Local Radio Springs To Action As Great Smoky Mountains In Tennessee Battle Wildfire
November 29, 2016 at 1:31 PM (PT)
As fires continue to burn across EAST TENNESSEE, local radio stations are doing their best to remain live and local to dispense needed information and help to those affected by the blazes.
Hundreds of acres burned overnight in GATLINBURG and PIGEON FORGE, displacing thousands of residents and tourists. The GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS region has battled the fires for several days now, but as conditions deteriorated YESTERDAY (11/28), fires grew to unmaintainable sizes. Mandatory evacuations were put in place last NIGHT, and both CUMULUS Country WIVK/KNOXVILLE and SCRIPPS Country WCYQ/KNOXVILLE jumped in to action, taking the stations live and local, and pre-empting regularly scheduling programming in favor of up-to-the-minute breaking news, information, and cut-ins from local television stations.
WIVK/KNOXVILLE PD NIKKI THOMAS told ALL ACCESS, "The core of radio is being live and local. We have to be able to help the people in the community." THOMAS contacted her CUMULUS corporate partners in ATLANTA to make them aware of the situation and to let them know she would not be carrying syndicated programming. "We went totally live overnight, taking phone calls and talking to people who were worried they would be losing their homes, talking to people who didn't know where their family members were, or who were worried about pets and animals," said THOMAS. She also noted that, having worked as CUMULUS Country KATM/MODESTO-STOCKTON, CALIFORNIA PD for nine years, this wildfire was unlike anything she had witnessed in CALIFORNIA.
WCYQ/KNOXVILLE morning teamers OPIE JOE and KRISHA also told ALL ACCESS that the station went wall-to-wall coverage as the worst of the blazes were underway. "[Our night host] CARINA stayed on the air until about 1a (ET), and we came in early to start the morning show around 4a (ET)," said OPIE JOE. The goal was to keep continuous updates coming in as conditions changed throughout the night. "It's like trying to direct traffic on BLACK FRIDAY," OPIE JOE said of the influx of information come from various sources. Local news stations, the TENNESSEE EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY (TEMA), and social media were all providing updates -- some conflicting -- and both OPIE JOE and KRISHA felt it their responsibility to relay the most timely and accurate updates possible.
As daylight broke this MORNING (11/29), and fires were contained in many areas, both WIVK and WCYQ kept with their updated programming. With over 100 homes being reported as a total loss, and a multitude of local businesses burned to the ground, the stations consider it a priority to dispense information to those who were evacuated while sharing how the community can come together to help. "We haven't stopped reports," explained THOMAS. "This isn't something that will go away in a day or two. The bigger picture will be about rebuilding. There is a real sense of loss here -- a loss of homes, of businesses, of community. I can't foresee what the future of this area looks like without GATLINBURG and PIGEON FORGE. It's such a part of every part of life here." Both stations are accepting donations of food, water, clothing, toiletries, and other basic needs for the victims of the fire devastation. WCYQ filled five station vehicles with donations shortly after making the request of their listeners this morning. "All we did was shine a light on a need," said KRISHA, who was on her way to deliver another run of supplies to first responders when we spoke.
As fire containment continues, the community is beginning to look toward the rebuilding process. There are certain to be more needs throughout the area as losses are surveyed and injuries and fatalities are totaled. Additionally, several landmark tourist attractions, including DOLLY PARTON's DOLLYWOOD and the RIPLEY'S AQUARIUM OF THE SMOKIES have been spared damage. Country artists native to the area, including BIG LOUD RECORDS artist MORGAN WALLEN, have already started calling in to the stations to ask how they can help. WARNER BROS./WAR artist CHRIS JANSON, whose brother-in-law and other family members lost their homes to the blazes, was the first to call in to the station to offer support. TENNESSEE isn't known as THE VOLUNTEER STATE for no reason; help from all over the state is already in EAST TENNESSEE, as donations and boots-on-the-ground volunteers continue to pour in to the area. Both WIVK and WCYQ have pledged to continue to update the community on fire containment, recovery, and rebuilding efforts and needs as they arise. "I'm really proud of our team today," said OPIE JOE. "Our job is to shine the light so that people can find their way, and radio has been shining that light for our communities for almost 24 hours now."