With fires sweeping through Santa Rosa and Sonoma County, disrupting phone and computer connections in many areas, many residents tried to turn to radio for immediate information on evacuation orders and the spread of flames.
But with several stations knocked off the air when transmitters on Mount Barham, off Calistoga Road, that proved difficult..
One of five stations owned by Amaturo Sonoma Media Group was off the air, but its talk-news flagship, KSRO AM-FM, broadcast continuous news and bulletins, which were carried on its three sister stations still on the air.
That continued for 24 hours, starting early Monday. Morning anchor Pat Kerrigan stayed to work a 12-hour shift.
“We switched all of our FM stations over to KSRO’s coverage,” said the group’s president, Michael O’Shea. “We have five reporter-anchors, and then we put many of our other people on the air. Everybody in the building has on-air experience.”
With official sources busy with the fires and evacuations, getting accurate, detailed information proved difficult, especially in the early hours, leading to some mistakes.
KSRO had to backtrack after passing along a caller’s report the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts had “burned to the ground.”
“That was on our air,” O’Shea said. “Now we find out the main part of it is still fine, but the classroom section is gone. But we do try to be careful to get a couple of sources, when it’s not something from one of our field reporters.”
The Mount Barham transmitter failure also silenced Latino 95.5 FM but its three sister stations — KRSH, Exitos, KSXY 101 — continued to broadcast, said Andre de Channes, morning on-air host at KRSH.
“Basically, we’re just playing music and talking about resources for people affected by the fire, and passing along any sort of news that come in,” de Channes said.
KRCB’s main transmitter was also down, said B.J. Griffith, an on-air personality with the Rohnert Park-based public broadcasting radio station.
“Our transponder at 90.9 serving downtown Santa Rosa is up, with our signal streaming at www.krcb.org and we are updating info on air as we get it,” Griffith said by email.
Getting fire information in Spanish was a particular challenge Monday.
“I woke up in the middle of the night and ran KSRO’s feed in English because we had nothing else,” said Edgar Avila, program director at bilingual Santa station KBBF. “Later on in the day we had sporadic updates and then I played a Spanish-language national stream. Tuesday morning starting at 6 o’clock, we had volunteers, with three or four people in the studio, ready to give updates.”
El Patron, a Spanish-language station at 1460 AM, also affected by the transmitter loss on Mount Barham, was off the air Monday but began airing information from fire and police officials on Tuesday, said Marco Canseco, who works at the station’s Santa Rosa office.
You can reach staff writer Dan Taylor at 707-521-5243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @danarts.