Low-Power Radio Station Broadcasts to Evacuees

A coalition of alternative media launch a radio station for Katrina evacuees sheltered in the Houston Astrodome. Thousands were also given free radios.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

There are nearly 5,000 evacuees still living in Houston's Astrodome complex. Yesterday, they got their own low-power radio station. Programmers from Houston raised an antenna on the parking lot at dome and KAMP was born. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN reporting:

At 12 noon yesterday, Chris Symmank put on his headphones, turned on his mike and cranked up all six watts of power from a rundown Airstream trailer in the parking lot of the Astrodome.

Mr. CHRIS SYMMANK: Welcome to 95.3, KAMP-FM, Katrina Alternate Media Project.

KAHN: Symmank and a dozen volunteers struggled for more than a week with officials to set up the station under an emergency license granted from the FCC.

Mr. SYMMANK: Any kind of news that you-all need to get out there, we're here in the Astrodome parking lot ready to help people communicate through the airwaves.

KAHN: To do that, though, they had to figure out how evacuees, many of whom fled with just the clothes on their backs, could listen to the station.

Mr. GARY CHOMPKIS(ph) (Volunteer): Everybody grab a radio. Get a radio.

KAHN: Volunteers like Gary Chompkis have been furiously handing out thousands of tiny battery-operated radios to evacuees. Calvin Wright(ph) grabbed a small blue one.

Mr. CALVIN WRIGHT (Evacuee): It's real good to have really. Yeah.

KAHN: He says he's been glued to the TV hoping to get information about back home but just can't stand to watch the images anymore.

Mr. WRIGHT: Well, they'd be having, like, TVs up in there that we'd be watching, you know? And there ain't no pretty sight at home right now anyway.

Unidentified Woman: This is Dome City Radio for the evacuees of Hurricane Katrina. We're hoping that if you're tuning in, it's so that you can get information that you need. Yeah.

KAHN: Programming so far isn't going to land the station in the top 10 ratings, but volunteers say they plan to play some Louisiana music, broadcast survivors' stories and answer vital questions.

Unidentified Woman: ...you're looking for food stamps, the question is: Do I need an ID to get food stamps? No, IDs are preferred but not required. They understand...

KAHN: For now, evacuees are appreciative of the efforts.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Houston.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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