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What it’s like to leave the microphone behind

Fort McMurray, AB, Canada / MIX 103.7
What it's like to leave the microphone behind

View outside of Harvard Broadcasting's downtown studios on May 3, 2016 // Chris Vandenbreekel - Harvard Broadcasting

It all happened so fast, it’s still a blur.

Most McMurrayites, myself included, are still coming to grips with what is happening in our town. Most of us left in a hurry, despite wanting to hold on to every last moment we possibly could. Maybe there was one more thing we as an individual could accomplish to save our city.

And that’s what was running through my mind as I drove north. I couldn’t help but think that I could have stayed longer, provided just a little bit more coverage, before I fled. But it didn’t happen.

We had to go, just like everyone else, and we didn’t go willingly. Our GM had to practically drag our asses out of the station. I couldn’t be working with a group of more dedicated people. Through tears and anguish, knowing that their homes were in danger as they stood there, everyone did their jobs. We kept each other as calm as possible. There were a lot of hugs, and a lot of tissue, but the microphone was on.

No more.

When we retreated to Grey Wolf Lodge, equipment was brought along so the broadcast of information could continue. Unfortunately by the time we arrived, the internet was down at the station, making a connection impossible. Our head offices in Edmonton couldn’t get the signal through to our station.

Then the air went dead.

I cannot fully explain the feeling a radio news reporter has when they realize the microphone is no longer there. Their job, their duty, is to get information on the airwaves. It’s best described as a feeling of dread, a feeling of failure, and a feeling of helplessness. You feel that you’re letting down your faithful listeners, you hope that they are okay.

But thankfully, we’re a community.

The moment it became clear our messages weren’t getting on the air, we had offers of assistance from other stations. Any pertinent information could go through their airwaves. The speed of the response was amazing, and it reminded me why I love journalism. When push comes to shove, competition goes out the window. We just need the information out. We need the story out. And everyone was willing to work together to make sure that happened.

The community doesn’t stop there. Social media has provided a great outlet for us to gather information directly from those who continue to travel. We’re hearing stories of strangers helping each other, of rescuing people stranded by cars that just didn’t have enough gas to make it. Pets have been rescued, and lodgings have been found. There are vehicles on their way up from Edmonton with fuel ready to assist those who cannot make it any further.

It’s remarkable, yet not unexpected.

Fort McMurray gets a bad rap, but it’s a community I’ve come to know as the most generous city in the most generous province. Everyone helps everyone else. It’s a way of being up here.

And that’s why we’ll rebuild what was lost.

Our Mix News coverage will be continuing throughout this crisis. You can follow the Mix News Twitter account, Lauren O’Hare, and myself for up-to-the-minute information. If you have a story you’d like to share, please feel free to text 519-280-5984 to set up a phone interview. If you’re at Grey Wolf Lodge, we’re in the building and willing to listen.

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