Nashville Stations Tackle Tornado

The Nashville stations are scrambling to cover the tornado that tore through the city early Tuesday. It is all hands on deck today, and tomorrow, and thereafter, as local reporters keep Nashville viewers up to date.

The National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for Nashville around 12:15 a.m. March 3. The stations reported 22 fatalities as of midday March 3.

WTVF, for its part, had two meteorologists, Bree Smith and Henry Rothenberg, in the building as the tornado approached. “We felt very prepared to let people know that danger was approaching,” said Lyn Plantinga, WTVF VP and general manager.

Part of Scripps, WTVF’s neighborhood was “severely hit,” said Plantinga. The station, which goes by NewsChannel 5, lost power, relying on a generator and backup system to stay on the air. “It worked exactly as it was supposed to,” said Plantinga. “It’s an investment I’m glad we made.”

WTVF’s helicopter is out of commission following tornado-related hangar damage at Nashville’s John C. Tune Airport, but Plantinga said some aviation friends of the station provided a chopper the station could deploy. “I’m not optimistic about what we’ll find under the rubble,” she said.

Plantinga has been at the station for 30 years, and has been the GM for the last five. She’s been through disasters before. She mentioned a direct tornado hit to the station in 1998, when she was a news manager, and a massive flood in 2010.

Around 150 people work at WTVF. Staffers are “in shock,” said Plantinga, but are plugging along. They’ve gone through injuries and property damage in the last 24 hours, but stay at it. “We’re deeply affected by what has happened in the community but we have a job to do,” said Plantinga. “We have a very experienced team of people, and this is a time that the experience has a direct payoff.”

Other stations in market No. 28 include Nexstar’s ABC affiliate WKRN and Meredith’s NBC outlet WSMV. WKRN’s website said the tornado hit downtown around 1 a.m., and winds reached around 160-165 mph. WSMV has Nashville Mayor John Cooper saying, “Last night was a reminder about how fragile life is.”

Sinclair holds Fox affiliate WZTV, which reminds users that Tennessee is one of the 14 states involved in Super Tuesday primaries.

Station staffers will be scrambling for the foreseeable future, but Plantinga said they have to head home to regroup. “I know from my own experience, you have to have staff ready today, and you also need to have staff ready for tonight, and tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day,” she said.

Sister Scripps stations are sharing staffers. “We really don’t even need to ask,” said Plantinga.

The mission is clear for Nashville reporters over the next several days. “We’re running on shock and adrenaline,” said Plantinga. “It’s very difficult because we’re reporting on our friends and neighbors.”

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.