Local TV stations in Indiana and Kentucky have rallied to help raise relief funds for the victims of the violent storms that ravaged the area last week, claiming the lives of at least 40 people.
The outpouring underscores the primacy of local broadcasters in times of major crisis. The tornadoes that swept through small towns in southern Indiana and rural Kentucky on Friday knocked out cell-phone service in much of the region and hampered the use of other wireless devices for hours. Radio and TV stations in Indianapolis, Terre Haute, Ind. and Louisville, Ky. served as the information lifeline for residents of the hardest-hit areas.
Tribune Broadcasting’s Fox affiliate WXIN-TV Indianapolis brought in more than $236,000 in pledges on Monday after the station inserted multiple pledge breaks every hour, from 4:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., featuring station talent and others appealing for donations to the Salvation Army. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels lent his support to the telethon in a live shot in the station’s 6 p.m. newscast.
CBS affil WISH-TV Indianapolis raised more than $220,000 in phone pledges over the weekend. Terre Haute’s NBC affil WAWV-TV and sibling station WTWO-TV and ran appeals from 6 a.m.-7 p.m. on Tuesday from the local Red Cross headquarters. CBS affil WKYT in Lexington, Ky. plans a 10 a.m.-7 p.m. telethon on Friday.
WXIN news director Lee Rosenthal said the most impressive aspect of his station’s effort was that 85% of the pledges came in modest increments from individuals rather than corporate or business sources.
Rosenthal credited the response to “the Hoosier spirit of compassion. We’re 90 miles away (from the damage) but you wouldn’t have known it from the response.”
News coverage of the dramatic stories stemming from the aftermath of the storm have also touched viewers — such as the tragedy of an infant found in a debris-strewn field who later died, or the woman who lost both of her legs while saving her young children.
Local news reporters have swarmed the area during the past few days. Getting pictures out of the area to the station in Indianapolis was challenging in the hours after the storm because satellite reception was so spotty, Rosenthal said. A cold snap that followed the storm has compounded the misery in some areas.
“Within 48 hours it was snowing,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of tornadoes, but I’ve never seen the wreckage and debris from a tornado covered in two inches of snow.”