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Published: 8/15/2003

TV, radio rush to shed light on local shutdown

BY RUSS LEMMON
BLADE MEDIA WRITER

One of the Toledo area's signature events, the Jamie Farr Kroger Classic golf tournament, was reduced to an afterthought yesterday as local television stations scrambled to provide wall-to-wall coverage of the massive power outage.

The first evening mention of the $1 million LPGA tournament, being played at Highland Meadows Golf Club in Sylvania, was not until after 7:30 p.m. Under normal circumstances, it would have the lead story on both the 5 and 6 p.m. newscasts.

But, as WTVG-TV, Channel 13, news anchors Diane Larson and Lee Conklin kept reminding viewers, there was a good reason why the golf coverage was bumped: “This is the biggest power outage in U.S. history.”

WNWO-TV, Channel 24, was the first station to break into regular programming. News director Lou Hebert said that, according to station logs, the power went out at 4:08 p.m. and the station's continuous coverage began at 4:15. WTOL-TV, Channel 11, and WTVG soon followed.

WTVG stayed on the air until 8:07 p.m. WTOL and WNWO returned to network programming at 8.

For homes and offices that were without electricity, television wasn't an option. Battery-powered radios - if you had one - enabled people to stay in touch with the outside world.

Toledo's No. 1-rated radio station, WKKO-FM (99.9), provided the most comprehensive coverage. Harvey J. Steele did a masterful job of juggling local reports compiled by Craig Snyder and London Mitchell, inserting national feeds from ABC and CNN, and airborne traffic reports from Mike Lindeman.

Mr. Steele, who pairs with Gary Shores for the city's top-rated morning show, happened to be at the station at the time of the outage. He was on the air within 10 minutes, calmly moving from report to report. Informing listeners that the outage wasn't caused by a terrorist attack was one of his priorities, he said.

“It's exciting and, at the same time, it's a big responsibility,” he said. “But that's what we all got into the business to do.”

Mr. Lindeman was “the star of the day,” according to Mr. Steele. The airborne traffic reports gave drivers a heads-up about potential gridlock situations, of which there were many, particularly downtown.

WXKR-FM (94.5) was the only Toledo radio station to stay on the air without interruption. Assistant program director Mike McIntyre said the station had to play music from CDs. The corporate-mandated playlists were discarded by necessity.

“It was fantastic,” Mr. McIntyre said. “It was like `free-form radio' from the 1970s. We played Humble Pie, the J. Geils Band, Deep Purple - stuff we're never allowed to play.”

At 5 p.m., only six of the 13 FM stations in Toledo were on the air. Five were Cumulus-owned stations, and the other was WXQQ-FM (96.9). At 5:20, WVKS-FM (92.5) was the first Clear Channel station to return to the air. News/talk station WSPD-AM (1370) returned at approximately 5:30, with news director Tom Watkins updating listeners of the rapidly changing developments.

On television, WNWO and WTVG focused on providing reports from the field, WTOL alternated more between reports and taking calls from viewers.

WTVG was the first station to tell viewers about the opening round of the Jamie Farr Kroger Classic. At 7:32 p.m., sports director Rob Powers reported Laura Diaz had a one-stroke lead. WNWO mentioned the tournament shortly before 8 p.m. WTOL didn't mention it at all before 8. Mr. Farr was scheduled to appear on WTOL's NewsTalk segment during its 5 p.m. newscast.



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