Florida radio hosts carry on after hurricane Michael shut station down

Damage from hurricane Michael forced a Panama City Beach, Fla., radio station to close. But two of its hosts, now without jobs, are still keeping the community informed with updates on recovery efforts and quelling rumors through social media.

Sean Streeter/AP
Tiffany Dunning (l.) and Sean Streeter take a photo at the Pepsi Gulf Coast Jam in Panama City Beach, Fla. on Sept. 2, 2017. Though their radio station was shut down after hurricane Michael, the two are using Facebook to keep residents informed of where they can find crucial resources like food and medicine.

First hurricane Michael damaged the radio station where they worked and then the owner shut the station down permanently – but that hasn't stopped two Florida radio hosts from continuing their mission of informing their listeners during the disaster.

Instead, Tiffany Dunning and Sean Streeter turned to their Facebook page to provide a constant stream of updates on recovery efforts.

"People are relying on our communication right now, where people can find food, where people can find water. There's a lot of confusion with that," Mr. Streeter told The Associated Press.

He and Ms. Dunning worked for Panama City Beach radio station Kick'n 103.5, owned by Powell Broadcasting.

In the days after Michael ruptured everyday life, the station was a lifeline of information for Florida Panhandle residents, debunking rumors and telling residents where to find hot food and ice, phone charging stations, and dialysis treatment.

But Powell Broadcasting last Saturday shut down its operations and those of three other Florida Panhandle radio stations because of damage from the hurricane.

In a phone interview from Panama City Beach, Streeter choked up when asked about the timing of the station's shutdown.

"To make this announcement at this time, three days after everybody's world is flipped upside down is disappointing to me and our community," Streeter said.

But even without a radio signal, he and Dunning have continued to tell the community about developments like these:

"#RumorControl: The curfew has not been extended. The curfew is 6:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m.," said one post from Monday on the Facebook page of "The Gulf Coast Morning Show w/ Flip & Streeter."

Former listeners are grateful.

"After your company has decided to close everything down, your only concern is keeping us informed. This is a testament to the kind of people you are and the kind of people they are," said one listener, James Rodgers, on the program's Facebook page.

"We are looking at communities that are completely gone in some cases," Mr. Rodgers said Monday in a phone call from Panama City Beach. "Any possible means of communications at this point is crucial to get information about resources."

Officials with Powell Broadcasting didn't return multiple calls and emails, nor did officials with its parent company, Baton Rouge, La.-based The Powell Group.

Jeff Storey, who ran Powell Broadcasting's operations in the Florida Panhandle, told another Powell Broadcasting station in Sioux City, Iowa, that their 150-foot tower snapped in half.

"We're in a tough situation with trying to get any employees back," Mr. Storey told KSCJ.

Other media outlets continued delivering the news even when their operations were damaged by the storm.

The News Herald building in Panama City was damaged but journalists worked from the parking lot after the storm passed.

Ahead of the storm's landing, Streeter evacuated to Birmingham, Ala., and Dunning went to Nashville so they would have power and Internet to communicate with listeners via the station's Facebook page. Streeter has since returned to Panama City Beach. Dunning has a newborn and hasn't made it back yet

Once they found out they no longer had jobs, the two radio hosts decided to keep the information flowing on their own Facebook page. They viewed it as one-stop market of every strand of information related to hurricane relief, so residents don't have to look up multiple sites to find out what's going on.

They say they aren't going anywhere until the crisis is over.

"This is what we signed up for as broadcasters, to get information anyway we can," Streeter said. "This is our focus, and this is what we have decided to do now."

This story was reported by The Associated Press

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