Desperate times call for desperate measures

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The blackout that paralyzed the Northeast Thursday and into Friday tested the grit and ingenuity of TV stations in the numerous affected areas.

WABC-TV New York said the outage caused "major-league" problems, and the station operated through creative uses of extension chords and was relaying signals "from handheld two-way radios to a van, to a helicopter" and, eventually, to its audience.

In Cleveland, WKYC-TV news director Randal Stanley reported, "When the blackout first started, we couldn't get our cell phones to work. Fortunately, we'd installed a two-way radio system just this week. If we were relying strictly on cell phones, we would have been in bad shape."

Said WEWS(TV) Cleveland news director Lynn Heider: "You would think you're prepared for everything. Even our backup generators failed for a few minutes." In addition, the studio was lit only by a few standup lights, and it had only one of its live-shot receivers working. But the station was able to go live from some key locations around town, Heider said, and "somehow, we managed. Our talent made up the difference."

In Detroit, Mo Gordon, executive producer of operations at WDIV-TV, Post-Newsweek Stations Inc.’s NBC affiliate, reported that although the station's backup power kicked in immediately, once they realized the blackout went well beyond Detroit, the station took MSNBC's feed for the first 20 minutes and checked out its own power and equipment. The station's signal never left the air, Gordon said, and it was simulcast on some local radio stations.

Fox's WJBK(TV) Detroit news director Dana McDaniel said his station went down for about five minutes before backup power kicked in.

WXYZ(TV) Detroit was also down temporarily. Assistant news director Dave Manney said, "I realized I was in uncharted waters when we were trying to keep the generator alive. It was redlining. There was a garden hose, connected by rubber band, cooling the generator. It worked."

WCBS-TV New York used a backup facility, but it had no power at its broadcast center. Station engineers and producers jerryrigged a smaller studio for the anchor desk. The station said its coverage was mostly local, with only one network break-in, until Friday afternoon.

Power and phone outages around New York made other stations impossible to reach Friday. The biggest frustration, Stanley said, was not within the newsroom, but outside of it. "We wondered who we were talking to besides ourselves," he added, no doubt reflecting a sentiment felt by newspeople throughout the Northeast.

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