Saturday, July 4, 2009

"Fort Fisher" aka "The Bunker" aka "Old School Style"

I'm a day late and a dollar short in posting about our amazing experience at Fort Fisher at Queen Anne hill, and feel like this is "old news." I'm fighting the news reporter inside me who would scoff at posting a story a day late, and I'm posting it anyway, because I'm sure many people are curious about my unforgettable experience in the transmitter building.

A fire overnight in an electrical vault fried a bunch of servers in Fisher Plaza, and cut the power supply for a myriad of radio and television stations. KOMO Newsradio and KOMO TV had to get creative to broadcast. For radio, that meant holing up in a World War Two style bunker building, where the anchors used a tiny board reminiscence of my college days, hand-held mics, and paper copy. When I got there KOMO's Charlie Harger and Nancy Barrick were broadcasting to thousands of people, like this:

I had a sudden urge to to find some carts, use a boom box sized marantz, or even start cutting tape. I felt underdressed in jeans and a tank-top as I was transported back to 1957. I should be wearing pumps and a hat, and holding a tumbler of Jack Daniels with clinking ice cubes. Never mind, a woman wouldn't have been a journalist in 1957. But KOMO reporter Jon Repp would have, as he squats elegantly near his laptop. Personally, I think he needs a fedora and a Cuban cigar to finish the look.

My role as a news reporter was quickly changed, as I became the person responsible for coordinating and putting audio on the air. I downloaded ABC updates and reporter wraps on one computer, and tranferred them to another. I spent my entire day several inches from the floor, on a beat-up, dirty footstool. Welcome to the "glamorous job" of being in "the media"!

We worked tirelessly to be on the air. Some would say, "why?" Why not just put the best of Schram and Carlson and forget about it? Star 101.5, the top rated radio station in Seattle, was so lucky. The entire radio broadcast was done by Ipod, and an electrical box sitting on the floor.
I think as journalists, we feel an ownership over the content of KOMO Newsradio. We know our mission is to inform and entertain the thousands of people who are listening to us. So we busted our butts to bring news, traffic, sports and weather, even though the anchors were working without computers. Below is KOMO anchor Herb Weisbaum with the 5pm rundown, which is scrawled on a wrinkled piece of paper.

I can't begin to explain how fun this experience was, and how it brought the team together. We are all professionals, and made do with what we had at hand. It also reminded us that great radio isn't about the fancy electronics, computer programs, breaking news and the AP wire. It's about being human, and doing our best for our listeners.

(KOMO anchors Lisa Brooks and Herb Weisbaum)

Ever member of the team stepped up. KOMO's Travis Mayfield did reports live in the field all day long, editor Jeremy Grater scheduled live interviews on a black phone from the 1980's, Mark Aucutt hand wrote the sports reports, Art Sanders came in hours early to hand-write leads on crinkled, lined paper.

Journalists are unique in a way that we are able to improvise. We laughed, chatted and had a great time. None of us felt overly stressed (most of the time) or got on each other's nerves. I can't begin to describe how much fun I had doing "old school radio" at the Bunker on Queen Anne.

Thanks everyone, for being so great. I'm so proud to be part of this team, wherever the broadcast takes us.


Anonymous said...

You should take some notes on how you put this whole thing together.

If (when) we have a big earthquake here in Seattle, I'm not so sure that everything is going to work.

Are the towers hardened to withstand an eartquake?
How about the equipment in the racks at the "Forth Fisher"?
What about the relay sites that feed the south end?

I'm hoping that maybe all the TV and radio stations in the area can work together for a disaster plan. No need to reveal "the inner workings" but at least all have a DR plan.

Another thing to not, isn't KOMO the feed for Emergency Alerts? What would have happened if an Emergency Alert was required? Whos's the backup? Is KOMO the provider for both radio and TV Emergency Alerts?

Paula said...

Very interesting and well written. You should get an AP award for reporting this (or at least props from the boss)! Good job to all at KOMO for rising to the occasion and getting to the core of the spirit of reporting.

Lisa said...

"Anonymous" makes some good points. We need to have a plan for an earthquake or whatever. And I think we learned a lot. Maybe hardwire an emergency studio with this stuff at Fort Fisher,so there's no need to scramble.

KIRO by the way, is the EAS origin station on radio. Don't know about TV.

But I'm still smiling because we had FUN!!!

abigail said...

Sounds like it was an adeventure!

Sue said...

Aww, that looked fun! I feel like I missed everything, by oversleeping and not coming to work that day! Thanks for your great post, khanes!

Travis said...

KH, you were amazing! thanks for all the details inside Ft Fisher.. since I was out in the field all day.

Brian said...

Oh man, I missed all the fun again! You guys did a great job. Let's have another mishap soon so I can play too. Kidding.

Very well written, KH! :-)