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WDOM-FM Helps Public Radio Broadcast through Hurricane Sandy

When Hurricane Sandy knocked out power to Rhode Island Public Radio’s transmitter on Monday afternoon, October 29, the station’s general manager knew who to contact: Providence College President — and public radio listener — Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P. ’80.

The two had met at a Christmas party at Bryant University in 2010, and Joe O’Connor, the general manager, recalled that Father Shanley had ribbed him because the College president lost the station’s signal — only on AM at the time — on his trip from Providence to Bryant’s campus in Smithfield, R.I.

So, when a Rhode Island Public Radio staffer suggested reaching out to PC for help during Sandy, O’Connor emailed Father Shanley to ask if the station could use the signal of WDOM (91.3 FM), the College’s radio station.

“He must have called back within minutes, literally,” O’Connor said.

Father Shanley asked what Rhode Island Public Radio needed and when the engineer could get to campus.

The president contacted Dr. Steven A. Sears, associate vice president for student affairs, dean of students, and WDOM’s advisor, who called Brennan Callahan ’13 (North Hampton, N.H.), WDOM’s student general manager, to explain the situation.

Callahan said he changed out of his pajamas and got a ride to the station’s studios in the Slavin Center from campus security to meet Aaron Read, information technology & engineering director for Rhode Island Public Radio, to set a rebroadcast of the station's webcast.

“Brennan and everyone were really great to work with,” Read said. “It was an amazingly great case of people helping each other out on short notice.”

WDOM, which has been broadcasting since 1949, is a 125-watt station that transmits from the top of McVinney Hall throughout the Providence area. It usually has student DJs hosting 70 shows weekly from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. each day. When DJs are not in the studio, as was the case during the hurricane, the station broadcasts an automated playlist of sponsored music, station identifications, and public service announcements.  

Callahan said WDOM has had much help getting on the air over the years and welcomed the chance to assist another station.

“I know for myself, personally, and the rest of the board, it was really cool for WDOM to be part of something much bigger than our normal broadcast,” he said. “The fact that we were able to give back and help out another station in need … it was just really cool for us, and an honor.”

The public radio station broadcast messages thanking the College every hour and also posted a thank-you message on its Web site for carrying the signal. Its transmitter, in Seekonk, Mass., returned to full power on Wednesday morning, October 31.

“Under these circumstances, the first priority for all parties was the community,” O’Connor said. “To know that Providence College was there when we needed it is just so encouraging. You know who your friends are when you’re off the air.”

“Every time we have a disaster that could just absolutely kill us, out of that comes some opportunity to grow,” he said. “The friars coming to the rescue is just part and parcel of a continuous history of the community saying, ‘No, we need you here.’”

The general manager said he hopes PC students could get involved at Rhode Island Public Radio as well, through internships or as student correspondents.

“This might be a real opportunity to explore something more — how do we get them involved in continuing the public interest tradition of great journalism on the air?” O’Connor said.

 Liz F. Kay

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