Springfield Tornado & Media report

Mark Casey map@mapinternet.com
Wed Jun 8 16:23:09 EDT 2011

The tornado cut a swath west to east, about 40 miles. Most of the real 
destruction was about 1/4 to 1/2 mile wide, but there was an area of lesser 
damage -- treees down, etc--that I've seen, of over a mile wide in places. 
It damaged several homes on the north side of our town (Hampden), and many 
more in Wilbraham and Monson nearby.

All afternoon, I was at work, listening to WDRC-FM here in Hampden, near the 
state line.  I heard the Hampden police on the scanner, say they sighted a 
funnel cloud out near Springfield when they were up a the hill looking that 
way. That's what tipped me off.

Around 5pm, after the tornado was passing 2-3 miles north of here. We could 
see the swirling dark clouds going by. After it the clouds went east from 
here, I checked WHYN AM and it was still running Howie Carr. Then around 
5:25, the power went out (All of Hampden/Wilbraham/Monson/E.Longmeadow was 
out of power for at least 31 hrs) and we didn't tune in to radio til after 
7pm and by then, WHYN had the morning host and their only newsman (for 4 
stations) on with a callin and tornado info program. Clear Channel, while 
claiming WHYN as the News and Informatiuon  leader, is far from a real news 
and information operation. Except for mornings before 9am, they appear to be 
a mostly hands off, let the computer run the station operation. My hat's off 
to the WHYN morning crew, news chief (of a 1 man operations) and on-air and 
engineering employees of WHYN-AM-FM & WRNX and WPKX that came in to do 
tornado coverage and to keep the 4 stations on the air--they were great. But 
the station owners get the full-of-baloney award for their claims and then 
lack of performance. I went around the dial and heard  music or commercials 
on most of the other stations. The TV stations--22, spfld 3, 40-- had much 
better coverage that started earlier than radio. But not many folks had TV 
with all the power out in affected and nearby areas.

Ch. 22 was good and the new (Springfield) Ch. 3 was good, considering the 
small size of their operation. Probably, many of you have seen some of the 
tornado video from this area. The segment with the tornado in the 
Connecticut River, and the river water swirling and sucking up into the air, 
with the tornado crossing the Memorial Bridge is a particularly vivid video.

One real problem is that, the powers that be, separated the Springfield and 
Hartford Radio/TV markets. Springfield is 26 miles from Hartford, center 
city to center city. It's like Lowell/Lawrence or Framingham/Natick having 
completely separate Radio/TV markets from Boston. It just doesn't and for 
the ex; would not serve the public well.(Yet, a city like Worcester, being 
45 miles away from Boston, may have actually benefited from separate market 
designation) Years ago there was much cross-coverage, but that has really 
declined. Most of the Hartford stations are *still* local coverage in 
Springfield, and vice versa, so Springfield listeners may or may not be 
aware of which market their station  is in. I'm guilty of listening to 
WDRC-FM most of the time and heard no tornado warning there. I've got to 
think that years ago we would have heard a Springfield warning on 'DRC. On 
top of that, the Bradley Field NWS office was shut down years ago. From 
their records that I've seen, They sent out a tornado warning around 1:30pm. 
I did not see a record of NWS of them actually reporting a tornado in 
progress. Maybe someone of the list has information if their was actually 
such a report.

I had (the typical) trouble with reception on Ch. 22 and Ch. 40. Ch 3, 
Springfield's digital signal comes from the mother station--Ch 3 in 
Hartford. And. its' a better signal; than any of the Springfield stations 
here in Hampden.

Unlike flat areas of the country, the new digital TV works poorly in hilly 
areas like New England. They really need to give the digital stations more 
power--an ongoing debate that's had the FCC make some, but not nearly 
enough, power changes since digital inception.

Note to the FCC: You've probably already heard this many times and made some 
adjustments of the power limits, but 15K  watts on Ch 11 does not equal 
1000K on Channel 20 or 30. Many, many folks in Western Mass in hilly areas 
outside of Springfield or Holyoke have lost their TV reception since digital 
changeover.  There's about a 40-50 mile wide swath between Springfield and 
Boston where TV reception for the average non-technical TV viewer is almost 
impossible. Get with it and let the stations increase their power. Yes, they 
might interfere with each other a little bit more in a few places, but the 
net result will be many more citizens served.

The obvious problem is still evident when most of the area is out of 
power--Many folks have a battery operated AM-FM radio,
but very few folks have a battery operated digital TV-(yet). (Well, I have 
one, but I had not charged the battery for 6 months. It still worked for 2
hours!) Small, battery operated digital TV's are starting to become more 
available, so it might be a good time to get one now that prices have gone
down to $50-$100. Still, a digital battery operated TV will not likely work 
for more than 2-3 hours on its' rechargeable battery, and,  I haven't seen a 
unit that takes regular (ex: C or D) batteries. So, radio is really the only 
choice for emergencies lasting more than a couple of hours.

Boston area listeners are lucky to have WBZ AM.  They had excellent 
coverage, sending at least 2 reporters out here. WBZ's continuing coverage 
was much bettwe than WHYN which, fairly soon, went back to the 
Beck-Rush-Savage propaganda. (Not intending to target the R-winger, as the 
Left wingers have an ewqual amount of propaganda) The Hartford TV stations 
(3-30-61) did a good job, considering they are "out of market". Even New 
York's WCBS AM 880 had a reporter in Springfield. (WCBS AM and WBZ AM have, 
all things considered, about equal daytime signal strength in 
Springfield--WCBS is better at night--that's been the case since 1962, when 
WBZA shut off)

The bottom line is that, when this type of emergency happens, Power is out, 
Internet and Cable TV are going to be out, and over the air TV will probably 
never be the best way to get much emergency coverage to almost all those 
affected, . Over the air RADIO is the only medium that CAN reliably do the 
job in an emergency, but, needs to do a lot better job than it did in 
Western Mass. last week. It would not be a bad idea for WBZ to similcast on 
one of the AM's here in Springfield.  They have the proper news organization 
to respond to an emergency. They might be able to buy one for a low price 
and add to their audience, even sell a few commercials.

Mark Casey, K1MAP, Hampden, MA

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