Dave Richards for September 12th…………
--The fun continues in the Blackstone Valley this week. The 100 student-cast members from 20 countries of the Up With People troupe arrived in Cumberland from Ohio last night and are now busily preparing for their two big musical shows this Friday and Saturday night at 7pm in the Cumberland High School “Wellness Center” (please don’t call it a gymnasium). They’ll be making appearances on the radio, visiting schools, and working on community projects between rehearsals and getting to know us all better. If you’ve never seen an Up With People Show, you’ll thank me for suggesting it to you. I know this is a time-worn phrase, but I mean it quite literally…..you’ll never forget your first Up With People Show. Of course, if you have seen one before…….you probably already have your tickets. If you need more, they’re available at a lot of places, including our radio station.
--Elizabeth Featherston and her volunteers are ready for your visit this Saturday (from 10am to 4pm) to the Great Pumpkin Festival on the grounds of the North Smithfield Middle and High Schools. Too many features to name here, but I will say I’ll be broadcasting from the area of the car show in the upper parking lot near the football field. I’d love to talk to you, so please drop by, you’ll have fun, I promise. It’s just one of the long list of wonderful local community events we all enjoy this time of year.
--Great local events notwithstanding, the talk which seems to be engaging everyone’s interest is that of Hurricane Irma and her destructive trip to Florida this past weekend. The timing of my publishing deadlines prevents me from giving a post-storm perspective of any value, but I thought you might like to hear the story of a friend of mine and his desperate attempt to save the lives of his neighbors who he felt were making a big mistake.
John Smith, (yes, that’s his name) owns and operates a local radio station in the Florida Keys. He dutifully broadcast all the announcements issued by his government when the hospitals were evacuated, then the tourists, and finally the mandatory evacuation order for permanent residents. He was greatly distressed to hear some of his friends and neighbors say they would not evacuate, but would rather “ride it out as we did before”. He tried to explain to them that this storm wouldn’t be “like the ones before”. But they weren’t buying it.
To understand the next part of the story, you need to understand us broadcasters. When calamity strikes, broadcasters don’t go home, they staff their posts during emergency situations and serve their communities. They provide a valuable and efficient conduit from the government to the citizens, relaying emergency information designed to save people’s lives.
John wanted to stay and carry on the long traditions of the broadcasters before him. But John knew that the police, fire, EMTs, were all leaving town. Even if you could get a phone call through, nobody would be responding to 911. He sent his family north to be with other family members in his native Kentucky. Then he thought of a way to serve which made sense to him. A way which would align his duty to his family, himself, and his community along the same course of action.
He went on the air on Thursday morning and did the unthinkable. He announced he was shutting down his radio station on Friday at noon. He went on to say that anyone not evacuating along with him was likely not going to be alive when he came back. He begged them to reconsider. Sobering words. But he hoped they would make an impact in the minds of those he needed to persuade.
When Friday came he did as he promised. He signed off, unscrewed the transmitter from its rack, gathered a few vital computers and storage drives, and drove north to join his family.
You might say he abandoned his post and shirked his rightful responsibility. I would not. I think John’s actions displayed the greatest measure of caring for the people of his town, showing in clear actions his belief that nobody could expect to survive this size of a storm and they should follow his example. Besides, if you looked at it from a purely practical viewpoint, if all the people really did evacuate as they should, or if they died in the storm, he’d be talking on the radio to nobody anyway. Worse, if the destruction was as bad as forecast, he might not be there to help anyone at all when they returned. This was the best course of action.
As I write these words on Sunday evening, early returns have proven John to be in the right. In an email from his refuge Sunday, he said he honestly doesn’t expect to find the building which housed his radio studios and business offices in Marathon Key to be still standing when he returns, as that area got the worst-case-scenario winds and storm surge John had feared.
If his antenna is still in the air, he need only return with the equipment he removed and evacuated with, turn it all on and he’ll be in business serving his community and those who return to rebuild it. If Irma took the antenna, he will be allowed by the government to erect a make-shift antenna to get back on the air from a camper or trailer or other shelter he can tow down Route 1 to the land from which his station operated before Irma. John expects to be back on the air by the time you read this.
Hopefully, the neighbors he left behind had a change of heart and will be alive to return, too. We all hope so. John did all he could for them.
--That’s what I think. What do you think? Comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org or postal mail to Dave Richards, WOON Radio, 985 Park Avenue, Woonsocket, RI 02895-6332.
Thanks for reading!