Fire coverage from local radio blazes new trails
Glenwood Springs residents have heard something of a rarity in today’s corporate- controlled radio world, a world that often doesn’t include local news departments.
Three downvalley radio stations – KMTS, KGLN and KDNK – produced dozens of hours of Coal Seam Fire coverage in the last two days, including live interviews and broadcasts of regularly scheduled press conferences.
The broadcasts updated residents on road closures and areas of evacuation, and helped ease fears.
“We told people to stay calm and not panic,” said KMTS news director Ron Milhorn. “You could see the panic on peoples’ faces, when they loaded up their pets and kids and were getting out of West Glenwood.”
Milhorn, a Rifle resident who was trapped in Glenwood due to the Interstate 70 closures, hit the airwaves Saturday afternoon, and went into a Sunday afternoon press conference with just a couple of hours sleep.
“I thought I’d get some sleep at the station, but the phone was ringing off the hook,” he said. The calls weren’t from other media outlets, but from people who just wanted to know what was happening with the fire. At first, Milhorn found the calls bothersome. But he quickly decided he was just being selfish to think of himself.
“These people had real concerns. . Some of them were crying. I just told them what I knew,” Milhorn said.
All through Saturday evening and late into the night, KMTS cut into its country music programming at least every hour to update residents and report news.
Milhorn, and KMTS staffers Debbie Brainard and Leslie Torres, spent some of their early on-air time dispelling wild rumors and inaccuracies. Some of those inaccuracies, such as the one about the Glenwood Springs Community Center burning down, were spread by Front Range and national media outlets.
“Getting out information accurately was the key. Being accurate and timely,” Milhorn said.
A lot of the information gathered by the radio stations came from press conferences called by local, state and national governmental agencies.
The Latino community was served by Spanish language KGLN and KDNK segments.
KDNK, a Carbondale community radio station, drew praise from Glenwood Springs resident Terry Glasenapp, who along with his family was evacuated from Four Mile Creek Sunday morning.
Glasenapp and his son Aaron had spent much of Saturday night getting back to Glenwood Springs via Paonia, after being cut off due to I-70 closures.
“I was relieved to hear a report on KDNK at 1 a.m. from Scott McInnis, Gregg Rippy and the mayor, just trying to get out the facts,” Glasenapp said. “It was quite contrary to what we were hearing from Grand Junction.”
KDNK station manager Mary Suma credited volunteer DJ Amy Marsh for getting the 1 a.m. interview while the trio were at the Red Cross center at Colorado Mountain College’s Spring Valley Campus.
“We got more information out of those people,” Suma said. “It was brilliant. It was phenomenal radio.”
Suma said early on she made the decision that KDNK wouldn’t report anything that wasn’t confirmed. “There was so much misinformation out there,” she said.
KDNK’s care extended to confirming an elected official’s statement that No Name was not going up in flames.
“Gavin, a DJ, rode his bike out there to confirm it. He hustled out there,” Suma said.
Back at KMTS, Milhorn said in the mid to late 1990s, “mega companies” were buying groups of radio stations. The resulting stations are so automated, they get their musical programming from corporate headquarters via satellite, and the same DJ’s voice is heard all over the country. Local news is either de-emphasized, or nonexistent.
“That’s unfortunate, because that’s what local radio is all about,” Milhorn said. “But I think I see it coming back.”
Milhorn said he doesn’t think about awards and such when going after local news. Rather, he thinks of snow reports, and letting people know when roads are bad.
“The reward comes when someone says `Thanks,'” he said.
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