I've been helping David Freedman (no relation), the Manager of WWOZ New Orleans as he works his way to the outskirts of New Orleans and locates and assembles his staff. Here is an e-mail he asked me to post on the WWOZ website. I'm posting it here because it's of great interest to fans of radio or New Orleans, and I dont know how to post larger items like this on the WWOZ site, where I've been helping out as well. Their webmaster is temporarily offline, so I'm posting here, and linking to it from the WWOZ homepage.
It's David's personal account of the crisis of a lifetime, for him, WWOZ, New Orleans and America. And a heart wrenching tale from WWOZ's Production Director Dwayne. -Ken
The following is a first-person account of some of the moments in the life of General Manager David Freedman as WWOZ confronted the crisis of a lifetime. This first person narrative should be taken just as such. Which is to say, that while I sat in Hot Springs, Damond Jacob in Dallas, Dwayne Breashears in Lake Charles, Tony Guillory in Lafayette, Christian Kuffner en route to Asheville, N.C., Maryse Dejean in Natchez, Robbie Benjamin (formerly Muni Malone) in Alexandria, Marlene Wadsworth in Mendenhall, Missiissippi, Fred Goodrich in Dallas, Mary Johnston in Lafayette, Parker Sternbergh in Florida, Tom Morgan in Pensacola and many many more of our Board members, volunteers and concerned community/pubradio and on-line fans each have a week's worth of story to tell that would only begin to approximate the effort and genuine concern for WWOZ's survival. I just have one piece of the story. But I thought you might want to follow it and I invite others to post what they experienced and continue to experience as we climb back from this devastation.
As I write this, I am sitting in a CC's coffee shop in Lafayette, LA.. I am temporarily housed in a church rectory in Franklin, LA. It probably sounds awful, but the truth is that this rectory is more like
a mansion tucked away in a very picturesque corner of Evangeline. The only problem is that it has no Internet and the landline telephone is across the street. So, next week I will start scouting other digs with better communication facilities.
My cell phone seems to be a lot more accessible today. I arrived here last night around midnite, after spending a week holed up in a motel in Hot Springs, AK, -- the closest reservation I could get as I hied out of town early Saturday s week ago, a full 24 hours before the Sunday morning stampede.
We watched the hurricane on TV, then listened to WWL radio at night (its a clear-channel signal in the original sense that it covers half the hemisphere) and the WWL-TV stream. I had just gotten a new laptop and it turns out the motel (a Comfort Inn) had a wonderful broadband connection in my room. However, after the hurrficane, my 504 area code cell phone was useless. I had not yet downloaded my ACT files in my computer, so I had no contact information at all with me. (We left town aware that we might never get back, but I would say that, being optimists, we would have taken fool's odds that this was not the case.)
At any rate, I was pretty much in shock and isolation for the first two days. Sometime around Wednesday, Damond Jacob, our Chief Engineer, was able to get through to my cell, and he was able to direct traffic my way, through the Internet and my motel landline.
The next call I received was from Greg Schnirring, Corporation of Public Broadcasting, offering me immediate wading around money. It gave us hope when we were still groping around looking for a way out. It was a very important call. It energized me. The money was subsequently wired to the Louisiana Educational Television Authority on Friday morning (to administer), but they have yet to return my call. There is now a new awareness in New Orleanians of something called "death by bureaucracy" but I will give LETA till Tuesday or Wednesday before I start getting the shivers. Note: I finally caught up with our bookkeeper this morning and we have $0 in our bank account. This is not unexpected since we anticipated that we would run dry in the summer before our Fall Membership Drive. We had set up a line of credit from the bank (something we've never done before) to address this situation since we lost significant funding from the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation these past two years-- a result of their own loss of $800,000 in the big rainout of JazzFest 2004. While OZ still operates with a balanced budget we no longer have a cushion for cash flow shortages. Our bookeeper did allow that she has a signed authorization from our Board Chair, Johnny Jackson, Jr. for a $20,000 draw down. It will be interesting to see if the bank will honor it now that times have changed.
BTW - this is the same Johnny Jackson, Jr. who was seen on CNN sitting in front of the SuperDome with his aging mother waiting for a bus. NPR even found him and gave him his 15 seconds (literally). His quote:
"Even the looters were handing out bottled water to people."
Anyway, I was faced with the problem that my staff had been scattered from one end of the South to the other-- so I slowly begain piecing together their whereabouts. In the meantime, I posted to the NFCB (National Federation of Community Broadcasters) listserv, and people began to find me at my newfound address: firstname.lastname@example.org. One of the 1st was Ginny Bierson followed by a close second: Ken Freedman.
To save time, I am going to copy my response to Ginny's e-mail:
I can't tell you how deeply I appreciate your e-mail, and I think the situation is so huge that it would be selfish of us not to share the challenges ahead. This is much bigger than WWOZ, although this station feels like it needs to be at the forefront of the bigger issue: the decimation of a culture. As I explained to Greg, it seems to me that the "roots culture" of New Orleans is itself greatly imperiled. We don't yet know their names, but there can be no doubt that there are musicians who have perished in this disaster. Carlos Lando tells me that Charmaine Neville is missing at this point, for example. Most will survive, but then they won't be able to come back into the city for perhaps up to a year. If they all stayed in one place in exile, they could come back as a group. Perhaps Baton Rouge will be the new cultural center of levity. If they can find housing! The population of Baton Rouge has already doubled overnight and the situation promises to get much tighter. So, some percentage of New Orleans' musicians will be scattered around the country and will end up rooting somewhere else -- perhaps with family and certainly with jobs in or out of the music business. Whoever is left and returns to New Orleans will be coming back to a vastly different place. A few clubs such as Tips and House of Blues will re-emerge. But the funky holes in the wall will not. Can Antoinette K-Doe possibly resurrect the Mother-in-Law Lounge? It was under 10 feet of water, from what I saw on CNN. New neighborhood clubs could emerge, but only if they have the critical mass to support them. That will probably happen, but my guess is that it will be a very slow process and will not reach the previous scope for many years to come, if ever. As you saw on TV, the underclass is coming out of the woodworks---that same underclass in which much of our roots music is rooted. I have to wonder if those people being shipped to the Astrodome will ever make it back to New Orleans. And with the complete evacuation of New Orleans now on order, I have to believe only a small fraction of those folks will return as well. In 4 to12 months from now, or whenever it is that people can return, housing will be at a premium. Rental property will be the last to be rebuilt. I heard FEMA's Michael Brown talking bravely of a huge building program to replace low-income housing, but when push comes to shove will a Bush administration really be there for an urban, historically Democratic, African-American city? It will beunprecedented, to say the least, if they are willing to step up to that plate. I call to mind the promises to NYC after September 11. The archictectural character of the city will also be diminished. TheFrench Quarter and the uptown mansions will survive as circumscribed "tourist zones." But that's about it. The housing replacements in Bywater, 9th ward, Mid City and Gentilly will all be standard cookie-cutter 8' x 4' sheetrock boxes (requiescat Malvina). Even if they wanted to do better, America doesn't have the craftsmen around any more.
Those who have a sentimental or economic reason to return to New Orleans will do so. But the vast majority of people with portable skills will be too rooted down and understandably discouraged to return once the gates to the city are re-opened.
I see a lot of rebuilding, but it will be more gentrified, and will undercut the inherent culture and the breeding ground for that culture.
Here is where WWOZ, NFCB and anybody else who understands and cares come in: This is not just about rebuilding a community radio station. This is about rebuilding a community! What pieces and patches as we can locate, wherever they are, we need to connect them, virtually and eventually physically, until there is enough critical mass for whatever size community is left, to heal and flourish within its (newly limited) potential. I am not a social engineer, and, in fact, distrust the notion. But, if we don't give some careful thought to this situation, I believe that the dynamics in place are negative. So why not at least give it our best shot? Certainly the passion and commitment that you and others have are evidence the effort is worthwhile.
So what to do?
1. Yes, money will be needed to rebuild the station. To the degree that we can keep our pre-Katrina WWOZ community in tact, we will have more ability to effect the situation. Our intention is to go online immediately, as soon as next week. The idea is to stream 24/7 using prerecorded MP3 files e-mailed to us by as many OZ show hosts and staff as we can locate. If they are in pubradio towns, it would nice if they could use a production facility so we get their voices as well. KRVS-FM, Lafayette, has offered to help us-- we hope we can find a little space for our server and some volunteers to keep the thing hopping. Dell has already offered us computers and Telos, codecs. As you likely know, Greg has also offered us some wading around money to get us mobilized. At this point, it is impossible to build anything in New Orleans and probalby won't be able to for months. Even if we did, there is no one there, and no electricity. So getting back on the air at this point is not a priority.
2. If possible, within 6 weeks, we would like to set up a temporary studio on the perimeter of New Orleans-- say, in LaPlace (20 minutes from the city) and, as soon as it makes sense, go back on the air from there with a directional signal pointed toward the city. Our priorities are to find a place from which to broadcast on the perimeter and to do all the legal/equipment stuff needed to be ready. In the meantime, and equally important, we will be rounding up our WWOZ volunteer show hosts, and begin to build toward our former service.
3. Then, (a year from now?) we need to build a new facility in the city. How, when, where can only be determined after we get a better view of the shape of things to come. If my prophecies are too downbeat, then so much the better. All I'm saying for now is that we need to be mindful of all the shifting parameters and make timely adjustments. Being on automatic is not an option.
The bigger questions that it seems to me we will be addressing is:
1. How do we rebuild that particular community which is so treasured by people all over the world, the community that gave New Orleans its unique character? How do we gather up as many pieces of that shattered culture and, where possible, provide a suitable context for it to re-establish itself?
2. Does there already exist a digital library of the enormous repertoire of New Orelans and related music? If so, how can WWOZ access it for broadcast, now that so many our volunteers' collections have been lost? If there is no such collection, or it is inaccessible, how can we set about locating what is left of our erstwhile inventory and digitize it, so as to preserve it from further disasters?
These questions are certainly bigger than WWOZ. I think they are posed to every person who ever fell in love with New Orleans and carries it in their heart. This is a new defining moment for WWOZ. Perhaps this is the case for community radio as a whole.Your heartfelt e-mail leads me to believe it is.
Yours in marine radio,
Getting back to the story:
WBGO called and I did an interview from the motel room which aired last Friday night. It may be up on their website, I don't know.
Tony Guillory (our Consulting Engineer based in Lafayette, LA) and Damond Jacob, (our Chief Engineer, currently residing in Dallas) tried to put together a server so we could go online. Dell had called Damond
wanting to know if there was anything they could do for 'OZ. Silly Damond thought they wanted to give us some hardware. Turns out they were interested in a sale -- no money down.
In the meantime, Ken Freedman contacted me, and he proposed a down and dirty way to get WWOZ-in-Exile up and running on the web. He had a DJ who had done some New Orleans shows and created a juke box of Dr. John, Earl King and the usual suspects. Ken recorded me over the phone
telling the first official story, and, voila, presto speedo -- in 24 hours (Saturday morning) we we're up and running. We no longer needed the emergency computer from Dell.
We finally located our webmaster today. He is in Asheville, N.C., without a pc, without broadband, without a place to live and without a job. Even so, he had managed to get our first primitive web page --
message board and musician's tracking page up. He's one of my heros.
Ken and he managed to link the streaming channel to our main site, and as we chat, the business of enriching the program content goes on. Ken put out a call for WWOZ airchecks, we are tracking down our myriad volunteer show hosts, and arranging for them to create a virtual WWOZ
from their scattered whereabouts.
In the meantime, we have managed to get an eye witness account of ouf engineer's house in Kenner and it appears to be in good shape. It didn't take any water, there is even electricity and sewerage! Only
running water need be added to complete the full complement of modern touts conforts. In essence, there is a control room with production facilities ready to use until we can get our own.
We feel that Jefferson Parish will be opened up within a matter of weeks. It sits on the westernmost adjacency (if I can borrow a phrase) to Orleans Parish. It is actually 1/2 of the million people usually
attributed to the Metro area. On the other hand, the latest estimates, and they change hourly, to "unwater" New Orleans is 36 to 80 days. Then, the city has to be thoroughly disinfected. They are talking about crews going from house to house (including ours which a friend spotted from an online satellite photo-- the water is at roof level). Dan Packer, president of Entergy estimates that it will take 2 months to completely restore power. Of course, if the 80% of New Orleans stands in water for a month or two, it isn't likely that there will be many places to live, except for the incoming horde of construction
handymen who can build their own. All of this to say, there isn't much percentage in waiting to get back on the air in New Orleans from where we sit one week out from Katrina.
As you can see our thinking evolves, the details change even as we move forward to our final goal of returning WWOZ to the air. We think we can start in Jefferson Parish temporarily, and move on to New
Orleans when the time is appropriate and the resources available.
As I close, I am getting ready to contact the Radisson folk, since that is the apple of our eye-- one of their nondescript motels, sitting there in all of its 500 feet highness, on the corner of Williams and Vetarans Boulevard in Kenner (right down the road from the airport). A thing of beauty to be sure. And how much prettier indeed it would be, adorned with a temporary directional antenna!
Other than that, for those who enquire, checks can be sent to
P.O. Box 5101
Hoboken, N.J. 07030
Credit cards can go to the front of the line at www.wwoz.org.
All in all, its been quite a week. The hardest part in all of this, is to accept our modest role--which is: sticking with what we do -- radio, cultural heritage, celebrating life-- and not running off to
aid those gasping for relief as our city slowly drowns to death. We have about 100 evacuees here in Franklin that we are housing at the church. Last night, on the way in from Hot Springs, we must have seen at least 5,000 people being bussed in convoys headed to Shreveport, Dallas and Arkansas. After the trauma of watching the horror unfold all week on CNN/MSNBC, I can't begin to tell you what it feels like to see people that we have passed in the street a hundred times, shopped with at the supermarket, paraded with in second lines-- being whisked by bus to places from which they will quite possibly never return.
As a coda I am going to copy an e-mail from our Production Director, Dwayne Breashears:
I've tried calling your cell and the number to your room. No luck so far.
I'm dealing with something very serious right now but will do my best to help get OZ back on the air.
Long story short, my grandmother and aunt stubbornly refused to leave New Orleans. After the hurricane, my sister talked to someone in the Rescue office. Gave them the names and addresses of my grandmother and aunt. They were to call her once they were rescued. They did not. In the meantime I was calling my grandmother and getting no answer (after having talked to her twice), thinking either they had picked her up and forgotten to call us, or worse, that she had passed away.
Last night my sister called me to tell me that my brother had spotted my grandmother sitting outside the Convention Center with her walker in front of her. After making calls to every emergency number and getting no answer I thought I would check out the CNN site to see if there was a number for CNN that I could call in an attempt to determine exactly when the footage was shot. While visiting the site I decided to view the gallery. What do I find there but a picture of my grandmother . . . . sitting in the heat, in the middle of the madness. I can't put into words what I felt when I saw that image. I've been making calls ever since trying to find out where she's been transported. The Red Cross is a fucking joke. After waiting an hour on my cell phone (which has erratic reception at best right now), I was told that the Red Cross is not keeping a log of where refugees are being evacuated! Furthermore, they are not providing lists of shelters or phone numbers for them. I told the woman that I was prepared to drive from one shelter to the other. Her response "I'm sorry, but I can't give you that information."
Words can not come close to describing how I feel about the way our government and other "powers that be" are handling this disaster. Nick (my best friend) is in Houston now and is going to check the shelters around him. I'm going to make a few more calls tomorrow. And if nothing pans out, I'm hitting the road and going from one shelter to the other to find her.
Whenever we talk I can fill you in on the OZ related stuff that I've been working on from my end.
Hope to talk to you soon.
This first person narrative should be taken just as such. Which is to say, that while I sat in Hot Springs, Damond Jacob, Dwayne Breashears, Tony Guillory, Christian Kuffner, Maryse Dejean, Robbie Benjamin, Marlene Wadsworth, Fred Goodrich, Mary Johnston, Parker Sternbergh, Tom Morgan and many many more of our Board members, volunteers and concerned community/pubradio and on-line fans each have a week's worth of story to tell that would only begin to approximate the effort and
genuine concern for WWOZ's survival. I just have the first draft. I invite others to post what they experienced and continue to experience as we climb back from this devastation.