Today we sat down with Dick Lewis, the regional vice president of Clear Channel in New Orleans. Dick Lewis was a leader in the formation of the United Radio Broadcasters of New Orleans.
When Hurricane Katrina hit, competing radio stations had to rely on each other’s assets to get back on the air in order to provide critical and essential information to the public. The decision to unite radio stations created one talk format signal that would be simulcast on all Clear Channel and Entercom stations throughout New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Two independent stations also joined the United Radio Broadcasters and at one time more than 120 stations picked up and retransmitted their satellite fed programming.
Upon making the decision, Lewis said to the group the only way they were going to make history was to work together. Though the radio hosts were the comforting voice providing solace for unsettled citizens, the radio engineering and support staff working behind the scenes were heroic in keeping radio signals operating. Without engineers physically maintaining the infrastructure, hundreds of thousands of New Orleanians and others in the impacted areas would have been left without communication.
Dick Lewis addressed the fact that people don’t often realize the role broadcast radio plays in their every day life. Lewis said, “Katrina reacquainted the community with the value of radio and reaffirmed its importance.” In a state of emergency, information is paramount. The accessibility of radio during a time of crisis made it the primary medium of communication during Hurricane Katrina.