Bigger Was Better in Katrina, Suggest Media Execs

It was Big Media companies' interconnectedness, vast resources and creative partnerships (the latter may have been called collusion in other circumstances) that helped provide vital local information during Hurricane Katrina's strike and aftermath, several broadcasters told the FCC Thursday.

Dick Lewis, regional VP of Clear Channel, fought back tears as he talked of the efforts of his staffers, and competitors like Entercom, as they teamed to continue to provide information, including sharing programing and facilities. He pointed out that his company was able to continue to deliver critical local information to New Orleans via satellite from other Clear Channel stations.

Lewis also praised the FCC for helping in that effort.

He talked of sending a truck on a 100-mile trip to a depot for fuel to run their generators. When one of those trips was threatened by looters, he put in a call to the FCC, which not only arranged for FEMA to provide armed guards, but offered access to a closer fuel depot that cut the round-trip to 40 miles.

At one point, he said, they were down to an hour and a half of fuel left, he said, so cutting that travel time was crucial.
The FCC returned the compliment, universally praising broadcast, cable, wireless and other industries for their efforts in the face of (and often in spite of) their own personal loss.

Lewis also praised engineers "who climb the towers, swing the lines, and wade the swamps so that we could continue to provide local programming."

Diane Newman, operations manager of Entercom's WWL-AM, put a fine point on the consolidation knock, saying that the company's compassion was overwhelming, and its resources extensive, including RVs, reporters, engineers, housing, cash, vehicles, and advice. She said the station could not have provided its lifeline, "without the family called Entercom."

Belo exec David Duitch used the hearing to emphasize the importance of local broadcasting and of DTV, saying some of the emergency information was broadcast on 30 multicast channels in the area.

Hearst-Argyle VP for News Fred Young also used the occasion to talk digital. He said he was concerned that "the role we play may not be fully understood by those who ask for premature return of analog spectrum to the government," saying the government needs to insure all "TVs of all viewers" receive critical information.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.