DMA 148

Mo. TVs Cope With Close-To-Home Tragedy

The Big Four affiliates in Joplin, Mo., are working around the clock to cover the devastation wrought by Sunday’s tornado. With much of the city in ruins, relatively small news departments and employees displaced from their homes, local broadcasters asked the Missouri Broadcasters Association for assistance in finding news staff from outside the market that could help in the coverage and for diesel fuel to keep emergency generators running.

In the wake of the devastating tornado that ravaged the city, TV stations in Joplin, Mo. (DMA 148), continue to struggle to cover the twister’s aftermath in the face of limited mobility, communications and power.

On Monday, news teams representing the market’s Big Four network affiliates grappled with closed roads, downed power lines, limited or no cell phone coverage and human suffering in covering the story, news executives said.

With much of Joplin in ruins, relatively small news departments and employees displaced from their homes, local broadcasters asked the Missouri Broadcasters Association for assistance in finding news staff from outside the market that could help in the coverage, MBA President Don Hicks said.

Hicks also arranged for an emergency delivery of diesel fuel Tuesday to keep the station’s emergency generators operating, as their supply was expected to run out by noon Tuesday, he said.

“Half the town is shut down,” said Terry Cunningham, operations manager of Nexstar’s KSNF, the NBC affiliate, and KODE, the market’s ABC affiliate which Nexstar manages under a local service agreement with Mission Broadcasting.

“It’s taking about an hour to get back and forth, poles are down, the National Guard is out and roads are closed,” he said Monday afternoon.  “We are trying to get into neighborhoods, schools, shelters. I’m just waiting.”


The newsroom shared by Saga Communications-owned KOAM, the CBS affiliate, and KFJX, the Fox affiliate, was filled with everyone from sales to support staff, who answered working landlines trying to help callers locate information, relatives and friends, said News Director Kristi Spencer.

The stations used their websites and Facebook pages to distribute information, such as shelter and Red Cross locations.

The stations, Spencer said, stayed with their regular programming until about 8:45 Sunday night — the tornado touched down around 6 p.m. — when crews started to make it back to the studio with footage.

“We had to go out but we couldn’t do phoners, we couldn’t communicate with them,” she said.

On Monday, the stations’ entire team was on location, including production staff who shot video, but delivering news was still a struggle. “Communication is almost next to impossible,” she said. “It’s very difficult.”

And, Spencer added, “we have probably six or seven families that work here that don’t have homes anymore and so we’re trying to provide for them and trying to cover the news.”

Hicks said he doesn’t expect any dramatic progress on infrastructure problems that are impeding news coverage, like fallen telephone poles and closed roads, in the very near future, as emergency crews are still focusing their efforts on recovering victims.

In turn, TV news crews, who already were showing fatigue Monday afternoon, can expect little immediate relief.

“All the reporters are out right now and they have been since about 6 o’clock yesterday, so I’m a little fried,” Cunningham said.

Comments (19)

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bart meyers says:

May 24, 2011 at 8:33 am

My thoughts and prayers are with my friends at KSN and KODE in Joplin.

Darin Hall says:

May 24, 2011 at 8:56 am

the coverage was terrible, all the local stations dedicated their preprogrammed news shows to the disaster. I learned more from the Weather Channels live coverage than the local stations. They should have gone live all day. They never updated their site with new info or photos… saw more coverage on facebook. Situations like this is when broadcaster use everyone to educate and inform and not just go though the motions or reporting.

    Wagner Pereira says:

    May 24, 2011 at 10:42 am

    Lets see, if you really live in the area, and you were one of the lucky left with a house, electricity, internet connectivity etc. and your biggest concern is someone did not update their website? People have come from all over the Country to assist people in Joplin and all you do is sit in your undamaged residence and complain that someone did not essentially update their facebook status? Amazing testimony of your character as a human.

    John McElfresh says:

    May 24, 2011 at 11:19 am

    Hey Batman, You are an idiot!

John Kofodimos says:

May 24, 2011 at 10:32 am

Really Batman!?! You thought they were just “going through the motions”?? Did you not read the part about how many of the staff had also been displaced from their homes? Your negative comments about the local coverage are out of line, comparing a small station in Joplin to the Weather channel is apples and oranges- their have totally different resources. The local news crews are dealing with personal loss, the weather channel staff was not. The weather channel may have done a good job, but if your power was out and you didn’t have cable, all that is left are your local over the air broadcasters!

Robert Crookham says:

May 24, 2011 at 10:35 am

@Batman – It’s real easy to be a coward and sit behind a keyboard throwing shots at these people. It’s quite another to be there, doing the work under horrible conditions. Hey, genius–would you care to explain how a station can update their website or Facebook WITH NO INTERNET ACCESS??? And when the entire company, not just the newsroom, is concentrating on getting emergency info out? Explain how they can go wall-to-wall with their field crews WITH NO TELEPHONES!

Next time, try thinking before you engage your mouth.

    Wagner Pereira says:

    May 24, 2011 at 10:48 am

    While I agree with everything you said, you have again pointed out the amazing fact of how many broadcasters have given up their 2 way system for cellphones, only to find out that they have NO communications after disasters. And the FCC thinks taking TV bandwidth for cellphone/wireless internet will make the Country a better place. righhhhhttttt.

    Kathryn Miller says:

    May 24, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    Joplin is a city of 50K. How extensive a RPU network do you think they had once before? Any? You broader point is a very good one, but tornadoes also take down broadcast towers, Walmarts, and hospitals. Have you ever looked at the standards that hospitals are built to, and what it takes to remove the top two floors of a hospital building?

    Wagner Pereira says:

    May 24, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    ANY RPU network is better than NO RPU Network when disaster hits because it was decided to use Nextel instead. Personally, I am tired of lending my personal sat phones to stations that didn’t prepare for when they needed them.

    Kathryn Miller says:

    May 24, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    But, these RPU systems require towers, right? Towers that often come down after tornadoes. Having sat phones as a backup to backups is a great idea.

    Wagner Pereira says:

    May 24, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    Bottom Line – Deciding not to maintain your own 2 Way System and go with cellphone instead = Guaranteed no 2 Way when the cellphone system goes down. Using your logic presented here, ALL stations should just turn in their Broadcast License now as (1) Their Studio/Building will not survive a disaster and (2) The Tower will not survive a disaster, thus might as well turn out the lights now and save the money.

    Kathryn Miller says:

    May 24, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    reductio ad absurdum

    Wagner Pereira says:

    May 24, 2011 at 10:36 pm

    As are all your statements that all 2 Way Towers would be taken out during a disaster so it really doesn’t matter if a Broadcast Facility has them now or not.

    Kathryn Miller says:

    May 24, 2011 at 10:53 pm

    all? That sounds like a comprehension problem.

Hope Yen and Charles Babington says:

May 24, 2011 at 12:30 pm

I was GM at WEAR-TV (ABC), Pensacola/Mobile when Hurricane Frederick slammed into the Gulf Coast September 12-13, 1979. At that time it was declared the most powerful hurricane to strike the US Coast. In spite of all the preparation one could make, no station was ‘fully’ prepared to adequately cover the aftermath. We operated on diesel fuel at both studio and transmitter, and had by far the smallest news staff, and no live field video capability. Over at then-market leader, locally owned WKRG (CBS) had a live truck, and their lead news anchor Don Schroeder was a ham operator and set up shop at WKRG’s transmitter, since their downtown Mobile studios were unusable. All three stations did their best, and in every case there was something one station was able to cover that the other stations didn’t cover, and that indeed brought out the ‘Batmans’ of the day! In these situations there are no winners, only people, hurricane victims in need of help, willing citizens sacrificing their own safety to help anyway they can, and station staffs stretching to their limits to provide any information they are able to do. ‘Batman’ type observers and are always there to provide their disingenuous pomposity and sheer ignorance, I guess it simply goes with the territory. May God bless and help those affected in the Joplin area.

Teri Green says:

May 24, 2011 at 1:23 pm

KOAM is based in Pittsburg not Joplin, was that city damaged?

Jennifer Scarborough says:

May 24, 2011 at 2:09 pm

This is the time to act, not talk…Anyone with the time to criticize the TV coverage, should get off their couch and see what they can do to help the folks who are victims of this tragedy… If you’re not that close to the damage, you have the beginnings of a very extensive gratitude list…

Wagner Pereira says:

May 24, 2011 at 5:02 pm

Seems others have a different opinion than Batman posted above ” All The Big Media Names Have Gone To Joplin, But It’s The Local News Stories That Will Break Your Heart” Along with plenty of clips from local coverage.

Read more:


May 24, 2011 at 7:00 pm

The rare big story always catches the small market stations short-handed. They just don’t have the manpower or the talent to do the job. When it’s a disaster of this magnitude, there’s really no chance. They can just put an anchor and a weather person on the set and do the best they can to inform people.

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