Big Jay Fink, Old-Fashioned Radio DJ, Makes All The Difference

This story warms my heart.

On the same day that one of the lead newspaper stories in The New York Times deals with the possible shutting down of the postal service this winter due to fiscal woes, comes a story about an old-fashioned DJ who made all the difference to his community.  In spite of the news that makes a reader just wonder how much worse can things get comes news that inspires.

Having been one of those old-fashioned type radio announcers for several years at WDOR in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin makes me very aware of the role radio plays in a community.  On good days listeners tune in for fun and general information.  But when the blizzards hit, or calamity strikes, radio can become a lifeline.

As was the case in the Catskills on WRIP-FM thanks to Big Jay Fink.

The thrust of this story is that local radio matters.

While I was working at that small AM/FM station in Door County we may not have been cutting edge, but we were local. Local neighborhood disc-jockeys with the current weather and local fishing conditions, high school sports reports, and even the local obituaries were read on certain long-form newscasts. (When was the last long-form newscast or a real ‘noon report of local news’ that anyone of my readers has heard on radio?) Is the model of WDOR what every radio station should be? No, of course not. But it served a sizable niche, and the important part was that it was local talent broadcasting local content.

No one pretended to be more than what we were. We were happy to work out of a small studio that was too hot in the summer, and too chilly in the winter, but we knew our audience. Heck, we lived in the community, cared for our friends, and shared many commonalities. As such we served the community through our daily broadcasting. Local live radio for local listeners. And I might say with humility, having been a part of their radio team, that it was also profitable.

Which is a long way of saying this story in the paper, with a portion posted below, really warms my heart.

(Due to WordPress unable to fix their link problem I ask my readers to forgive how I am forced to paste links into my blog.

As floodwaters rose on the morning of Aug. 28, Mr. Fink interrupted the regular Sunday programming on WRIP-FM (97.9); instead of a classic Casey Kasem countdown, listeners found Mr. Fink — beginning what would be a 13-hour on-air marathon. He calmly fielded calls from people trapped by the surging waters and doled out information on makeshift shelters.

For many of the 49,000 people spread out over the 650-odd square miles that make up Greene County, Mr. Fink became the voice of the storm.

“The worst of it was the calls from Prattsville; people saying, ‘I am on the roof of my trailer,’ and asking where their rescue was,” he said.

Mr. Fink, 54, is an old-school radio guy who got his start at a university radio station. He was supposed to be on vacation when the storm hit; he could not afford to go anywhere, so he opted to just hang out at the radio station, which operates out of an old bowling alley not far from Windham’s main street.

On Saturday night, as the storm began to rain down, a friend dropped off a cot so Mr. Fink would be near the microphone if things took a turn for the worse. On Sunday morning, as the water kept rising, he began breaking into the station’s programs, giving updates throughout “Direct Connection,” a Christian radio show, and the Casey Kasem program.

About 9 a.m., power and a number of the region’s cellphone towers were knocked out, leaving thousands without any way of communicating. WRIP’s backup generator kicked in, and the phone, an old-fashioned land line, started ringing. It has not stopped since.

For days Mr. Fink, who was soon joined by his colleague Joe Loverro, played matchmaker, soothing stranded residents, taking down numbers to relay to rescue workers and passing on information about makeshift shelters and closed roads. The two personalities and other WRIP employees guided listeners through the arrival of the National Guard, carrying emergency supplies, to towns like Prattsville, and kept people apprised of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s trip on Wednesday to that community, which was devastated by the storm.

People listened, first from radios powered by batteries or generators, and later from their cars as they drove around to survey the damage, which may top $1 billion in New York alone, Mr. Cuomo has estimated.

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