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The Malones' Media Consumption During Sandy

I hear a lot about stations’ new iPad apps and mobile DTV and other potentially life saving media solutions during crisis, and it’s all good, valuable stuff. But with a Sandy-related power outage fresh in my memory, I have to say–boring old radio was what connected us to the rest of the planet, and helped us keep our sanity, this week.

First off, our challenges were exceedingly trivial amidst the fatalities and ruined homes and other casualties this week. We simply had no power from Monday evening until Thursday evening–again, no big deal, not even a flooded basement at our home a little north of Manhattan. The kids were bored. So were Mom and Dad. We were all sick of flipping on lifeless light switches and occupying our time with paper airplane races. Cold showers and warm whiskey…not ideal, but hardly a hardship.

The New York Times did not arrive on our walkway Tuesday morning. The paper announced its digital version was free for all, but anything digital represented a challenge for us, as we were trying to conserve our devices’ battery life. We had a laptop, an iPad and a Blackberry, but no immediate way to charge them. So we used them very sparingly.

Instead, I busted out a bright yellow Grundig radio that I bought for situations such as this around five years ago, for maybe 40 bucks. It’s got a crank on it for winding up, and a flashlight to boot. We played that thing pretty much morning until night (one thing about the house being dark at 6 p.m.–it sure is easy getting the kids to bed early). It wasn’t exactly a lifesaver, but it sure broke up the monotony, helped drown out the drone of gas generators around our neighborhood, and even gave me a little workout from working that crank.

The AM signal was weak, but FM was strong. Amidst the network (and station) news outfits’ various digital applications, it was a radio simulcast of WABC, and ABC, news that kept us informed. Since no one could offer an update on the news that was, for the moment, most relevant to us–when our power would come back–we listened to a local Westchester rock station’s musical offerings most of the time, along with traffic reports that went from easy rides to and from the city early in the week, to bridges and tunnels choked with traffic as the week wore on, and frightening scrums around gas stations.

Also proving to be fairly useful was our town’s local Daily Voice franchise, a website and daily e-newsletter that switched to all-text mode when people could not click on links, and informed us just how many of our Westchester neighbors too were without power, related school closings (our kids were out for the week), and said there was free dry ice available, compliments of Con Ed.

On Tuesday, a friend in a neighboring town was kind enough to open up their house, so my wife could bathe the kiddies, and I could work on my cover story for Monday.

On Wednesday morning, I hopped on the bike and set up shop at a local coffee shop to write my Sandy story for Monday’s issue (yes, we plan to have a regular issue out Monday), and plug in my various devices. The joint had Cablevision’s News 12 on two televisions. I really like News 12, and was psyched when we came back to Cablevision earlier this year, thanks to an outrageous offer rate, after a few years’ hiatus over at News 12-bereft FiOS. But when you’ve got News 12 on for two hours, you realize just how slender that wheel format is–I heard the same report three, four, perhaps five times while I was working. If I never again hear the anchor quip “Bee Line buses are no longer Free Line buses,” I’ll be a happy man.

Local cable news is obviously not meant to be consumed that way.

When Con Ed finally flipped our power back on late Thursday afternoon (We were lucky…a block away, they remain dark, with reports of restoration as far off as November 11. The drone of the gas generators continues.), I folded my little yellow one-armed bandit’s crank back into its slot, slipped the unit into its carry case, and returned it to the nail the case hangs from, heading down to the basement, poised for emergency.

After I’d bid good night to the kiddies, I crept downstairs to our family room, where my wife was reading–a pastime from another era that we’d picked up at some point this week. The Missus said she was done with television.

Then she remembered we had a few 30 Rocks on the DVR we hadn’t seen, and flipped the slumbering box to life.

[For the moment, I can’t be reached out, though works fine.]