Several stations have harrowing stories related to hurricanes this year, but the one at WJHG in Panama City Beach, Fla., stands out. Hurricane Michael knocked the station off the air on Oct. 10, and also nixed internet, electricity, cellular service, even the water supply.
As the storm approached the Florida panhandle, VP and general manager Ulysses Carlini Jr. contacted his Gray Television manager and asked about keeping a skeleton crew on hand, allowing the rest of the staff to deal with their homes and families. He got the OK. But minus a few facing extreme circumstances, no one at WJHG took Carlini up on his offer.
It was a resounding show of loyalty to their general manager and to viewers. “The people at the station have a sense of their mission,” Gray senior VP of local media Chris Mossman said.
WJHG was off the air for four hours, during which it broadcast on Facebook Live.
NBC affiliate WJHG is the leader in DMA No. 150. Carlini also oversees the CBS, The CW and MyNetworkTV affiliates. He began sleeping at WJHG a couple nights before the storm and for several nights after. Rain poured through the roof, and hurricane winds battered the building. WJHG produced 16 hours of local coverage a day for 10 days before, during and after the storm. Staffers would seek out a rare dry spot and set up a camera. “It’s been a wild ride for sure,” he said.
News director Donna Bell recalls Carlini out in the parking lot, taping together a mirror on her damaged car. “I couldn’t be more proud of our staff,” she said. “I couldn’t be more proud of our leadership.”
Carlini grew up in local television. His father was a station owner and general manager in North Platte, Neb. Before that, he hosted children’s programs in Evansville, Ind. Carlini recalls cleaning up around the stations as a boy, and mowing the lawn.
Under Carlini’s leadership, WJHG has been essential to Panama City’s recovery. The station was a distribution point for those in need of food, water, clothing. “Calm, cool, collected,” is how Mossman describes the GM. “He really looked out for his people, and his people busted their tails for him, for the station, for the people in Panama City.”
WJHG ran an extensive PSA campaign that drove donations to local charities. It’s partnering with the sheriff’s department to broadcast a one-hour special, A Panhandle Strong Christmas, which will deliver more donated goods.
Carlini remains moved by the selfless nature of his colleagues: “It certainly took a team effort to make it through the storm.”