An Elephant Never Forgets
There’s a lot about April 27th, 2011 and the days that followed that I’ll ever forget. The terror I felt while hiding with my two boys underneath my bathroom vanity, driving into work the next morning under a pink sky and the jagged landscape beneath it, and hearing calls for volunteers and supplies answered by neighbors.
I learned the most important lesson I’ll probably ever learn about broadcasting that day. My co-workers and I were literally wringing our hands about what step to take next. Should we volunteer at Rosedale or the Salvation Army? Did take the station vans and deliver food? What was the best way to help?
Scott Shepherd spoke up. ‘In times like these, we do what we do.’
So, what we did from that moment forward was get as much information out to the community as we could. Technically speaking, we were badly crippled. We had no power, no internet, sketchy cell phone service and we operated five stations off of one generator. But, once we opened our mics and asked what was needed, you took over from there.
It’s been two years but I find myself going back to those days more than I’d like. I think about the woman who called the studio, pleading for a can of chicken soup for her disabled son. She sounded weak but she told me she lived in Holt and didn’t have a car. I assured her I’d try to help and passed the message along to the Tuscaloosa Police Department before moving on.
She called back the following morning to tell us we were her ‘angels’ in a stronger voice than the one I’d heard prior. She was happy and grateful to those who’d helped her family. After hanging up the phone, I marveled at the sea of small, white squares of paper with requests for help that littered the floor of our studios. Needs numbered so many, we’d scarcely been able to mention them on air more than once, but miraculously, her call for help was heard.
Because of the tornado, I discovered the real impact radio has on people’s lives. I learned that in times of crisis, we shouldn’t try to reinvent the wheel. As Scott Shepherd so aptly stated, ‘We do what we do.’ I also learned that destructive tornadoes have the power to heal.
Holly Schadwald is a remarkable artist I had the pleasure of meeting after the tornado. Somewhere along the way, she lost her desire to create art, but buried in the miles of that debris was what she needed to be whole once again.
See her story below.