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Radio studio on life support is lifeline for Punta Gorda

CHRIS TISCH
Published August 17, 2004

PUNTA GORDA - The radio studios were silent for less than five hours.

The last to leave the microphone was Larry Timko, whose on-air handle is Larry T. He fled just as Hurricane Charley's winds started to bend the trees Friday afternoon.

That evening, general manager Mike Moody returned to the building. The roof was shredded, the ceiling collapsed. But one studio, no bigger than a walk-in closet, was in working order.

"There was no sound. Nothing," Moody said. "There was only silence."

So he started broadcasting. A generator provided the power. Moody plugged a phone cord into a fax outlet and got a dial tone. He put the phone to the microphone and let callers unravel their terrible tales of storm survival.

Since then, the radio studio in Punta Gorda, the only one based in Charlotte County, has become a lifeline for residents searching for information to help them cope with the storm's aftermath.

Moody manages five Clear Channel stations, including country, rock and talk formats, now broadcasting from the tiny studio. They were first to report Sunday that school was canceled for two weeks. They were the first to say Monday that upcoming local elections were kaput.

They offer phone numbers, locations where food and water are available, even information on where people can bring their horses. The building has become a trading post of information.

At the center of all this is Moody, a 49-year-old father of three whose Port Charlotte home was nicked by Charley.

He first had to get a signal out. His towers were undamaged, but the link to them was rattled. And the roof was gone.

"If the stuff gets wet, we're toast," Moody said.

Moody asked for roof repair help over the air, hoping builders would come forward. When builders could give him no definitive answers Monday, he cried.

"Sorry, guys," he said, wiping his eyes with a paper towel.

While keeping the station going has been stressful, emergency officials have praised its work, saying it serves as rescuers' best mouthpiece to the public.

"It is phenomenally important," said Charlotte schools superintendent Dave Gaylor. "It is the only lifeline people have."

Moody said emergency officials hired a plane to fly over the county pulling a banner encouraging residents to listen to his stations for the latest information.

As the plane buzzed over the studio late Monday afternoon, Moody craned his head and watched it through the holes in the roof. He smiled.

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