As the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey continues to devastate east Texas, the country remains glued to TV news coverage, particularly of the massive flooding in Houston. The city's country stations have gone wall to wall with hurricane coverage to provide needed information to an area in crisis, but the flood hasn't spared broadcasters.
KILT-FM (100.3 the Bull) assistant PD/music director Chris Huff spent part of Aug. 27 posting photos of water levels creeping closer to his house. He told Billboard that by that night, the water was up to the garage of his one-story home and the roads around it were impassable.
Cox Media Group director of operations Johnny Chiang and CBS Radio/Houston vp programming Bruce Logan were more fortunate. Both said their homes were spared.
"I have been very lucky," says Chiang. "There has been lots of water in my neighborhood, but no flooding. My family is safe and dry." The same is true for his team. "Everyone's safe," he reports. "A few had to evacuate out of their towns, and a couple are stranded in their neighborhoods because they can't get out due to flooded streets."
Although he was personally spared, says Logan, "Everyone knows someone who has lost everything or had to be rescued. The flooding is massive. The damage is catastrophic."
But Houston radio stations were as ready as they could be for the unexpected magnitude of the catastrophe. Chiang said his stations planned ahead for the storm and secured multiple hotel rooms across the street from the office. "The majority of our content team is staying there," he says. "So we are on the air [and on] socials 24/7.
"We stocked up at Sam's Club on Thursday," continues Chiang. "I've gained 10 pounds in two days eating nothing but unhealthy crap -- corn dogs, PB&J, candy and more corn dogs." He adds that he's tired due to being at the station since the flooding began, along with the rest of his crew. "We're huddled here until it's over," he says. "No way I'm asking them to risk their safety to work and not be here with them."
Stations have enlisted the aid of their radio and TV partners to share coverage of the crisis. Says Logan, "We have a large crew at the station. Sunday [Aug. 27] at 4 p.m., we went to simulcast coverage on all of our stations. We have mixed the crews of all of the stations and are working with our sister stations in Dallas and our TV partners here in Houston."
Adds Huff, "I am very proud of my CBS co-workers. Our cluster dropped all regular programming and went wall-to-wall info Sunday afternoon. George Lindsay, who's part of the KILT-FM morning show, was the only employee able to make it to the station on Sunday. Others, including KHMX morning co-hosts Sarah Pepper and Lauren Kelly, had already been in place at the stations since Saturday [Aug. 26]. The three of them have been anchoring information and taking calls from listeners and staff alike, and will continue to do so."
Chiang reports his radio stations are working with Cox Media Group TV outlets from Atlanta; Tulsa, Okla.; and Orlando, Fla., who all have crews in Houston. "We're exchanging content," he says. "I'm very proud of the fact that all CMG stations have been live and local throughout this entire ordeal, and will continue to [be]."
Radio consultant Pam Shane of Houston-based Shane Media Services reports that she and her staff are all safe, and that her colleague Lee Logan has been helping move flooded-out cars at his townhouse complex, where he, thankfully, lives on the second floor.
Among her Texas client stations, Shane says KTTX Bryan-College Station has water damage on its ground floor and in operations manager Ken Murray's office on the second floor from blowing rain. But the station and AM sister KWHI continue to broadcast to their Brazos Valley community, which is threatened by the cresting Brazos River, as well as by the storms. And KORA, which also is located in Bryan, is currently working off of generators, but "fortunately, their transmitter is high," reports Shane.
"It will take Houston a long time to recover from this," adds Shane. "So many homes damaged. So many businesses closed."
People in other facets of the music business have been affected by the flooding as well. Publicist Ami Blackwell, owner of Houston-based SpinDrift Media & Entertainment, fortunately stayed dry in her third-floor apartment, but she posted a photo on Facebook of her completely submerged car. She tells Billboard she also likely lost the contents of a downstairs storage unit she won't be able to check on until the water recedes. Still, she considers herself very lucky. "I am coping by reminding myself that I am safe and not stranded and wading in high waters or on a roof like so many I'm seeing on the news," she says. "I haven't lost power or any significant belongings, and am devastated by the posts I'm seeing from friends who have lost everything."
Blackwell is still able to work from home, so she's doing what she can with sporadic internet access. "I'm afraid so many in the Texas country scene are going to be affected for weeks to come, and I feel for this small genre and its industry folk," she says. "I know we will pull together and help each other. I've seen such an outpouring of support from radio personnel and artists, and I'm thankful to belong to such a tight-knit business community."
Proving Blackwell's point, country artists are already pitching in to help. Chris Young started a GoFundMe account to benefit flood victims and seeded it with $100,000 of his own money. Lady Antebellum donated merchandise proceeds from its Aug. 27 Dallas show to help victims after being forced to cancel an Aug. 26 show in Houston. And the Josh Abbott Band is selling "My Texas" T-shirts, with all proceeds going to hurricane-relief organizations.
Wondering how to help? Bruce Logan says, "The best thing anyone can do is to donate to the Red Cross."