During the Blizzard of '93, March 12-14, 1993, people all over the Eastern Seaboard, including even the South, often rode out the high snows and frozen roads in their homes.
Wayne Ball spent as much as 20 hours at a time, experiencing the historic blizzard inside a Gadsden radio station. We asked him to share his memories the week of the blizzard's 20th anniversary.
"When you're doing something and it's got your attention, and like handling emergency after emergency, you know, six to eight hours went by, seemed like maybe an hour," Ball recalled.
Ball was part of the announcing staff of WAAX-AM 570 at the time. He and other announcers including the late newsman Dave Fitz, were heard updating information on where people could get firewood or try to track down missing family members.
WAAX was a member of the Emergency Broadcast System, so they had auxiliary power at a time when other stations shut down due to chronic, widespread power outages. The 20 inches of snow led to wall-to-wall coverage that pre-empted what was then a country music format.
"We had a bank of eight phone lines that were just constantly lit up for about 24 to maybe 30 hours," Ball recalled. "And they would get somebody in a four-wheeler to go take care of them, take them some medicine, you know, an elderly person, or getting some food to them, or some heat."
And those dramas often played out over the air.
When Fitz arrived at the station, he could be heard describing his trip over thanks to some neighbors.
"I finally got down, thanks to Dan Kornegay and Roger Porter, neighbors that had four wheel drive and chains...They found out where they could get some kerosene so they were going to pick that up and take it to all of our homes," he said.
At another point Fitz gives this update: "A message for Joyce, her sister did call and she is okay, but she needs firewood desperately, and her daughter who lives in Duck Springs needs to call Mona and let her know she's okay."
Fitz and Ball can be heard reading off names of the few restaurants and grocery stores that were open, as well as gas stations selling kerosene, and factories that were cancelling shifts. The blizzard happened over a weekend, so school closings weren't necessary yet. But a few school related events needed to be cancelled.
People can often be heard inquiring about power outages, but also offering food and firewood. When one caller said she was desperate to find food for her children, another caller a few minutes later, said she lived a short distance away and offered to make sandwiches.
Dave Fitz later went to work for another Gadsden station. He died in August 2009.
WAAX-AM is now a talk radio station, and Ball works for the station's current owner, Clear Channel, in a marketing capacity. Ball said he received comments about the station's unprecedented coverage as late as five years later.
Even now, in the era of social media like Facebook and Twitter, Ball thinks radio would still play a similar, important role in a similar event. He acknowledged, for instance, the role New York City radio stations played in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy last year.
"We had a lot of people that, you know, we'd always taken radio for granted until that week, and all of the sudden we knew how important it could be, in certain times especially," Bell said.
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