Monday, June 09, 2008

Anybody know where I can buy a $40
black-and-white, battery-run digital TV?

Exactly 24 hours ago, I was in our basement at the computer when all hell broke loose outside.

I've always been a night owl, and at about 20 after 2 Sunday morning, I was thinking of turning in after finishing up with some E-mail.

THE MISSUS, who had been dozing in the Big Blue Chair, was getting ready for bed herself. It just so happened that the living-room TV was on Channel 7, and that Channel 7 happened to have meteorologist Chuck McWilliams on duty as a line of storms bore down on the Omaha metro.

And it just so happened that my wife noticed that McWilliams had broken into programming to warn that a storm he'd been eyeing on its trek across eastern Nebraska was about to hit far southwestern Omaha with unexpected violence.

It had suddenly gone tornadic. The National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning at 2:22 a.m. The tornado warning followed at 2:26 a.m. The tornado sirens went off just as the tornado -- an EF-2 -- bore down on our neighborhood.

My wife ran downstairs and I ran upstairs -- to grab Molly the Dog, who was trying to hide behind the Big Blue Chair.

WHAT I DIDN'T KNOW as I ran back down to the basement, with Molly the Dog in my arms and with the sirens blaring, was that the tornado was right over our neighborhood, having lifted off the ground about a mile and a half from our house.

It had plowed into the Millard area of Omaha nine minutes before the tornado warning went out. The only warning anyone had -- at least apart from that telltale freight-train roar before your roof disappears -- was a two-minute heads up from a junior weatherman pulling an all-nighter at KETV, Channel 7.

The sirens were too late because the tornado formed too suddenly.

Channel 3 was no use because no one was there, no one or nothing but an automated crawl across the bottom of the TV screen. Ditto Channel 6. And multiply Channel 6 by Channels 15 and 42.

You know what 3 times 6 times 15 times 42 equals? Nothing.

Thank God for Channel 7 -- and for Chuck McWilliams drawing the short straw Saturday night.

Just as I got downstairs with Molly the Dog, the cable went out. Remember that, by this time, a 2½-mile stretch of southwest Omaha already was a patchwork of downed trees, arcing power lines, missing roofs and blown-apart houses.

MINDLESS INSTINCT directed me to a battery radio, which I switched on for . . . well, I can't tell you why because I knew what I'd find. Nothing.

On KFAB, Omaha's news-talk leader . . . commercials. On the stripped chassis of news-talk KKAR -- which, if it were a car, surely would be missing its engine, its wheels and would be resting on concrete blocks -- there was something from the satellite.

On all the FMs . . . fugeddaboutit. Wait, I think there might have been a live person on Z-92 reading the weather bulletin after a few minutes had passed.

We went back to the crippled television, changed the channel from cable 9 to over-the-air 7 and watched Chuck McWilliams through the snow.

After a few minutes, KFAB and the rest of Clear Channel's Omaha stations came to life with some sketchy live weather coverage . . . as the storm was getting ready to cross the river into Iowa. KKAR also finally came to life -- well, as much life as KKAR ever comes to, being that it barely has a staff.

By the grace of God, nobody died in Omaha in the wee hours of Sunday morning. A few close calls and a couple of minor injuries -- but no body bags, thank the Lord.

The only carcasses strewn about town in the storm's wake were those of the city's radio and TV stations. Well, all but one.

Then again, the tornado had nothing to do with those fatalities. The storm merely exposed the corpses.

IF YOU WANT to see the death notice for American radio, I think I may have run across it Sunday night on

Deane Johnson isn't a newspaperman, and he doesn't play one on TV. But as a retired Top-40 program director who used to work for the legendary Todd Storz back when radio was IT, the man knows an obit when he hears one in the street after his neighborhood has just been hammered but good:

Saw a group of neighbors out in the street talking. Joined them. What were they talking about? You won't believe it. They were talking about how you couldn't depend on KFAB any more for information and couldn't watch TV because the power was out. If I were running a station like KFAB, these things would scare the bajeezus out of me.
BETRAYED LISTENERS scare today's pilots of the airwaves? Feh!

Now if the neighbors were investment bankers. . . .

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow. Well-said. I just heard Dave Wingert on KGOR congratulating Clear Channel on its coverage. WHAT A KISS-UP. Clear Channel didn't have any coverage when the storm hit -- not until some minutes afterward. Give me the old days of live radio anytime, this automation stuff is crap.