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A familiar voice in the storm: Wilmington radio stations prep for 24/7 Dorian coverage

Wilmington radio prepared to broadcast throughout hurricane

Sunrise Communications in Wilmington is prepared to broadcast continuously on all their stations as Hurricane Dorian arrives
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Sunrise Communications in Wilmington is prepared to broadcast continuously on all their stations as Hurricane Dorian arrives

When the red light goes on a little after 6 a.m. Thursday, and either Randy Slack or Stanley B start talking, Sunrise Broadcasting’s six Wilmington-based stations will be all Hurricane Dorian, all the time, for at least the next 37 hours.

During and after Hurricane Florence, the stations stayed on the air for about six days, even as much of Wilmington and Southeastern North Carolina were without power. People were unable to watch TV or check websites as cell phone batteries dwindled. From Sunrise Broadcasting’s North Kerr Avenue studios, hosts provided updates about the storm’s path, road closures and available resources. People called in to ask their own questions.

“You’re trapped at home, you’re by yourself, the power is out, you don’t know what’s going on around you ... you just hear the wind blowing,” said Eric White, Sunny 103.7’s programming manager and afternoon host.

“When you hear familiar voices on the radio and you hear other callers talking about what they’re going through, then you don’t feel so alone anymore.”

With Dorian drawing near, the stations are preparing for at least 37 consecutive hours on the air. The radio show personalities figured out where to sleep, and engineers made sure generators both at the studio and at transmitters are topped off.

New Hanover County orders mandatory evacuation of beach communities on Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Radio stations with hurricane reports

Wind gusts up to 100 mph and potential storm surges are in effect Thursday and Friday in the area. From 6 a.m. Thursday to 7 p.m. Friday, these stations are foregoing music to pick up the same hurricane-focused feed: Jammin 99.9 (WKXB-FM), Sunny 103.7 (WILT-FM), Z1075 (WAZO-FM), 98.7 Coastal Carolina’s Modern Rock (WRMR-FM), ESPN Wilmington (WMFD-AM) and 95.9 The Breeze (WKXB).

“If we have to go later than that, we’ll go later than that. .... We want to stay on to field more calls and as far as any flooding if anybody needs anything,” said Laura Lee, Modern Rock 98.7’s program director.

During Hurricane Florence, many of the stations’ staff members hunkered down at their headquarters, going home to sleep and shower when they could.

Upon returning to the station after one such break, Slack said, “You could tell from people’s faces who had been here for a while. ... Like you’ve been at a bachelor party for four days.”

Jason “Foz” Fosdick, Z1075’s morning host, said the callers were a crucial part of the broadcast, helping fellow listeners by crowd-sourcing solutions to their needs.

“It was amazing because it made it real. ... We were in 250 homes in one night getting kind of the temperature of what everybody was doing,” Fosdick said.

For instance, Fosdick recalled one caller saying she was diabetic and in need of a route to a hospital because she had run out of insulin. Callers to the station soon found the one route she could take.

On a lighter note, Slack recalled someone who was craving Chinese food. By the end of that particular show, he said, someone had called with the location of an open restaurant.

“Sometimes that’s what you’re dealing with, too,” Slack said, “is people who just want some sesame chicken.”

Ready for hurricane

Sunrise radio personalities said members of the community appreciated their Florence programming and expect the same during Dorian.

“I heard from one person that said they went into their car to listen just to hear another voice because they felt all alone,” said Suzanne Jalot, Sunny 103.7’s morning host. “And they listened to the radio just so they could feel a part of something else, like something else was out there.”

Like many people throughout Wilmington on Wednesday, Jalot and her fellow hosts were bracing for Dorian, but not rattled by its threat.

“I’ve been through a lot of hurricanes and Florence scared me,” Jalot said. “You want to take it seriously, but I’m not terrified like I was last year.”

This story was produced with financial support from Report for America/GroundTruth Project, the North Carolina Community Foundation and the North Carolina Local News Lab Fund. The News & Observer maintains full editorial control of the work.

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