Here's another update from David Freedman from the streets of New Orleans. David is General Manager of WWOZ, the great community station of New Orleans. WWOZ's studios and record library were spared severe damage in Katrina and only suffered moderate flooding and no looting. But in recent days, David's been struggling to protect WWOZ's record library and equipment from being destroyed by subsequent rains - Katrina left OZ's studios and library exposed to the elements.
David also discovered that the WWOZ broadcast tower was in fact severely damaged, contrary to their first observations from a distance. In the course of dealing with these issues, David observed pockets of normalcy in New Orleans next to armed checkpoints, and he also reports on the non-state of forced evacuations.
First, a recent story from the New Orleans Times-Picayune, followed by David's update.
Times-Picayune - Saturday, September 10, 2005
Roof damage threatens priceless WWOZ record collection
By Dave Walker
The studio equipment and irreplaceable record and CD collection at noncommercial WWOZ 90.7 FM, the public radio outlet that beamed New Orleans music and culture to the region and, via the Internet, the world - survived Hurricane Katrina but might not survive the city's current lockdown.
David Freedman, the station's general manger, surveyed the station's Armstrong Park headquarters on Thursday and discovered significant damage to the roof.
Freedman attempted to return later with a roofer, but was turned away on the city's outskirts.
Friday afternoon, he was looking for someone in authority to approve access to the city long enough to preserve the volunteer-run station, which was knocked off the air by the storm and which operates on a listener-supported shoestring in best of times.
"I just don't know who to call," he said.
Freedman can be contacted at email@example.com or
(What follows is from David Freedman)
So here's how I experienced it:
When we went into the city Wednesday night and the better part of Thursday to inspect the damages from Katrina (see my second update here), we had passes from the State Troopers' office, and so the checkpoints were uneventful. What we found when we got to the studio was that our wonderful record collection and all the electronics were intact. However, the roof had been shorn of a large patch of tiling, and all that was left was tarpaper. In order to protect that record collection it was imperative to do something about the roof before the next tropical rain storm.
First thing Friday (September 9th) morning, I found a roofer. His name is John Dinger. My Administrative Assistant's husband, Mike Wadsworth, is a huge WWOZ fan and he also happens to be a premier tile and floor man. So he has contacts.
And then when Councilman Jay Batt called me out of the blue Thursday to ask for "airtime" on WWOZ-in-Exile, I was delighted to schedule him -- I think he wanted to report to all his constituents far and wide what he had been up to during the post-huricane debacle. Anyway, here was a New Orleans official calling me just when I needed to talk to someone at City Hall. I asked him if he could help me get a roofer into the city, since the Mayor had just announced a mandatory evacuation.
He said he'd be happy to. He called me again Friday morning to confirm the interview, and again he said: "Just call me back when you've got your roofer." I had 2 phone numbers. But when I called back, there was no answer.
I then called the State Troopers, in the person of Major Genny May. She is a delightful person, and was quite ready to issue me another passepartout, but had just received a directive from the City of New Orleans to issue no more authorizations for entry into the city unless it was for relief workers.
I gave her Councilman Batt's phone numbers and she said that as soon as she talked with him, she would get back to me. Apparently she never could get him at his numbers. Nor could I. I tried all afternoon, left messages and tried some more.
Later on in the afternoon, I received a call from Dave Walker of the Times-Picayune. He wanted to interview me regarding WWOZ in Exile. I mentioned my troubles to him. He said he'd try to help. Very shortly thereafter I received a call from a WWL reporter who gave me the number of the Mayor's Press Secretary, Tammy Frazier. He was sure she would want the city to enable us to protect that collection of recordings. He was sure that some of the other City staffers involved with cultural affairs would also manifest their concern to the decision makers. He mentioned Ernest Collins, the Music Business
Director on the Mayor's staff as someone who surely would want to get involved in such an important cause by facilitating the authorization process.
When I called Ms. Frazier, she was clear about our not getting any passes. She said that only the Mayor and the CEO, Brenda Hatfield, could issue such authorizations. When I asked her if she would pass the request along, she did not exactly hang up on me. She just laid the phone down until if eventually went dead. But before that, I could hear her saying in a rather forceful voice to someone on another line, "That's the third time you've repeated yourself, and no matter how many times you say it, the answer is going to be the same." In all fairness, she was probably pretty fried. And there were certainly other calamities that could claim higher priority than our own. Even so, that record collection WAS still in jeopardy, not because of the hurricane, but because we couldn't get the machine to work right. In one of those many serendipiddities that confront us throughout this saga, my Chief Engineer happened to mention to me, that on his way back to Dallas from New Orleans (see my second update here) he ran into the City's Music Business Director, Ernest Collins, sitting in a restaurant in Jackson, MS. Mr. Collins it seemed (as he told Damond) had plans to head to Kansas for the next 2 or 3 months.
Later in the afternoon, I received a call from a station supporter in Mykonos, Greece. I mentioned our problem. He said, "Not to worry," I'll call my friend who is here with me in Mykonos, and he'll call his
brother who has evacuated to Aspen. This man is very close to the mayor and we'll get this thing solved." We lauged at having to Greece the wheels of the machine from 4,000 miles away.
Somewhere in there, I got a call from Rolling Stone, saying that they wanted to send a photographer to cover us broadcasting from our temporary studios in Baton Rouge. (Had Councilman Batt been talking to the Rolling Stone, too?) After I disabused her of that fantasy (what we ARE doing, of couse, is stream from New Jersey by grace of WFMU-FM and pre-recorded MP3 files sent to us by WWOZ show hosts and listeners alike)-- I offered her something perhaps even more photogenic -- the possibility of getting the first photos of our studio and office since the hurricane. Sonya (RS photo editor) thought it might not be a bad angle. All we needed now were the blooming passes to get into the city.
By 8PM I was pretty despondent about hearing from ANYone who could get us those passes. I had told the roofer I would call him when we got the greenlight. By now he probably had taken another job down the road.
I phoned Damond to tell him not to worry about overnighting the key to the studio (he had the only one, and he was in Dallas) since it didn't look like we'd be needing it. But he suggested I call the head of
Lousiaina Public Broadcasting. He had met her Thursday (on that same trip back from New Orleans to Dallas!) and he thought she was a real person who could really understand the importance of the record
Chuck Miller, the new General Manager at WWNO-FM (hired 7 WEEKS before Katrina!), had been kind enough to give me Beth's numbers, including a home phone. Around 8 PM, and in desperation, I used that home phone number. When she heard the story, Beth said, "No problem, we'll just ride in with WWL tommorrow. They won't have any trouble getting into the city. Just meet me at Louisiana Public Broadcasting at 9 AM."
I excitedly called the roofer back. He in fact had taken another job, but allowed that it might not pan out, and agreed to meet me in LaPlace at the Home Depot 10 AM. We were on!
I then called the RS photographer, Kerry Maloney, and we arranged for her to meet up with us at LPB. She was excited about the shoot, I was ecstatic.
I then called Damond back. He reminded me that Dwayne Breashears, our Program Director, had just moved to Baton Rouge (Dwayne and I had both just arrived here 2 days ago) and HE had a set of keys to the studio.
So late Friday night I searched out Dwayne in the southrern reaches of Baton Rouge, got the keys and was all set for the trip.
The next morning, we assembled as plan. Well almost as planned. Damond was right. Beth IS a real person. I liked the way she just saw past the manmade obstacles and went for it. And she really understood why it was so important to protect all those recordings.
She introduced me to Frank Kleinpeter, an LPB engineer, and informed me that there would be a WWL crew going in at 10 AM and we could ride in with them. However, it turned out that Beth wasn't going with us. And the plan seemed to be getting wobbly. "Just how is it," I wondered aloud, "that we are going to explain a guy with an extension ladder and a roll of visqueen needing a press pass! I don't think those guys at checkpoint charlie are going to buy him covering the story with visqueen."
And now Kerry was saying that she would have to take her own car, since Rolling Stone had her assigned to another story in Plaquemines Parish later that day.
How were we going to get a caravan of 4 cars and a truck with a trailer into the city, posing as a news team!
But Beth was up to the situation. She produced a very official letter on LPB stationery, indicating that I was being sent to New Orleans to do damage assessment and, where possible, repair public broadcasting equipment and towers (I guess that took care of the extension ladder anyway) in New Orleans. She also handed me a WWL Logo for my dashboard. Then she gave me an impromptu tour of LPB's facilities, handed me a DVD that LPB had produced called, "Radio Waves," in which, she told me, WWOZ had been prominently featured.
I was profoundly moved but ever so distracted wondering how this thing was going to work. But she was very upbeat about it all as she left to do something with her daughter. Frank and I waited until 10 AM. He then introduced me to the WWL team (three people in two rental cars with no station logos on them).
Only, these guys weren't going by way of LaPlace. They were taking another route. They were going in from the north over the causeway. I called my roofer. He surprised me, said, "No problem, I'll just meet
you at the Lakeside Shopping Center at the causeway exit. I don't have any trouble getting into Jefferson Parish. Just Orleans."
So Kerry and I tucked our cars into the WWL convoy and off we went. After about an hour, in very thick traffic, we pulled up to the causeway entrance. Our first checkpoint. Fatigues. They were friendly
and waved us in.
Another 26 miles, across the very lake which is now in my living room, we were at the Shopping Center. We drove all around the rendezvous spot. No roofer anywhere. The WWL team was anxious to keep moving, in fact they pulled out. I went scrambling behind them and called the roofer. He was on his way. I told him to forget about it. Turn around and meet us further down the road. "No problem."
And sure enough, when we got to River Road, he was there. He joined the parade and now the 5 1/2 of us (the 1/2 is for his trailer) pulled up to the REAL check point: Orleans Parish.
The New Orleans Police Department was back. As I listened to the radio on the way in, Chief Compass had announced that the NOPD had reorganized and was once more a coherent force. And I can vouch for the fact that they were very much in control of this checkpoint. Just two days before, we were only challenged by military units, who truly were occupying a foreign country.
This was the real acid test. The lead WWL vehicle stopped, the driver talked a rather long time with an officer in a blue-black tee shirt, white silk-screened letters "POLICE" on the back. Then I pulled in
behind the lead car with my WWL logo on the dashboard -- waved on through. At this point we had to pull on the side for quite a long time while some large vehicle maneuvered about, stopping traffic in
both directions. It was one of those tense waitings -- like when you're waiting to get a lab test result back or after a job interview but before they call you back. Finally-- it was Kerry's turn. She was
waved through. And then the truck and trailer. I looked through my rear view mirror. Slowly lugging forward. We were in! We followed our scouts into the city. Unlike the last trip, there were no more
checkpoints. So at Poydras Street we parted ways with the WWL crew and headed along the edge and back of the French Quarter til we got to the Park.
The roofer guys immediately clambered out, set up their ladder and got to it. Kerry whipped out her bigtime cameras (you can always tell the big time cameras by the quality of their whirring sound as they snap a picture). Three guys from French Television (Strasbourg) showed up. They had "TV" written in greasepaint on their windshield, were very interested in what we were doing and hung around all the time we were there. Only strange thing was, they had no cameras. Not even smalltime cameras. But their French was impeccable, so what if they didn't have cameras?
Our next project was to board up the doorways the better to secure the building. Someone had locked our gate around the studio, and we had no key to unlock it.The gate and the wall are around ten feet tall. So the roofer simply pulled his extension ladder apart into two step ladders and we clambered over the wall and trooped into the studio. There was mold on the carpet and it was wet. But the equipment was in good shape and upstairs the control room was high and dry. Ditto for the record collection. Kerry got some more great shots.
We then went over to the office across the street from the park. Chief Al Morris of the Skull and Bones gang showed up. Then a lady walked up from another direction. Chief said there were a number of people still living in Treme, had no intention of leaving. He himself, had plans to be on a plane to Los Angeles later that afternoon, but he'd be back in 2 weeks looking for construction work.
The greatest surprise of the day was opening the office. It is in a little creole cottage which sits about a foot off the ground. That was all it needed. One foot high and dry. Everything was intact. I scooped
up our membership computer with all our membership history in it (we do have an offsite company backing up all our data, but whether we could actually get a hold of these backups has not yet been
I then gathered up a lot of station memorabilia. Photos, trophies, awards, WWOZ CD's. Then four drawersful of paper files, documents (including our insurance documents) and letterhead. The sun and heat and humidity were intense and I was getting exhausted (probably heat-exhausted).
Victor Davis, a neighbor down the street, who also is a film maker, showed up with a camera. Did a rather long interview with me and Chief Al standing on the sidewalk. Helicopters constantly buzzed overhead, probably ruining half of Victor's audio. While we were opining on this and that, a huge military transport truck showed up with a whole lot of soldiers. The red beret kind. And right in their midst-- the lady who had appeared before us from Treme earlier that morning. They were going through the neighborhood making announcements on the loudspeaker. They eyed me and Chief Al and Victor out on the sidewalk-- but they just moved on.
While I was driving in earlier, I had heard on the radio that the city was not forcing anyone out of their homes. Somewhere in conversation with someone, I had even heard that the city attorney had taken the
position that it would not be legal to do so. I've no doubt that the lady from Treme was not forced to leave her home. Seeing all those red berets, she probably just made a well-informed decision.
Some Japanese guys drove by with "TV" written in grease paint on their windshield.
All the time this was going on, I kept getting calls. Many people, it seems, had read Dave Walker's article abour our roof problems, and they were calling to help. An engineer from the University of
Tennessee was calling back to arrange donating a transmitter to WWOZ if we needed one. I had to cut the call short because Senator Landrieu's office called to see if we still needed help with the roof.
They were concerned and had a roofer in New Orleans they could send right over!
If you're reading this, engineer from the University of Tennessee, PLEASE call back.
I didn't leave the staton until around 3:30PM. Dwayne had asked me to check on his house in mid city. It didn't take much checking. The water has receded somewhat from the river end of Canal toward the
lake, but it still pushes beyond Claiborne Avenue (about 20 blocks from the river). There is no way to drive to Dwayne's neighborhood, and my guess is-- that tells you all you need (but don't want) to
I then decided to take another look at our transmitter. The water had receded a few more blocks so I could get a lot closer to the building on which our tower/transmitter is located. I still couldn't get to the
roof since the building is surrounded by a moat of murky, toxic, oily, bacterial liquid that goes about halfway up the doors of the cars that are parked on the street.
I wished I hadn't gotten a closer look. From the back of the building, on Tulane Avenue, I could now see that the tower has a slight bend, say about 11 degrees, from the 4th section up. I haven't talked to our
engineers yet, but I know this is isn't good.
I then drove out the city taking St Charles and Prytania. In every section-- Treme, French Quarter, Uptown, Riverbend-- I would see one or two people, acting like it was Saturday afternoon in New Orleans: walking their dog, raking the leaves, puttering around the front of their house.
There are people still left in the city despite the "mandatory evacuation." They have no intention of leaving. And where there was only wind damage and not water damage, homeowners are becoming more demanding about returning to the city. That may be as much as 40% of the city if you include (and why wouldn't you?) the other side of the Mississippi River on the West Bank. The City announced today that it would probably take a month to "unwater" New Orleans, instead of the previously announced 80 days. Moving the timetable up for the next phase of reconstruction has enormous implications for the eventual well being of the city. If people can come back sooner, the city will
recover more quickly. Have a better chance to recover its personality.
WWOZ's goal is to get back on the air as soon as possible. One of the questions we are still wrestling with is: Do we set up a temporary studio in Kenner, or even Baton Rouge and transmit our signal from
Kenner, or even Luling, or do we just leap frog back to our real studio and our real antenna?
And we still don't know. But one of the things that would definitely make a difference to us is the timetable for people being allowed to move back to those portions of the city which are habitable. For
example, if we had been located in Jefferson Parish to begin with, we would definitely be planning to just go back to our original facilities-- since Jefferson will be up and running within 3 weeks.
On the other hand, if the entire city is going to be locked down for months, then we don't want to wait. We'll have to set up shop elsewhere.
There are other things we still don't know which will play an important role:
First and foremost, will Tulane University recommission the building at 1440 Canal? That is where our transmitter is located. Without electricity and personnel there to work with, we can't use our
transmitter where it is. Tulane has announced that it will not open this year (semester?).
Even if the building is not a problem, will electricity be restored in Armstrong Park anytime soon? The Park has its own internal power system, apart from Entergy, and the transformers (innovatively
situated underground in a city 5 feet below sea level) are probably fried (although we don't know that).
And what is the status of our transmitter? Was it destroyed by water?
I am thinking that we should go back in next Wednesday (if we can get authorization!). By then the water will probably have receded and we can get up to the roof and finally get an answer.
My guess is that the city will be hard pressed to keep people out as time goes by, and that the unwatered areas of New Orleans will begin to function on a time table not far removed from the Jefferson Parish recovery schedule.
If that is the case, and we can find places for some of our staff to live, ( 2 OZilians have already offered us temporary use of apartments in the dry part of New Orleans) we could set up a generator to make
the studio hum, even if Armstrong Park is out of juice.
These are only best case scenarios. We could get slowed down any number of ways: the tower tilt comes to mind. The city's policy on letting people into New Orleans. And we could easily run out of money. It's a race, but today we had a good lap:
We protected our equipment and record collection, retrieved some important documents, data and memorabilia, got a better assessment as to the status of our tower and office facility and got a fresh feel for the pace of the city's recovery.
So to Beth Courtney and our roofer, Jim Dinger, (and the many, many well wishers and concerned listeners) all I've got to say is: "Get 'er done."