This is an Emergency: Radio’s Response to Hurricane Katrina
Connie Ledoux Book, Ph.D. & Elon University Students

“Make friends, make history”
Dick Lewis, V.P. Clear Channel radio, on the United Radio Broadcasters formation.

The typical radio clock is positioned around dayparts, advertising holes and entertainment. However, broadcasters know that the same signals that entertain, also sustain our communities during times of emergencies. In an unprecedented series of events in radio history brought on by the impact of Hurricane Katrina, American radio broadcasters joined forces as the United Radio Broadcasters of New Orleans. This proposed manuscript has a two-fold purpose. The first is to document and thereby ensure the history of the events and impact of radio broadcasting during Hurricane Katrina are preserved by the radio industry itself. The second is to create a primer, filled with stories of emergency response and lessons learned for the radio industry and other stakeholders that create policies that govern radio broadcasting in the United States.

A team of 10 university broadcasting students and two faculty from Elon University will spend January 2008 in the field in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and other gulf coast impacted areas compiling interviews and collecting information. The materials will be processed as a book and associated CD-ROM (interviews, audio clips from the actual broadcasts and key documents).
The following is a draft of key elements of the proposed manuscript and multimedia materials.

The Chapter 1: This is the one

This chapter begins on August 26th, 72 hours before Katrina’s landfall in Buras, Louisiana. The media across the gulf coast were watching and then responding to what would be a test of every emergency plan and discussion ever held. This chapter includes a map of media in the impacted areas, signal strength and existing emergency plans.
Mutlimedia elements: Interviews with radio leadership about what emergency plans were in place, how they had been developed over the years and practice exercises for when the “big one” hit the area. Clips from radio broadcasts announcing storm warnings.

Chapter 2: The storm hits, the quiet and then the levees fail.

This chapter examines the period from Katrina’s landfall to the aftermath of the levee break. Included in this chapter will be an assessment of station damage sustained, what communications devices continued to work and how makeshift communication occurred. This chapter will also examine immediate broadcasting efforts to restore service and interactions with emergency personnel (local, at the state and federal.) Elements of the emergency plans in place that were successful and what failed will be discussed.
Multimedia elements: Audio clips and video from the storm damage. Photos of radio stations and the damage they sustained. Interviews with radio personnel about those moments as the stormed moved through and the growing doom as the levee broke and the hours that followed.

Chapter 3: Saving our employees lives, saving our listeners’ lives

This chapter examines how radio employees’ lives were saved. The decision to get out and reconvene at a common station in Baton Rouge and how the radio industry helped employees and their families find safety during the critical hours after the storm.
Multimedia elements: Interviews with radio station employees, their family members and photos of the relocation.

Chapter 4: When you really need a leader.

This chapter profiles the key radio leadership and their thinking as they ultimately would decide that their station could not independently restore service, assessed what radio’s role would be in the community during the critical lifesaving hours immediately following landfall and how the decision to join forces was made.
Multimedia elements: Interviews with radio management and what personal assets in the leadership style proved to be invaluable during the days that followed Katrina’s landfall.

Chapter 5: Securing a broadcast signal, distributing a broadcast signal.

This chapter documents how engineers were able to restore a radio signal to the gulf coast and how that signal would be distributed. Conversations between key radio leadership are documented and the parameters of the newly formed United Radio Broadcasters of New Orleans examined. Key documents developed around the cooperative are reviewed in this chapter.
Multimedia elements: Interviews with the engineers’ assessment of Katrina damage and the decisions they made for immediate broadcasting and then how they were able to bring their stations back online.

Chapter 6: “I’m looking for my father, has anyone out there seen him?”

This chapter shares the stories of callers and the response of on-air talent that received them, as well as public safety’s response. In this chapter, profiles with callers and the on-air talent that handled the call will be detailed. An examination of what happened, how radio made a difference and where they are now will be presented. This chapter will also include stories from ham radio operators on the air.
Multimedia elements: Interviews with callers and the on-air talent that received them, as well as the safety crews that responded to their needs.

Chapter 7: Recovery begins.

Once the critical life-saving period of the storm passed, the United Radio Broadcasters of New Orleans took on a new role, assisting with recovery. This chapter documents on-air content during the two weeks following the storm and how the emergency broadcasts furthered response efforts in the affected communities.
Multimedia elements: Clips from the radio broadcasts during the two weeks that followed the immediate life-saving efforts. Interviews with public safety in the area on how radio made a difference in their efforts will be included.

Chapter 8: Disbanding and returning home.

This chapter discusses the decision to discontinue the streamlined service and return to individual station broadcasting. The programming content that followed the dissolution of the United Radio Broadcasters of New Orleans and the months following Hurricane Katrina to today will be examined.
Multimedia elements: Audio clips of stations signing back on the air, interviews with station managers.

Chapter 9: Lessons Learned

This final chapter offers a series of wisdom profiles from key interviews gathered over the course of preparing this text. “What I know now,” is the central theme. Emergency planning now in place at the radio stations will be reviewed and a best practices section for radio broadcasters crafted.
Multimedia elements: Interviews about the emergency planning that has followed in the time since Katrina. Key documents related to emergency planning and samples of specific plans will be included.



  1. This project looks fascinating!

  2. Looking forward to reading it all!

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