WBZ News Anchor Ben Parker (left) interviewing IPAWS Director Antwane Johnson in the newly upgraded PEP station broadcast “bunker.”
By Alan Chartrand, Boston Market President, iHeartMedia
We may not always be able to predict emergencies, but we can prepare for them. And now, thanks to FEMA’s partnership with iHeartMedia, we are helping Americans prepare for them even better by ensuring they have the emergency information they need when disasters strike.
As many states across the country continue to recover from hurricanes Henri and Ida, FEMA and iHeartMedia’s WBZ NewsRadio 1030 Boston unveiled a new emergency broadcast studio designed to increase the station’s ability to continue broadcasting under all conditions, including natural disasters and acts of terrorism. The all-hazards upgrade includes increased sheltering capabilities, expanded broadcast capacity, and sustainable power generation for all types of hazardous events.
The modernization project, part of a nationwide effort by FEMA to upgrade Primary Entry Point stations, highlights broadcast radio’s critical role in the national emergency alert and warning system.
Celebrating its 100th anniversary in September and honored with a congratulatory letter from President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., WBZ NewsRadio 1030 shares FEMA’s mission to protect and inform the public. Local broadcast radio stations — especially many AM radio stations — are critical information lifelines that our communities rely on when hurricanes, wildfires, tornados, floods and even blackouts arise.
In fact, local radio’s unmatched reach and resiliency often makes it the only available source of local information after severe weather and other natural disasters strike. Sadly, we have seen this play out all too often, including recently, when Hurricane Ida devastated communities in and around New Orleans. More than 1 million people were left without power, cellphone or internet service, but they did have local radio. For them, a battery-powered radio or car radio became a lifeline for information about what to do, where to go, and how to get help.
At a news conference on October 15 to unveil the new emergency broadcast studio at WBZ’s transmitter site in Hull, Massachusetts, the Director of FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, Antwane Johnson, said: “The reason we make investments into sites like this is that we know when there is a catastrophic event… broadcast radio has been on the air. I know in the case of an emergency; I’m going to broadcast radio to get the information I need from the sources I trust.”
Manny Centeno, the project manager for the National Public Warning System and leads the IPAWS PEP station modernization efforts, emphasized broadcast radio technology’s enduring resiliency. “You can listen to WBZ on a radio bought in 1930, the same as a radio in a brand-new car. That’s how good radio is. It’s backwards compatible, and it’s going into the future,” Centeno said. “Let’s support it as the backbone of information for the public. It works, and it’s always there when it’s needed.”
Jeff Littlejohn, iHeartMedia’s Executive Vice President for Engineering and Systems, adds, “Free, local radio is there to serve. It is not hyperbole to say radio saves lives.” And it’s true. WBZ saw a huge spike in listeners just two months ago when Hurricane Henri hit New England.
iHeartMedia places enormous importance on ensuring the resiliency of our stations and the safety of our local personnel. Our company fully appreciates what a lifeline local radio is in emergencies. It’s simply what we, as broadcasters do.
This is what makes this PEP upgrade so important. WBZ reaches a staggering amount of people throughout New England and well beyond. Our listeners are our families, friends, coworkers, neighbors, and individuals who turn to us not just in times of crisis, but for companionship, clarity and a familiar and trusted voice. We all hope we never have to experience the kinds of catastrophes that these facilities are able to withstand. But if we do, thanks to FEMA’s excellent planning and execution, we will be ready and able to keep doing what we do: serve our communities when they need us the most.
The PEP station facilities in Hull, Massachusetts.