EMERGENCY RADIO PRODUCTION DURING THE HURRICANE KATRINA
One of my closest friends is a guy who lived in Chalmette,
Louisiana named Don Wilbanks. On the ham bands he is AE5DW
but over the years New Orleans radio audiences have known
him as Don Banks or "The Fat Man."
hurricane Katrina approached the "Big Easy" Don
and his family joined the throngs evacuating and headed North.
First to a hotel in Memphis, and then out to Little Rock AR.
When he realized that his home was likely under many feet
of water. While Don may not have been on-the-air in New Orleans,
his voice and his inner feelings was heard by a world-wide
audience on the ham radio bands. This is because he grabbed
a an older RadioShack mic and his Wi-Fi equipped laptop PC
on the way out the door.
While it might not seem like very much in the way of a portable
production studio, it was more than ample for the job. Not
only was Don able to file reports for Amateur Radio Newsline
from just about anywhere, he even anchored an entire 22 minute
newscast while at the hotel in Little Rock.
The technical parameters were actually quite easy. Starting
at the mic, the Radio Shack unit was not a piece of broadcast
gear. It is an electret condenser model powered by a single
AAA battery and designed for use with anything from a tape
recorder to a Public Address system. But it was handy and
within reach as Don beat a hasty retreat out of town.
Don laptop only carries three additional programs for collecting
sound, editing it and moving it to us. He records and edits
using a Canadian "share-ware" program called Goldwave.
For less than $50 U.S. one gets a full blown, two track audio
workstation with features you might expect in a much higher
end product In addition to its record and playback functionality,
Goldwave lets you edit, mix, and analyze audio; digitally
re-master and restore old recordings with noise reduction
and pop/click filters; apply special effects, such as fade,
equalizer, doppler, mechanize, echo, reverse, flanger, and
much, much more. Most important, the learning curve is so
simple that a person with no previous non-linear experience
can be "cutting" with in about 30 minutes. And with
the addition of the "Freeware" MP3 encoder "RAZOR/Lame"
as a plug-in, Don can crunch his files into space saving MP3
In reality, we have found Goldwave to be kind of the "Swiss
Army Knife" of audio production. One that has yet to
be discovered by the masses who think "expensive"
equates to "better." I tend to use it for just about
anything requiring very simple post audio work because its
fast and has a very intuitive learning curve. (See http://www.goldwave.com)
Don also has the venerable "Cool Edit Pro" version
2.0 installed. Cool Edit is a venerable workhorse in audio
wokstations and needs little introduction. For Don it is a
his personal favorite for post production, but as he explained
in one of his notes it just cannot do everything running on
an older and slower laptop:
"I recorded on Goldwave and processed with Cool Edit
Pro 2.0. I originally tried to record with Cool Edit but it's
a resource hog and the audio had major glitches."
Last but very important is getting Don's audio file from
his computer to us. No problem. Just make sure to register
at a hotel or motel that is Wi-Fi equipped. If the item is
short, just e-mail it. Larger files go by way of our FTP site
which is only accessible by our volunteer staff.
How good is the finished product? Well its kind of hard to
demo it for you. That is because the incoming file is only
marginally compressed while our end product is an MP3 encoded
to 16 KHz at 24 bit monaural. Its tailored to sound good on
a narrow-bandwidth ham radio repeater with only +/- 5 Kilohertz
of deviation. It also sounds fine on AM radio but I would
hesitate to call it hi-fi.
You can judge for yourself by downloading the weekly ARNewsline
audio file at www.arnewsline.org. On a PC, right click on
the file you want to download. In the drop-down box that appears
click on "Save Target As" and when the next box
appears select a file destination and click on "Save".
For Mac and Linux, please consult your operating system instructions
as I am not really that familiar with either of those operating
about Don and his family? What did they find when they finally
were allowed to return to what had been their home in Chalmette.
Ill let Don describe it in his own words:
"We got to see the house for the first time yesterday.
We had 4' of water. We salvaged a lot but I feel the house
will be a total loss due primarily to the mold. I've attached
some pictures. Also attached is a picture of the '73 Trans
Am parked in my garage. Water to the top of the dash. That
I lost all the ham radios except for some ht's and an old
Icom 738 hf rig. My 746 and 2 706's are gone. Most of the
antennas lived! I've got to send Cushcraft a picture of the
AR270B on top of my pole. Survived a cat 4 hurricane!
doing much better than a lot of folks as our place in Picayune,
MS was essentially untouched. Both houses took direct eye
hits but at least we have someplace to live so all in all
we can't complain. Thankfully we are insured to the eyeballs
and should be OK."
As this is written, Don, Dawn and their son Tyler are now
permanent residents of Picayune, Mississippi. Don is out looking
for work. If you know of a radio station in that area that
can use a really talented air personality, have them drop
a note to email@example.com.
He's not only a really good buddy but also a very talented
and personable human being, and one who knows how to make-do
getting a story out even in the most arduous of circumstances
including moving his family to safety as Katrina was on the