Title

Radio's Role During Hurricane Katrina: A Case Study of WWl Radio and United Radio Broadcasters of New Orleans

Date of Award

2006

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Mass Communication and Journalism

First Advisor

Arthur Kaul

Advisor Department

Mass Communication and Journalism

Abstract

In the days following Hurricane Katrina's devastating landfall, a committed, devoted and enthusiastic merger of men and women broadcasters helped New Orleans and surrounding areas recover from the assault of Hurricane Katrina. Collectively known as the United Radio Broadcasters of New Orleans, this group of broadcasters from Clear Channel Radio, the nation's largest broadcaster, and Entercom, the nation's fourth, worked against great odds to broadcast news and information to an audience that had lost just about everything, except hope. This study asked three main categories of questions dealing with the operation of the network, the cooperation between its members, and the evaluation of the effort. After operating piecemeal for about a day or two, WWL and its five sister stations combined forces with cross town rival Clear Channel Radio, owner of six FMs in the New Orleans market, in a studio 80 miles away from New Orleans. What started out as a general feeling of camaraderie eventually led to member interpersonal conflict. As tensions mounted and conflict began to emerge, the development of two cultural fronts led to strained relationships between Clear Channel and Entercom. On the first front, two completely different radio cultures had come together--Clear Channel's entertainment culture and WWL's news culture. The strains of mass producing news during a time of disaster and catastrophe created an emotional fragility among all staffers, often leading to personality differences and threats to self-esteem. The United Broadcasters of New Orleans may have, in reality, reflected the racial divide within its member ranks similar to that Hurricane Katrina brought out in New Orleans. United proved that radio is still vital, especially in times of disaster and catastrophe; that radio, on the local level, and as a collaborative effort among other broadcast outlets, may be the one distinct factor that keeps the public tuned in to the medium, thus keeping it meaningful in the arsenal of other media, particularly the new media.