KPTZ keeps community informed, connected in crisis

Posted 4/15/20

While many state residents are staying at home to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, others continue to work at jobs considered essential, from grocery workers and first responders to …

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KPTZ keeps community informed, connected in crisis


While many state residents are staying at home to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, others continue to work at jobs considered essential, from grocery workers and first responders to those who keep the public informed.

Starting in March, KPTZ 91.9 FM combined its emergency response and news teams to form a new virus watch “V-Team.” On March 13, the station closed its doors to the public, even as it continued to broadcast, and it remains open only to those volunteers who are on premises to accomplish essential work.

KPTZ DJ Barney Burke, lead of the station’s emergency response team, said the “E-Team” has been part of KPTZ since the station first went on the air, ready to embed at the Jefferson County Emergency Operations Center and broadcast during earthquakes or other disasters.

“For COVID-19, we spawned the V-Team because this pandemic is a whole new scope,” Burke said, noting that the station’s already capable staff has been augmented by registered nurse Lynn Sorensen, retired after 36 years, and Kate Keenan, a San Diego Public Health communicable disease investigator, retired after 20 years.

KPTZ already has more than 100 active volunteers, which the station’s general manager, Kate Ingram, deemed fortunate, “because there’s a learning curve required to navigate the station’s functions and procedures, so this hasn’t been a time for us to bring in new people.”

Based on calls and emails the station has received, Ingram believes KPTZ’s audience is largely homebound and listening for both entertainment and reliable information.

“The V-Team members have put in a lot of time and energy to assure all the on-air and website messaging has been vetted,” Ingram said. “The challenges of coronavirus have been a call to action for our personnel and have inspired a lot of creativity, as our DJs and support staff have risen to the occasion.”

By shifting from in-studio to phone conversations, Ingram said the station is able to ensure only one host is in the on-air studio at a time. Likewise, several of the station’s shows are now recorded from staff members’ homes, which has required them to replicate the capabilities of on-air studios in their living spaces.

Either way, Burke agreed that many members of the station have been ramping up their hours.

“I’m averaging three hours a day on this, and I’m glad to have the time to pitch in,” Burke said.

“KPTZ supports all the local organizations, food vendors, restaurants and businesses comprising the local economy,” Ingram said. “We offer messaging to get the word out to listeners as to how everyone can help to keep the overall community afloat.”

“As the county's emergency response team—which includes Jefferson Healthcare, the local health department and other agencies—implements programs for medical care, temporary housing, food and other services, we'll be working hard to get that information out quickly,” Burke said.

Ingram said KPTZ is reeling from the cancellations of a score of community events the station normally features on the air—including the Kitchen Tour, Wearable Art Show and Rhody Run—but this has only renewed her resolve to support continuing community activities such as the scaled-back Farmers’ Markets, as well as the needs of the county’s food banks and OlyCAP, with free public service announcements to further spread the word on behalf of area nonprofits.

Siobhan Canty of the Jefferson Community Foundation will chime in weekly on Tuesdays during Chris Bricker’s “Morning on the Salish,” to let listeners know about the activities and needs of area services.

“All of us are still wrapping our heads around the loss of this year’s Northwest Maritime Center ‘She Tells Sea Tales’ event, the Port Townsend ‘Women and Film’ Festival and all the Centrum festival events, from choro to acoustic blues,” Ingram said. “Normally, KPTZ airs live broadcasts of the Centrum summer concerts, and the loss to us all is heartbreaking.”

The KPTZ staff even experienced its own close call with coronavirus in mid-March, when a V-Team member developed symptoms, but didn’t meet the criteria for testing.

“Our public health-savvy volunteers offered the wisdom that anyone who had spent more than 10 minutes with this volunteer, over the 14 days prior to their onset, should self-quarantine preventively,” Ingram said, noting that this included herself, Burke, Phil Andrus and Charlie Bermant. “Thankfully, we’re all on the other side of that and feeling fine, but it was a worthwhile drill, leading us to realize that anyone not at the station, in an essential role to keep us on the air, should instead work from home in order to minimize overall contact.”

Burke has experienced a few previous disasters, including the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“In sudden catastrophes, there's the initial shock and trauma, then a long road putting things back together,” Burke said. “That's stressful. But coronavirus is stressful because it's a slow-motion disaster. It's distressing to hear about the hardest-hit communities and the difficulty of helping people who become critically ill. We know the infection rate is climbing now, but we really don't know when it will subside or return. So, in addition to programs and announcements keeping people informed on COVID-19, we also need programs that cultivate a feeling of community, stories about people being there for each other—and music, of course.”

KPTZ Board President Robert Ambrose said the station’s mission is to build and strengthen the community through high-quality radio programming that is educational, entertaining and service-oriented.

“That’s what community radio is all about, and that’s why KPTZ is uniquely positioned to provide information and solace throughout our community, allowing each of us to feel a little less isolated during this most unsettling time,” Ambrose said. "That always has been the purpose of my show, ‘Rhythm Connection,’ and why I am determined to keep on keeping on.”