Monday, September 21, 2015

Rural radio station becomes key source of comfort, information during Northern California wildfire

A rural radio station in Northern California has become the lifeline for local residents seeking information during the devastating wildfires that have ravaged the area, Laura Nelson reports for the Los Angeles Times. Officials at KPFZ 88.1 in Lakeport had planned "to broadcast the usual rock and reggae—maybe some Bob Marley and Deep Purple—out over the area's chaparral-covered hills and low-lying mountains, throwing in some free legal advice." (Wikipedia map: Lake County, California)

Instead, "volunteers began taking on-air calls from people wanting to know what was going on in what would, within days, become a 110-square-mile zone of fear and confusion," Nelson writes. "A week later, the phone is still ringing. Hour after hour, callers—sometimes fighting back panic—have asked for information about missing friends or offered beds, food and clothes for evacuees."

"Victims of natural disasters often turn to Twitter and Facebook to get information and check in with loved ones," Nelson writes. "But many of Lake County's poor and elderly residents don't have Internet access, and evacuees fled without laptops or smartphones. There is, though, one thing almost everyone has: a car radio. It didn't take elected officials and state safety workers long to realize that going on 88.1 FM was the best and perhaps only way to reach many Lake County residents."

"Founded in 1995 as a low-frequency pirate station, KPFZ cut its teeth fighting a proposed prison in Lake County," Nelson writes. "Since then, it has found legal spots on the FM dial and the Internet, along with a small but loyal audience in the towns along Clear Lake's 100 miles of shoreline. The station typically divides its programming evenly between music and public affairs programs, including 'I'm Not a Lawyer But I Play One on the Radio' and 'Alternate Current' (subtitle: No Tea Party Allowed). The hosts are politically plucky, relaying what goes on at Board of Supervisors meetings, sometimes accusing officials of failing to support the county's poor, elderly and Native American residents."

"But any small-town sniping was put on hold as walls of fire roared through one community after another, charring homes and cars and putting traditional means of communication out of commission," Nelson writes.

No comments: