Yesterday afternoon’s unusual earthquake had stations near its epicenter mobilizing all their resources to tell viewers in Richmond, Lynchburg and Charlottesville what was happening through cut-ins and wall-to-wall coverage.
Within minutes of Tuesday’s Virginia earthquake, TV stations near the temblor’s epicenter went live with coverage letting viewers know what had rocked their world.
Rattled a bit themselves, news crews in markets like Richmond (DMA 57), Lynchburg (DMA 66) and Charlottesville (DMA 183) broke away from network programming with either wall-to-wall or live cut-in quake coverage.
Although damage from the 5.8 magnitude earthquake — which hit near Mineral at 1:51 p.m. and was felt along the East Coast — was minimal, the unexpected seismic event sent shock waves through the area.
“I walked in the door right after it happened and it has been crazy ever since,” Celeste Wright, a producer at WVIR, Waterman Broadcasting’s NBC affiliate in Charlottesville, said Tuesday night. “We tried to do as much as we could.”
For WVIR, that meant deploying reporters to places from Mineral to Charlottesville’s streets, feeding content to a station anchor and meteorologist who did cut-ins all afternoon, Wright said.
WVIR’s team was in good company as the earthquake — which evacuated some newsrooms – sent crews scrambling to get information to viewers who wanted it fast and furiously.
At WTVR, Local TV’s CBS affiliate in Richmond, station employees from sales reps to support staff pitched in, while the station went wall-to-wall with earthquake coverage from about 2:30 to 6:30 p.m., according to Travis Ponton, a photojournalist and assignment desk editor.
WTVR, like other stations in the area, relied heavily on viewers’ Facebook and Twitter posts to learn how neighborhoods and residents were affected by the quake. The station aired video from its newsroom security camera to show the temblor in action.
“You have to think outside the box,” Ponton said, adding that the newsroom was moving at “a million miles an hour.”
From a newsperson’s perspective, the quake happened at a particularly opportune time, as its mid-afternoon strike meant there were plenty of people out and about to share their stories, said Jim Hanchett, news director of WCAV, Gray’s CBS affiliate in Charlottesville.
After briefly evacuating the building, Hanchett, who doubles as an anchor, went on-air for wall-to-wall coverage, with a range of rapidly produced reports. Those included interviews with the station’s mail carrier and residents who came out of their nearby homes.
A reporter out for lunch at the time was able to get the security tape from a nearby supermarket. Another covered the quake from a local elementary school, where the reporter was supposed to be doing a story on today’s start of the school year.
“I think the key thing for us was reacting quickly and getting as many cameras going as quickly as we could,” Hanchett said, adding that the station’s full news team mobilized just as one would hope they would.
“Everyone either stayed late from the morning shift or came in early for the evening,” he said.
Although cell phone coverage was briefly interrupted, station heads said they managed to work around the temporary problem, and that stations stayed on air despite the rattling and rolling.
However, the experience showed that TV stations — and a mix of social media and good old-fashioned landline phones — play an important role when the unexpected rolls through town.
Randy Smith, president of WSET, the Allbritton ABC affiliate in Lynchburg, said the station’s chief meteorologist (who apparently didn’t expect to use his Earth science education as a weathercaster in Virginia) sent out a Tweet confirming the quake just two minutes after it hit.
The stations’ phone lines went wild as well. “Our switchboard was absolutely jammed for perhaps the first 40 minutes after the earthquake,” Smith said.