Hurricane Ian slams into Southwest Florida, affecting media outlets (updated)

The Ft. Myers was devastated by Hurricane Ian. (CNN)

WINK, others manage to keep viewers informed

This post was updated Wednesday afternoon at 2:25 p.m. 

Residents in Southwest and Central Florida are picking up the pieces after Hurricane Ian slammed into the state last Wednesday as a Category 4 storm, forcing numerous media outlets to cease broadcasting. Ian is one of the biggest storms to ever hit the region.

Local stations in Fort Myers-Naples did their best to stay on the air in the nation’s 54th-largest television market, keeping viewers informed and safe. Top-rated CBS affiliate WINK-TV covered the hurricane’s landfall when it took place at 3:05 p.m. Eastern Time but then lost power two hours later (their online feed was available until around 3 p.m. Central, when it stopped.) As they resumed broadcasting over Facebook, WINK’s first-floor newsroom started flooding, forcing the staff to relocate to the second floor. 

“We are like everybody else,” said Tom Doerr, who is director of local news and content at WINK and a former exec at Fox-owned WFLD here from 2010 to 2016, the last three as news director. “We are experiencing the same difficulties like everybody else.”

Hours later, the building WINK was located in – containing the Fort Myers Broadcasting Company (WINK-TV’s owner) and Sun Broadcasting (owner of CW affiliate WXCW) – had to be evacuated altogether with the Fort Myers Fire Department rescuing the remaining employees in the facility. Fort Myers and Sun share the building, which houses several radio stations, including two English-language FM stations they simulcasted their coverage on. 

Other stations managed to stay on the air using backup generators after power was knocked out to nearly two million people in the region as NBC affiliate WBBH-TV and Fox affiliate WFTX kept viewers informed, with the former being simulcasted on Beasley and Renda-owned radio stations. WBBH’s coverage was also streamed live on YouTube.

Sun Broadcasting’s six-station cluster were also affected as they were all knocked off the air during the storm, including Country outlet WHEL-FM, who drew national attention two years ago by flipping from Active Rock to Country and rebranding itself as Trump Country 93.7 FM, later becoming Hell Yeah 93.7FM. Wednesday night, their online streams weren’t working. As of this writing, their “listen live” option was removed from its website and from all Sun Broadcasting stations. Of note, WHEL’s city of license (Sanibel, Fla.) sustained major damage from the Hurricane. 

The building WINK and the two broadcasters were broadcasting has sustained “catastrophic damage” as the station has since resumed broadcasting from a transmitter site. As of last Friday, an FCC status report showed six AM stations, six television stations, and fifteen FMs off the air but on October 1, only one was offline. 

On Wednesday, Radio Insight reported Fort Myers Broadcasting’s Spanish CHR 97.7 Latino (WTLQ-FM) returned to the airwaves Tuesday night using the WHEL frequency for the time being as the hurricane damaged the transmitter it and three other stations were broadcasting from and beforehand, an August fire at the site. It’s not known how long the arrangement would last, but it’s unlikely Hell Yeah 93.7 would return given its low ratings. 

The storm later moved to Orlando, where the area’s amusement parks were temporarily shuttered, including Walt Disney World. Several attractions were under water. Reporter Tony Atkins from Orlando NBC affiliate WESH saved a woman from drowning from rising flood waters

As of this writing, the death toll is unofficially at 85 and is expected to grow. After the storm was finished tearing through Florida, it went out into the Atlantic Ocean and went from a tropical storm to a hurricane again, slamming into the Carolinas and Georgia as a Category 1. Damages are expected to top $1 billion in the Fort Myers-Naples area alone, which is certain to strain media outlets who depend on advertising dollars as numerous business would have to be rebuilt. 

The Fort Myers-Naples media market is one of the most politically conservative in the country, with more than 60 percent of the population voting for Donald Trump in the 2016 election. It also skews whiter and older than average, with 86 percent of the population Caucasian, as opposed to 8 percent Black and 20 percent Hispanic. 42 percent of the population falls into the 55-plus demo. 

Editor’s Note: An earlier version incorrectly ranked Fort Myers-Naples Nielsen DMA television market size. 

 

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