THE TEMPTATION to second-guess immediate media coverage when all hell breaks loose on an early Sunday morning is quite inviting and that's what took place when a moderately strong earthquake rocked the Bay Area and Napa 3: 20 AM.
QUAKE! Strong. Scary. Rolling sensation. And long too. Over twenty seconds.
The immediate reports soon after was that all was OK within the immediate SF-Oakland-San Jose Bay Area, courtesy of KCBS Radio which was on the air live only moments after the quake. Thank god for Dean Danos, whose veteran presence made for comfort radio at a time where those of us that felt the shaker live, (like me), were a tad unnerved to say the least.
We soon discovered, on the other hand, that Napa was not so good. KCBS assistant news director, Todd Smoot, who lives near the region, delivered some sobering news about buckled roads, loss of power and massive building damage downtown. Fires too.
Smoot's live reports were impressive given the shaker had occurred only moments earlier. Danos was soon joined in the studio by Janis Wright. Within thirty minutes KCBS had a virtually full force of anchors, reporters, traffic updates and people on the scene. Furthermore, given the gravity of the situation, their decision to go commercial free for the better part of six hours was both welcome and a community service.
Meanwhile, over at the other "all-news" outlet, (for now), KGO Radio, things could not have been more ludicrous, ridiculous, hideous, take your pick. KGO was running canned Bloomberg Radio content which they normally do on Sunday morning. Only Bloomberg went on and on and on, forever. It was only after 5 AM, a good hour and a half after the quake, that "God Talk" host, Brent Walters, played newsman and offered sporadic reports. Dismal. Fortunately, reporter, Scott Lettieri soon landed in the studio and managed to save a little face. It was still dreadful, mind you--farcical too. No knock on Lettieri who is a capable newsman, but KGO's fallen star was never more evident on Sunday morning. No surprise there. Soon, some of the sycophants were defending the albatross station--"hey, it happened in the middle of the night on a Sunday!" Yeah, real difficult to get an anchor and reporter on the cell and order them to get their ass to the studio immediately. Be advised that if the world ends on an early Sunday morning, don't tune into the Sweetjack station.
It could have been worse.
Or worser. On KSFO, some radical, right-wing rabbi based in Seattle was yapping away, on and on never once mentioning the earthquake. Good community relations, then again it's KSFO, why bother making a fuss. Real radio stations, even in the Cumulus byzantine world, would have figured it out and made a plan.
*Bay Area TV stations, for the most part, got it right. KGO and KPIX were out front and center with immediate crawls. Soon after, anchors broke in and reporters were on their way to the scene of the story.
Downtown Napa, as first light rose, looked every bit like a war zone. Pictures of crumbled houses and buildings on fire permeated the screen. Fortunately, as it turned out, there was no loss of life--injuries, some serious, were reported. Stations soon began utilizing news choppers and the surreal scene of destruction was in plain sight.
Special props to KNTV, (NBC Bay Area), in particular, for its commercial-free nonstop coverage with Laura Garcia Cannon and Raj Mathai. Mathai went nine and a half hours straight from 7: 30 to 5 PM. When Garcia-Cannon departed, Mathai was joined in-studio by co-anchor, Jessica Aguirre.
Both KPIX and KTVU were effective early on, with solid anchor work and reporters in Napa relaying eyewitness accounts and MOS reactions. That soon changed as both stations had to cut away to sports events, apparently contractually bound to carry golf and a 49ers exhibition game.
I criticized KPIX for its curious move to go to golf. I understand it's a network call and PIX is owned by CBS which controls sports programming and no doubt wanted the 6th largest market in on its PGA tour, however, given what happened in Napa and the fact that the region was still in a reactive mode, it would have been a good PR move had PIX higher-ups called NY to ask that the station stay with the more important local story. The LEAD story that dominated both the national and local domain.
KTVU was no different but the fact that the 49ers are the dominant sports franchise in the Bay Area, I can understand and give KTVU a pass. To its credit, KTVU ran several updates during the game and cut away from the Fox Network halftime show to go back to Napa.
KRON stuck to the basics.
KGO, which eventually got its A-team crew of Dan Ashley and Ama Daetz into the mix late Sunday afternoon, also did a fine job on the scene, particularly, a great Dan Noyes live shot in front of an old church downtown in early ruins. Wayne Freedman's live reports from an apartment complex was also effective and quite visually-stunning, albeit depressing considering the events of the day.
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