For all the harrowing tales of destruction and disaster from Hurricane Ike, one of the best personal accounts comes from Josh Holstead, aka Rowdy Yates on KILT-FM in Houston and host of the nationally syndicated Country Gold. Here’s his report from the 19th floor, a place that I now know, I don’t want to be in a hurricane.
Josh’s email is RowdyYates@kilt.com
What I Did Last Week On My Vacation
by Josh Holstead
This morning I am going over my post hurricane wish list. Would you care to know what is at the top? Dramamine. In big block letters written with a bright orange highlighter on a large yellow notepad I scratched out two words:
I had no idea you could get motion sickness 19 stories up. I always thought that was for folks who did not take well to cruises, fishing off-shore or passengers on bumpy flights; like the lady that threw up in my lap on my last landing in
As if all of the pre-Ike coverage and his trek from the ocean to Houston were not enough to warn us, an 8 foot by 10 foot window bowing away from the frame of our building several hundred feet up was. That gave us our first indication it was going to be a very rough night. The time was 9pm and the eye of the storm would not visit us until around 2am the next morning. First noticed by our Chief Engineer Dan Woodard (who I have a whole new level of respect for) it would have been the smartest and simplest thing to shut the big, tall, three inch thick executive door, and let the window blow out and suck every last thing out of that office. But we are radio people. Brave people who volunteered to defend the CBS installation, protect the commercial inventory and relay vital information to the millions who were listening. So, half a dozen of us bravely entered the office of our Research Director Gina Messick and started hauling everything out. In hindsight, it was not all that bad. After all we ARE radio people, and many of us have had to move quickly, with NO notice, and at night. So, this wasn’t a stretch once we got past that whole fear of dying thing.
We all saw the footage of the storm rolling in. Many of us got a big kick out of Geraldo Rivera being swept off his feet and into a street full of Ike infused
Like Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Katrina, there are buzz words that radio and TV types toss around all too frequently. “Cone of Uncertainty”, “Shelter in Place” and “Hunker Down” have been said so much in the past three years I wish they would retire the phrases, like they retire the hurricane names after they beat the hell out of some place.
The new buzz word in our place was “compromised.”
Let’s all say it together: [kom-pruh-mahyzd]–from the combined and abridged book of Commercial Building Inspection and Meteorology 101, the word “compromised” (in our case) can mean some or all of the following things:
1 The roof has been ripped off of your building.
2 Water from hurricane rains is now flooding the elevator shafts, and half of your emergency escape stairwells.
3 Chunks of concrete from the roof are flying down the stairwell, powered by 120 mile per hour winds.
4 No need to close the door that leads to the roof. The door, the doorjamb around it and four inches of concrete that encased it are now lying horizontal on what was left of the roof.
5 Re aiming the STL dishes could be problematic as they are now in the 5th floor parking garage.
6 Those rapid succession “BOOM” noises you are hearing are not transformers. They are just the windows blowing out of the building. But we still have power, and thankfully the toilets were only temporarily compromised.
But with the building swaying, glass crashing, lightning flashing and winds blowing, we were providing calming voices, life saving information, news updates and hundreds of stories from people riding out the storm with us. In the back of our minds, every one of us wondering what we would see when the sun rose? What we would come home to, or even worse; if we even had anything or anyone to go home to.
I do want to recognize the services of the three brave men who were in our twisting AM 650 interior studios when the storm was the worst. News Director and Texas Radio Hall of Famer Robert B. McEntire,
These men and their producer Malana Nall had to physically brace themselves to keep chairs from rolling away from microphones and consoles. Tommy had to stand up and brace his legs a few feet apart was he was developing sea legs and a sour stomach. Even Captain Mickey himself, the Salty Sea Dog who makes his living fishing in rough Gulf waters was bracing for his own unexpected evacuation.
Once it was clear that all of our personnel had weathered the storm (though we could not say the same about the roof or parts of the building) it was time to take a deep breath. While the winds were still gusting at up to 50mph, the sun was rising on a battered City of
It was when most of us began picking up the pieces that our heart rates revved back up to full throttle. Why? A fire alarm. A fire alarm was going off on our floor and our floor only. Normally, this would not be a big deal as we have all been instructed on where to go and what to do in case of a fire. The real problem (as reported on our own airwaves) was that first responders could not and would not come and rescue us. Much like we saw with the first big fire down on
While I did not get the *official* reason why it triggered, I have my own theory, and it was a dead ringer for right according to my buddy Steve Beers who sells fire systems for a living. When the roof door blew off, and the water started rushing in, it made the temperature and the humidity on our floor rise greatly in a very short amount of time. To add insult to injury, water and electricity do not mix, and some of the wiring in the building and the fire system may too have been compromised. So, a “fail safe” feature activated the alarm, and that was a good thing. Better to be safe than sorry-and then burn to death. The fact that a few people (with our complete understanding and support) chose to bend the buildings’ no smoking policy, in NO WAY had anything to do with that alarm going off-really.
So, the lack of smoke clears, and it is then that we begin to prioritize what we need to do to return to normal business operations, and more importantly assist our clients that would be calling with cancellations, additions, and even new business that would be brought on by Ike’s destruction.
But before we could get to that, our buildings’ management prepared us for a few things we were prepared to hear, but hoped we would not. The elevators were shot. While we still had power, we would need to switch to our emergency generators as they would need to cut the power to the building to assess damage, and we might need to prepare to cease operations in our suite for possibly four weeks!
Thankfully, our sister stations in
The next obstacle we faced was our news operation. It was not compromised, but the route to it was. Hiking 19 flights of stairs is no picnic for anybody. It most certainly was not going to be something we would insist our News Director endure. He is a strong man, and a man we needed, but an injury that led to a hip replacement was not something he or we were willing to test. I knew he had the gear to go mobile from his place too. The only problem was he had no power. He was running minimum necessities from his residence on a generator, but we needed something more reliable as gas was in short supply.
Until last week you would have never convinced me that we would turn to batteries and wireless technology to get information back to the radio station after a catastrophe, but we did-and it worked wonderfully.
Years ago, I asked permission, and the company granted me the opportunity to stream some local high school football games on the internet. We’ve been doing it for five years now, and do it more for the fun and community good will. But I had the stream available, a laptop computer, and a Verizon Wireless air card. So, bypassing all traditional backups, we hooked a microphone into a PC, fired up the Live 365.com stream and we were in business-and with rich, stereo broadband digital quality too.
This would be the right time to express how important wireless devices, delivery and communication has become. When the phones went dead and the power went out, the cell towers stood, and millions of people communicated via text messaging. For every phone call we received at the studio, I bet we received 50 text messages. I was also blown away by the thousands of people who were following our coverage on-line. Those who were fascinated by our broadcasts and AOL’s promotion of it, and most importantly, the people who had evacuated. We were their only link to what was happening in their home town. I cannot stress enough how important this platform is, and cannot wait until it is standardized and made easily available everywhere and to everyone.
Never in my career have I had to be so conscious of what we were saying . Millions were depending on RADIO to inform them-and deliver vital information. Not TV stations broadcast on the radio, but live and local radio coverage. The all news station KTRH was giving news and our stations were giving information. It was information I know saved lives. Potentially thousands. We continue that service today. A lot of other stations went back to their old routines and programming. That was a mistake. How can you inform your audience about a FEMA food and water distribution center changing locations when you recorded your show the night before? That kind of radio can never be voice tracked. Still today people are suffering. Still today we are helping them.
One of the many valuable lessons I learned is how training is so important. Experience I have, upbringing I have, radio is in my blood. I grew up in the best radio news operations in
The surest indication (to me) that local, state and government officials had things handled was when I left RB’s place. I headed back to
What was most inspiring to us in the days following were the power crews. 10,000 men and 7,500 trucks. They are fearless men and women who came from 25 states to help reverse the largest power blackout in
I am considering changing my name from Rowdy Yates to “Hurricane Holstead.” After last weekend I am pretty sure I earned it.
After my first shift on all four stations, but before the storm really rolled in, my General manager Laura Morris delivered me a message from the President of the CBS Radio group, Dan Mason. His interests are more than professional.
*Josh Holstead is the afternoon personality on KILT/100.3fm in