Posted by: conniebook | January 12, 2008

“What is five pounds of radio?”

“What is five pounds of radio?” Dick Lewis, Clear Channel Radio

During the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, there were some key moments on the radio, but one is still recalled by most in resigned detail two years later. It was late Thursday afternoon, September 1st, the day the United Radio Broadcasters officially went on the air, 72 hours since the breech of the levees and four days since Katrina’ s landfall in Baton Rouge.

Garland Robinette, WWL talk radio host using Clear Channel radio’s resources, called Mayor Ray Nagin’s press person to get a status interview. One can imagine that both Robinette and Nagin were physically and emotionally exhausted. By Thursday, resources were beginning to arrive and as a result some of the immediate pressures of threat to further loss of life were slightly down.

As Nagin spoke with Robinette, who was unusually quiet during the phone interview, the listener could feel Nagin’s anger escalating. He was tired and frustrated and asking for the president and the governor to give him the authority to get the job done. A request that he would later be criticized for–many believing he shouldn’t have waited for permission.

Times Picayune media reporter, Dave Walker, was in his car in Baton Rouge when he heard the broadcast. He said he knew that this broadcast was going to be significant, “I was driving and couldn’t write anything down so I asked my son to take notes.”

And then, like others do when they describe the broadcast, he talks about the 15 seconds of dead air when Nagin and Robinette both go quiet. The silence follows a grieving Nagin’s observation and perhaps realization as he said it that, “The City of New Orleans will never be the same.”

The line reminded me of a short story I read in college, the story of Phillip Nolan, The Man without a Country. Published at the height of the Civil War, Nolan, a convicted traitor just 30 years old, bemoans at his sentencing, “Damn the United States. I hope I never hear of the United States again.” The appointed judge grants his request, sentencing him to a life at sea and instructing all sailors to never speak of the United States to him again. Later in the story, Nolan, desperate for the sense of connectedness and meaning his citizenry gave him, would beg for news of home, “What of Texas? What of California?”

What does it mean to belong to a place and then to watch that place be destroyed? Perhaps the essence of New Orleans is an intangible. Dick Lewis with Clear Channel radio asked my students, “What is five pounds of radio?” He went on to say,Radio is a force, a power, you can’t touch; but you can feel.” The reason two years later that listeners can still recall the Nagin/Robinette interview is because they felt the grief for a lost City, for a man without a City. They felt it on the radio.

Listen to the Nagin/Robinette interview at:


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