television stations went wall-to-wall with coverage of Hurricane Frances, just three weeks after being pelted with Hurricane Charley and its taxing impact on staffs.

But their hard work was rewarded with ratings that in most cases were double from normal viewership.

From sign-on to sign-off from Thursday, Sept. 2, to Friday, Sept. 3, Miami’s Viacom-owned CBS station WFOR-TV generated an 8.1 household rating/14 share, compared to a 3.5/8 for the same week the year before. Post-Newsweek-owned WPLG-TV garnered a 6.5/12 up from a 3.8/9; Sunbeam-owned Fox station WSVN-TV posted a 6.1/11, up from a 3.4/8; and NBC-owned WTVJ-TV finished with a 5.5/10 up from a 2.9/7. WFOR provided the ratings information.

WFOR went wall-to-wall with its coverage starting at 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 1, and stayed on until Sunday night, Sept. 5. The anchor teams rotated coverage in 12-hour shifts, with Robb Hanrahan and Maggie Rodriguez fronting the daylight hours and Susan Barnett and Danielle Knox keeping viewers informed overnight. Weatherman Brian Norcross, one of the journalistic heroes of 1992’s Hurricane Andrew when he was with WTVJ-TV, was on-air for 53 hours during those five days, tracking the storm and informing viewers about what to expect.

WFOR’s Joy Purdy reported from Marsh Harbor in the northern part of the Bahamas where the storm first hit. She had to beg a supply plane to fly herself and her crew out once the storm had finally passed.

Like most stations in these situations, WFOR deployed all its reporters to cover the storm, including sports, entertainment and consumer reporters. “Reporters had to hold onto signposts to keep from getting blown away,” said station spokesman Lee Zimmerman.

WSVN-TV also went wall-to-wall, from Wednesday morning through Sunday night. Reporter Derek Hayward was smacked in the forehead when his news car’s door was blown open by the wind as he was reporting from Juno Beach in the middle of the night. He continued to report, however, and did not, apparently, sustain a concussion.

NAHJ Awards Local Stations at Gala

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists is slated to hold its “19th Annual Noche de Triunfos Journalism Awards Gala” on Sept. 16. The event honors 42 journalists who will receive NAHJ awards for work that demonstrated a commitment to increasing the awareness of Latino issues and brought attention to the growing Latino community. The local station recipients include a trio of journalists at Telemundo’s KVEA-TV in Los Angeles, who win for an investigative report. They are reporters Mar%ED;a Garc%ED;a and Joel Grover and producer Matt Goldberg. In addition, Amalia Torres and Arturio Rubio at Univision’s Houston station KXLN-TV won a breaking news award.

On the Move

Chicago’s Viacom-owned CBS affiliate WBBM-TV continues to raid the competition, this time luring Randy Salerno from Tribune-owned WGN-TV. He was slated to begin anchoring WBBM’s morning news from 5-7 a.m. starting Sept. 13 and the 11 a.m. news starting Sept. 10. He worked at WGN for more than a decade, most recently helming the midday newscast.