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90.7 WMFE helping Puerto Rican station get back on the air


Under the leadership of Latino Public Radio Consortium (LPRC), Orlando public radio station joined forces with CoastAlaska & Orlando community partners to get a ‘radio to-go kit’ to Cadena Radio Universidad de Puerto Rico (WRTU & WRUO) in Puerto Rico

ORLANDO, OCT. 27, 2017 – Staff from Orlando public radio station 90.7 WMFE, in collaboration with Latino Public Radio Consortium, flew to San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Friday to hand deliver a compact portable FM station, or “radio to-go kit,” donated by CoastAlaska, to Cadena Radio Universidad de Puerto Rico.

Hurricane Maria destroyed broadcasting infrastructure and left the island without electricity in September. Power has been restored to onl­y about 20% of the island so far, and several public broadcasters are still off the air; a public television station has closed up shop and left the island altogether.

WRTU in San Juan and its repeater station, WRUO in Mayagüez, are non-commercial educational radio stations licensed to the University of Puerto Rico. General Manager Jimmy Torres met WMFE at the airport to receive the radio to-go kit, which he will take to Mayagüez, located on the center of the western coast of the island, this weekend. The station’s tower and studio were completely destroyed by Hurricane Maria. He said he expects that the station will be back on the air sometime next week, operating at low power, thanks to the kit.

WMFE President and General Manager LaFontaine Oliver said the delivery trip was important to WMFE because of Central Florida’s strong connection to Puerto Rico. The latest U.S. Census data says 320,000 Puerto Ricans live in Central Florida — almost a third of the 1 million statewide, and now thousands more are taking refuge with relatives here post-Maria.

“It is part of WMFE’s public service commitment to help our listeners’ family and friends to have access to life changing – and sometimes life saving – news and information through radio,” Oliver said. “Restoring communications is integral to restoring Puerto Rico.”

Cadena Radio Universidad de Puerto Rico General Manager Jimmy Torres hugs WMFE President & General Manager LaFontaine Oliver in the airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Oct. 27, 2017. Photo by Jenny Babcock, WMFE.

Saying goodbye at the airport just over two hours later, Torres became a little teary eyed while expressing his gratitude for the equipment and gave Oliver and the rest of the team big hugs.

“I feel very lucky and fortunate to have friends who I didn’t know come to Puerto Rico and give me faith that the work that I have is very important,” Torres said later. “Also that angels exist. That when you are in problems they come from the sky to help us literally.”

Magaly Rivera, executive director of LPRC, echoed that sentiment and emphasized the importance of collaboration.

“WMFE’s support is invaluable to getting WRUO back on the air and reinforces why our Consortium is an essential service to Latino public media stations especially during a time of crisis. We are grateful WMFE stepped forward to help on behalf of the Puerto Rican community devastated by the hurricanes,” Rivera said.

It was truly a team effort, and efforts are continuing to get the island’s stations what they need.

“It has been a great honor to work with public radio colleagues at WMFE and New York Public Radio to help in Puerto Rico,” said Mollie Kabler, executive director of CoastAlaska and Alaska Public Broadcasting. “Our hearts go out to the people of Puerto Rico.”

Alaska-Florida-Puerto Rico

After Hurricane Maria, Oliver reached out to LPRC, which is the only organization able to communicate with the islands’ public broadcasters, to see what his Orlando station could do to help. LPRC was already working with CoastAlaska to deliver two compact portable FM station equipment – dubbed “radio to-go kits” – to the island.

The kits contain basic studio and transmitter equipment that enables radio broadcasts to be powered by as little as a car battery.

WMFE President & General Manager LaFontaine Oliver, left, with WRTU/Radio Universidad de Puerto Rico General Manager Jimmy Torres and WMFE Chief Engineer Mac Dula in the airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Oct. 27, 2017. Photo by Jenny Babcock, WMFE.

CoastAlaska, a regional organization with five member stations in Southeast Alaska, designed and built the radio to-go kits after seeing the devastation of the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia. “Our five stations are in coastal and island towns in southeast Alaska, so we realized that in the event of a disaster help could be a long time in coming,” Kabler said.

The first kit was delivered to Puerto Rican pubcaster WIPR on Oct. 12 by NPR member station WNYC, in coordination with LPRC and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), according to an Oct. 11 Current article. WIPR’s AM station is running on generator power, which is costing almost $5,000 a week worth of diesel fuel.

The second radio to-go kit was still sitting in Alaska, with LPRC working to coordinate another delivery trip to the island. Oliver committed that WMFE would get it there. A few days later, he met the 250-pound kit at Orlando International Airport and continued figuring out logistics for the trip. Thanks to WMFE’s community partners, he was able to arrange a flight there and back the same day, Friday, Oct. 27.

Assessing needs & reporting on the ground

Accompanying the radio to-go kit to San Juan was WMFE Chief Engineer Mac Dula, who did some investigation into the university stations’ needs. Torres took Dula on a tour at WRTU in San Juan. While the station sustained damage to its broadcast antenna, their studio was mostly unscathed. It is still operating off of generator power with FEMA assistance. Torres says he was paying $4.80 per gallon for diesel fuel before the hurricane; now he’s paying $7 per gallon.

Unfortunately, there was not enough time to visit the station in Mayagüez to complete a third-party site survey, a requirement for the university to qualify for certain disaster relief funding and grants. Anyone interested in helping them out should contact LPRC’s Rivera.

WMFE also sent Reporter Crystal Chavez and freelance photographer Eric Breitenbach to interview hurricane victims at the international airport about their experiences and connections to Central Florida. Her report will air next week on 90.7 WMFE and be available with photos on wmfe.org.

The radio to-go kits are just a temporary fix. The island’s public radio stations have a long road ahead of them. LPRC is running a GoFundMe campaign with a $100,000 goal to support five of its Puerto Rico member stations.

About 90.7 WMFE:

90.7 WMFE is a non-profit, member-supported, community-based public broadcasting company that operates 90.7 WMFE-FM, metro Orlando’s primary provider of NPR programming; and 90.7-2 Classical. Part of the community since 1980, WMFE focuses on providing quality national and local news and programming. Visit wmfe.org for more information.

About Latino Public Radio Consortium:

The Latino Public Radio Consortium (LPRC) was founded in 2007 with the goal of advancing the agenda of Latinos in public radio. Their mission is to advocate for the inclusion of Latinos in public broadcasting by building partnerships, influencing public and funding policy and providing a clearinghouse of information on relevant and substantive cultural, news and informational Latino programming. Visit latinopublicradioconsortium.org for more information.

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MEDIA INQUIRIES: Please contact WMFE Communications & Marketing Specialist Jenny Babcock at jbabcock@wmfe.org or 407-273-2300 ext. 112.

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