Puerto Rican old style AM radio broadcasts through hurricane

Posted Sep 28, 2017 by Ken Hanly
Luis Penchi has slept about three hours a night since Hurricane Maria turned his analogue AM radio station WAPA 680 into one of the few sources of information about the situation in San Juan and the rest of Puerto Rico.
Residents of San Juan  Puerto Rico  check out damage to their homes from Hurricane Maria
Residents of San Juan, Puerto Rico, check out damage to their homes from Hurricane Maria
Penchi, a lay Franciscan friar worked more than 25 hours straight during the hurricane. The storm knocked out electricity, Internet, television and cell service for the 3.4 million U.S. citizens living on the island. With a backup generator, Penchi was able to stay on the air and was able to deliver a 24-hour stream of advice, news, messages and pleas for aid.
Penchi credited retro technology along with the help of God saying that the station was chosen by God and its staying on the air was an act of God. However, the 62-year-old said this with a laugh. Since the storm the station has carried on as a source of news, bulletins, stories about the relief efforts, information about road conditions and missing people. Many people are arriving at the station to have messages read on the air.
A cardiac surgeon visited to make an appeal to a local mother whose baby was in urgent need of heart surgery and needed to be evacuated to the U.S. Relief workers were able to find the mother who was quite grateful.
When a local home for the elderly reported it ran out of fuel for its generator, listeners responded with fuel but also food and water. These are but a small sample of the many ways in which the station has helped during and since the storm.
Pablo Navarro, 74, was inspired by WAPO coverage and said they should receive some kind of reward because they help the whole place stay together and were heroic. The station is very low tech. Power is limited to the station's generator. There is no air conditioning. The reception area shows no sign of digital tools as a woman types messages to be broadcast on a typewriter. Penchi does have digital equipment, but he maintained his old analogue equipment along with it.
Payam Heydari, an expert in radio technology at the University of California, said that basic analogue equipment can provide robust transmission over long distances. However, digital technology is very much dependent on electricity to power the relays that carry the signal. Heydari said: "Therefore as soon as power goes down, so do the relays on a digital signal." When there is no power the analogue equipment can keep on broadcasting through backup generators.
WAPA put out a call for psychologists to speak with distressed listeners. Julio Herran volunteered and has been working as long as 15 hours a day doing his best to listen to and comfort those distressed by events. Herran said: “I make them realize they are OK. They are fine. Then we write a message to put on the radio.”