Friday, March 12, 1993, was the outset of a six-day period I will never forget.
I have always considered myself to be a student of weather. Having lived in the Rome area for nine years at the time I learned a little bit about what influences the weather in Rome and there was no doubt in my mind that we were going to get snow that evening.
It was almost like a hurricane coming out of the Gulf of Mexico, getting to Northwest Georgia about the same time a brutal cold front plunged south from Canada.
I was guestimating somewhere between six and eight inches, enough for sure to keep me at the radio station that night, so when my shift ended sometime after noon I went home fully expecting an all-nighter at the radio station.
As my wife and I prepared to come back to Rome, I called some friend and asked if my wife could spend the night with them. We both brought sleeping bags back to Rome …we kept checking the windows to see what was happening outside.
Somewhere around 7 p.m. I decided that it was snowing hard enough that I needed to get on over the WRGA-WQTU, which was located on Sixth Avenue at the time. My wife went on to our friend’s home in north Rome.
Little could I have imagined that I wouldn’t get home, to Adairsville, until the following Wednesday. I didn’t get out of the radio station to even get a shower until Tuesday.
All hands on deck
Our engineer, Phil Baker gone to Mount Alto to check on the generator at the WQTU transmitter. Mike McDougald is also a big weather guy and was prepared as best as he could for disasters. Our Operations Manager Ben Cleary reminded me the other day that Baker had to slide off the mountain to get a battery for the generator and it was his ability to pull that off that kept WQTU on the air when virtually everyone else was without power.
At some point Friday evening, Cleary, Tony McIntosh and myself got tired of trudging down the back steps to sweep out the dish that was necessary for the satellite programming. It was snowing so hard that as soon as we cleaned the dish and got back inside, the dish was so full of snow that we had to sweep it again. So we made the decision to go live.
We tried to keep some music going until it got to the point, I’m sure it was sometime early Saturday morning when Q-102 became an emergency talk radio station.
This was a time when Facebook and Twitter were not even part of anyone’s imagination.
Q-102 was it for Rome during most of those six days. Mike McDougald’s foresight in having a huge generator on the mountain coupled with the heavy snow that brought trees down making access to other stations transmitters or studios meant that it was our responsibility to make sure human needs were being met.
Stephanie Wines, a young lady on our news team, was able to walk in from her home on North Fifth Avenue and joined the rotation on the air, as did Don Briscar and Dave Butler.
I don’t recall the man’s name but a young Marine Reserve officer came by the station at some point in his four-wheel drive jeep and offered his assistance in getting food or medicine to people in need. Talk about a Godsend! He was the first of what became a four-wheeler brigade of volunteers who were in my opinion the true heroes of the whole event.
Community pulled together
There were scores, probably hundreds of serious issues that had to be dealt with as people were without power for days and days. Without those good people who gave of their time and put their vehicles at risk in conditions most of us hope we’ll never see again, needs could not have been met.
A young couple lived somewhere on the south side of the county and had young twins with dietary issues. Their parents could not get out to get food and we put the call out for help. It seemed like it was no time at all before the lobby at the radio station was full of Similac.
I recall someone who was on dialysis and either had to get to a hospital or get a generator to the house to avoid serious medical problems. The four-wheel brigade saved the day.
We couldn’t have accomplished what we did without an overwhelming outpouring of support from the community. People made donations of cash along with food and vehicles.
We were working shifts of four to six hours on the air and then trying to sleep on the floor in the newsroom. Thank goodness for the sofa in Cleary’s office and the fact that the floors were carpeted.
It was Tuesday before Mike McDougald was able to get me into a pickup truck and take me to my friend’s home in North Rome to get a shower. When McDougald picked me up to take me back to the station, the cab was o full of emergency food and medicine that I rode the mile and a half back to the station in the bed of the pickup.
Bad decision. After a long, and I mean long, hot shower, it was not the best idea to have ridden in the bed of that pick up as cold as it still was.
Tuesday night was the last night I spent on the floor at the station, finally getting back to Adairsville and up the hill to the house on Wednesday. Part of the reason, to be honest, that I didn’t go home until Wednesday was the fact that we didn’t have any power there until then.
The snow may have melted and washed away into the streams and rivers but the memories will last forever.