About three weeks ago, I started following the track of Hurricane Irma as it marched its way across the Atlantic Ocean.
About two weeks ago, I started paying closer attention to Irma because the spaghetti noodle models had placed the track coming directly to the east coast of Florida with a possible veer to the west that would place it coming directly north through Georgia to the North Georgia Mountains where I live.
Last week Hurricane Irma, now the largest ever recorded hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean, had my full attention. It had veered westward slightly and I would now be on the east side of the storm where the strongest winds and rains would be located. Local authorities had advised to be on the lookout for high winds, possible tornadoes and the possibility of long-term power outages.
I admit I’m a weather geek–I’ve always wanted to chase tornadoes and twenty years ago, I was the voice of Pickens County as Hurricane Opal roared through the mountains. I was live on the air broadcasting from our studios, which was in a mobile home under a 206-ft electrical tower on local radio station WYYZ. I was on the air until about 3 am until we were finally knocked off the air for good. Mark Hellinger, owner of the station showed up at the station around 5 am–I stayed at the station because the weather was too bad to make the drive home and the first thing Mark said was “We have to get back on the air.”
Mark’s background was in broadcast news. He’d moved from central Ohio after graduating high school and moved to Florida where he spent time on radio and television around the West Palm Beach area. He worked on The Sally Jessy Raphael Show, had his picture taken with Peter Jennings and won an Emmy for a story he produced about a previous hurricane in Florida. He’d left his job in Florida to pursue a dream of owning his own radio station, and in 1994, he bought the then-dark (off air) station WYYZ in Jasper, Georgia.
I’d always wanted to be on the radio so I’d answered an ad in the local paper looking for on-air talent and showed up at the station to fill out an application. I pretended to read a news article over the air and recorded my first commercial. Mark came in later, listened to me speak and after a brief discussion said “You’ve got a good voice and welcome to WYYZ. We start broadcasting on New Year’s Day. One thing you might want to work on though is how you say our call sign. W is three syllables long and is pronounced dou-ble-u, not dubya, otherwise, I think you’ll be just fine.
For the next two weeks, I pretended to be an announcer when I was home. I held a brush up to my mouth and pretended I was speaking into a microphone and I dropped by the station to learn how to operate the board. The board was short for control board and it controlled the various CD players, cassette decks, turn tables and phone lines. It wasn’t hard once you learned what knob controlled which device.
Mark also taught me how to do an intro to a song and to never play more than two songs in a row without speaking. Ever wonder how an announcer knows exactly when to stop talking right before a song begins? Back then, the cover of the CD–we weren’t automated–listed the lead intro, the artist and the song–announcers knew exactly when to stop.
Opening day was finally here and it was time for me to make my broadcast debut. Mark introduced me “Please welcome our new weekend DJ, G. Palmer. Tell us a little bit about yourself.”