The Carol Frey Theory of Broadcasting In Blizzards
November 25, 2014
Blizzards generally are not a surprise. They don't sneak up on you like a tornado or an earthquake or a rash 10-14 days after attending a bachelor party in Las Vegas.
On New Years 2011, Fargo was going to get nailed. This was not a surprise. They'd been calling for a snowstorm for several days. So on the morning of the 31st we got on the phone, tore up the schedule and on six hours notice, re-wrote the battle plan for that night. Every warm body was mustered to the station, they got a webcam going and when the snow hit at 7p and the city shut down, they had a big party on the air, online and on social media.
While all the other stations in town had to resort to syndicated mix shows and countdowns because they hadn't prepared, Y-94 was live, local and having a raucous party in the studio. At one point they had 63 house parties webcammed on their site, and they added photos of the DJs puckering up so you could have someone to kiss at midnight.
It was flat-out huge. When people are blizzarded in, what do they do? They sit on social media and HOPEFULLY listen to the radio.
In the 1980s, I found out what happens when you're the employee who lives closest to the station: At the slightest hint of a weather event I got a call and headed down to the Itasca Building which was in one of the more desolate parts of downtown Minneapolis, ie: we got plowed out last.
I'd call as many promo people as I could and everyone would stock backpacks with beer and frozen pizzas and somehow get down to North 1st Street. With one blizzard, I actually hitched a ride on a snowmobile in Dinkytown over by the university and this kamikaze blasted through and over drifts to drop me off in front of the building.
The shortest time we ever got snowed in was 36 hours. I think the longest was three nights, but the pattern was always the same:
We manned the phones and took closings from businesses and schools who'd been sent codewords that Fall. It's entirely possible that we also monitored 'CCO and stole closings from them.
We called cab companies and bribed them with swag to bump our DJs to the top of the priority list for pickups, along with medical emergencies and first-responders who needed to get to work. Usually they could get our people as close as Washington Avenue and they'd trek three blocks through a frozen wasteland of burned out and crumbling warehouses to get to the station.
Whatever poor sap was on the air when the city shut down would pull 10-hour shifts and then go and sleep for a few hours on the couch while I played the Dees countdown, sometimes twice.
A half dozen 20-somethings in a radio station cut off from the world and with access to the walk-in freezer at the rib joint downstairs quickly turned into a party. Which, if you've ever been snowed in, there really isn't much else to do BUT party. We gave out vital info, aired TONS of callers with their own snow stories, and played music. All of which you would expect from the #1 music station in a market.
When we were eventually rescued and office staff started shuffling in, it was almost a let-down because it had been fun, we'd done great radio and we'd lived up to our license and provided a necessary service to the community with weather and closings.
For the record, during ratings with snow events, we pulled stoopid numbers.
So I reconnected with a friend who somehow survived going K-12 with me. Carol Frey. And she tells me about sharing a place in Uptown in 1987 with some other women and listening to me and the promo people, keeping WLOL on the air during a particularly brutal winter storm.
She wanted to know how we had a key to Raleighs and if we have to pay them back for the food we ate. Who was the intern who disappeared down to the prize closet with Paul the DJ? Carol pretty much summed it up with, "You guys were having the biggest party in Minnesota that night and it was killing us that we couldn't be there. Did you know that we called everyone we knew with a four-wheeler or a snowmobile to see if they could get us down to the radio station?"
So, 25 years after the fact, she remembers that blizzard and what we did almost verbatim. You don't get that when you stick to the game plan. Radio is football and no one ever wins when they don't change the plays because of events on the field. No one can probably tell you what you did for the 4th of July, but over two decades later, Carol Frey can tell you about a storm 'cast from 1987.
Carol Frey: He's weird and more than a little creepy but my GOD does Paige have outstanding hair.
Brian Oake from Cities 97: He's a loathsome offensive brute ... and yet ... I can't look away. His hair is so lustrous.