Longport Media president Dave Coskey thought Skeldon, WMGM-NBC40’s chief meteorologist, and I would make a good team to talk listeners through the plans and preparations to weather a tropical system packing Irene’s punch.
LINWOOD, NEW JERSEY — It began innocently enough, one week ago today, with a short e-mail from Longport Media president Dave Coskey:
“Up for a 6-8 shift tomorrow night with Dan Skeldon?”
Hurricane Irene had just plowed through the Caribbean and the Bahamas and had her sights set on our little corner of the East Coast. Coskey envisioned a two-hour, pre-storm show that would preempt scheduled programming on NewsTalk1400 WOND, the radio group’s flagship AM station.
For the past couple of months, I’ve been contributing entertainment reports for two of the company’s stations. Coskey thought Skeldon, WMGM-NBC40’s chief meteorologist, and I would make a good team to talk listeners through the plans and preparations to weather a tropical system packing Irene’s punch.
But just as Hurricane Irene was born of a small tropical wave drifting off the African coast, the radio coverage of this potentially dangerous storm took on a life of its own. Shortly after he sent that email, Coskey decided to take the unprecedented step of simulcasting the special across all of the company’s stations — WOND, KOOL 98-3, 103.7 WMGM, WILD 102.7 and WBSS 1490.
Suddenly, a Category-1 idea had been elevated to a Cat-5. He called a production meeting for first thing Friday morning, and by 10am, that two-hour special had mushroomed into almost 50 non-stop hours of storm coverage. Nothing like this had ever been attempted in this market — or most other markets, I suspect.
A broadcast team was quickly assembled. I would fly solo Friday from noon to 3pm, when Pinky Kravitz would do an expanded edition of his daily talk show.
I’d return at 6pm to work with Skeldon, only now we’d go until 9pm, when Scott Macom, a host of the weekly Fire & Ice show, would take listeners through the night.
For Saturday and Sunday, Don Williams, would fill the same 6 to 10am slot he does on weekdays. Kim Martin — new to KOOL 98-3 — would work 10am-1pm, when Barbara Altman of the weekday Front Porch show would take over from 1 until 4pm. Pinky would return for his usual 4-6pm slot, Skeldon and I would return from 6 until 9pm and Macom would again do the overnight.
Pictured at left: David Spatz and Dan Skeldon in the Kool 98.3 broadcast — in the dark. (Photo by Dave Coskey)
We broke from regular programming at noon Friday and I got the ball rolling as Irene continued her march up the coast. Regional radio legend Jackson T. Chase, who’s KOOL’s afternoon drive guy, helped me out with interviews and listener phone calls. The rest of Friday and most of Saturday went according to the plan.
We interviewed local community leaders and emergency management people, broadcast updated information on evacuation plans and shared storm-prep tips.
But all hell broke loose Saturday around 8:30pm, as Irene began pounding the region. First, Skeldon reported a possible tornado — not uncommon when a hurricane approaches — had touched down in Lewes, Del., and damaged 25 houses.
Then we heard that a waterspout — a tornado over water — had been spotted in Delaware Bay.
"I’ll give my opinion, but it’s really about the listeners because there’s so many different people who have been in the exact same situation."
The storm, which has killed several dozen people in the Caribbean, is expected to be a "storm of historic proportions" for the Mid-Atlantic region, including the New Jersey shore, New York City, Delaware, Pennsylvania and possibly Ohio.
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The latest reports indicate that the Isaac is "much weaker than Katrina," but that thousands in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi have been forced to evacuate as the tropical storm moves in.
New Jersey Transit is suffering from several flooded stations and numerous debris its train tracks due to the residual effects of Hurricane Irene. As a result, it has suspended some of its services until further notice.
At least 19 deaths over the past 24 hours, from Florida up to Connecticut, have been blamed on Irene-related incidents, according to national officials.
By the time the southern New Jersey shore region woke up Sunday morning, there was a collective sigh of relief as Hurricane Irene made landfall early in the morning, resulting in much less than flooding and damage — and power outages — than initially anticipated.
While Hurricane Irene has everybody signing the wrong words to the 1982 Dexy's Midnight Runners No. 1 hit "Come on Eileen," the following songs have likely come to mind for many in the path of the big storm.
See live photo feed, live Atlantic City Web cam and latest updates on Hurricane Irene and the Jersey shore region.
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