Bill said it was like being kicked in the stomach. "I felt like I didn't have any place to go back to, but all I could do was suck it up and keep going because a lot of people were a lot worse off than me."
Our company is the proud owner of WWUS, "US 1" on your radio dial, and Bill and the rest of our staff sucked it up for the next nine days until electricity was restored and residents returned to what was left of their homes. Ours was the only station on the air in the Keys during that time because we were the only one with emergency generators.
We were the lifeline between people and whatever help was available. "It was absolutely essential," said Richard Roth, Monroe County, Fla., sheriff. "We wound up using that as our main source for supplying information," he told The New York Times. When our station ran out of propane and was forced off the air, the sheriff found the propane guy and had him make a quick delivery so we could get back in business.
It's a great story, and a great radio story. I've loved radio ever since the days I used to finagle ad clubs around the country into inviting me to make a speech in exchange for their getting me a gig as all-night DJ on a local station. I brought my own 45 rpm records of vintage rock 'n' roll and my goal was to help lonely women get through the night. I took my 45s and this noble cause to Billings, Mont., Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Middleton, N.Y., before going back to my day job on a fulltime basis.
Until last year. My friend Mark Vittert turned 50 in 1998, and my wife Merrilee and I wanted to give him a surprise fitting such a landmark occasion. Mark and his family were vacationing on the Keys at the time of his big event, and one morning Merrilee and I showed up and told Mark to get in the car. We said we were headed toward Key West and his surprise was somewhere along the way.
When we got to our radio station in Big Pine Key, I said that as long as we were there we might as well say hello and take a look around. We were greeted by Bob Soos, our general manager, who had a worried look on his face. Bob said his noon- until-2 DJ hadn't shown up and he didn't know what he was going to do. Then he looked at Mark, and said, "Have you by any chance had any radio experience? Would you consider going on for our guy?"
Then it dawned on Mark what the surprise was. With Bob at the controls, Mark and I took over the WWUS airwaves for the next two hours, introducing Mark's favorite golden oldies and giving the listeners the latest weather (including the "wind chill" index, which we thought was hilarious).
Mark's wife Carol had arranged for his buddies in St. Louis and elsewhere to call in and congratulate him on the big 5-0, and suggest what new career he should take up in his twilight years.
Not until Hurricane Georges was our switchboard as jammed with callers. But during the storm they were frightened; they wanted information; they wanted to tell us what they were seeing.
For more than a week, WWUS aired no commercials and was almost non-stop talk. Bob Soos, Bill Becker, Station Manager Gene Michaels and Account Exec Bonnie Burnett stayed on the air giving and exchanging information and encouragement. Flood water poured into the studio, damaging equipment; our satellite dish blew away; and our tower was in danger of toppling onto the station.
It's a very big deal for our station and our company that the Radio-Television News Directors Association just announced that WWUS was the recipient of an Edward R. Murrow Award for its coverage of the hurricane. We're proud of the award and proud of all our people at WWUS.
I am especially glad to report Bill Becker's roof didn't blow off after all. Shingles and tar paper were gone, but the wood roof remained intact and his