The tornado that destroyed the main studio and offices of KNON 89.3 FM left crews with a massive challenge to get out of the building as quickly as possible — and left its regular listeners without a broadcast.
The community radio station went off the air when one of the three tornadoes that touched down in Dallas on Sunday night destroyed the station's studio and several of its offices located in the 11000 block of North Central Expressway. The station is moving its broadcast equipment to a temporary location near its broadcasting towers.
KNON station manager Dave Chaos says the tornado hit the studio around 9 p.m. on Sunday. Chief Zehaie, the deejay who hosts the International Show on Sunday evenings, was broadcasting in the studio before the tornado and called Chaos about one hour earlier to tell him the station had lost electricity and that he was continuing his broadcast according to the station's protocol.
The National Weather Service categorized the tornado that hit the station as an EF-3, carrying maximum wind speeds of 140 mph. The tornado also caused extensive damage to several homes and businesses in its path. The two deejays who were in the station's building during the tornado were not injured.
"I called [Zehaie] when I saw the forecast for the tornado heading up Central and I told him to get out of the studio and go into the break room but he didn't," Chaos says with a laugh. "So when the next deejay [Lee Russell] was coming in, the building was starting to shake and it was clear we were going to get hit. So he grabbed him and took [Zehaie] to the bathroom."
The tornado caused extensive damage to the studio and outlying offices on the north and south sides of the building. The majority of the windows surrounding the studio and the station's offices were completely smashed, exposing the space to the outside weather. Parts of the ceiling caved in as exposed wires and aluminum tubing crashed through it. Bits of broken glass are scattered across the floors throughout the space.
Several of the station staff members say they have not found any damage to the studios' broadcasting equipment.
"I knew the storms were here and I was more concerned for the safety of me and my wife so we had our room ready," says pledge drive director and deejay Christian Lee. "Then I saw it was going north, so I was relaxing. Then I thought why don't I check Facebook, so I checked and saw the deejay who was about to be on the air for Reckless Rock Radio had the pictures and I immediately got some tarps and everything because I knew more storms were coming. We wrapped all the equipment so that kind of helped before the second round of storms came in, or it would have been completely ruined."
Several of the station's employees made their way to the damaged studio space on Sunday night to watch and protect the equipment so crews could start dismantling it the following morning. Chaos says crews are working as quickly as they can to move out of the studio and office space so the building's owners can assess and start repairing the damage.
The station has remained off the air since the tornado struck while maintenance crew members and technicians set up a temporary broadcasting station. Staffers are working from home until the station can secure a new permanent studio and office space.
"The pressure is to be out five minutes ago, but we're trying to deal with that and get as much time as possible to get the most valuable items first," Chaos says. "We didn't experience a lot of equipment damage but in terms of moving a radio station, it took me three months to move in here. So moving it out in 24 hours is beyond a challenge."
KNON's listeners and supporters have been offering to help the station. Several listeners started showing up at the building on Monday to offer to help with the cleanup. While KNON staff was thankful for the gesture, they had to turn them away for safety and efficiency concerns.
"The hardest thing about this morning was telling people not to come down and help us clean up," says account executive David Pippin, who also hosts Radio Free America on Tuesday mornings. "We're always grateful for that."
Some have even offered to start a Crowdfunding campaign to get the station back on its feet. Chaos says the most efficient way for supporters to help is to make monetary donations directly to the station through its website at KNON.org.
"It's better to just have people pledge on the website because we get that money quicker," Chaos says. "So we're already set up to take donations."
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Thankfully, the station's operating procedure runs on the support of its listeners, volunteers and staff members. Pippin says he's confident that the support will help them through the challenges created by the tornado.
"We're always really supported anyway because our listeners are vested in the place and it's fun to watch the layers of support from just the actual core of us," Pippin says. "Dave, Christian and [account executive Jesse Kane Gonzales] were up here all night last night babysitting this stuff and trying to keep it dry and the DJs have their own cliques."
Chaos says the station has faced many obstacles to stay on the air in its 36-year history, but he knows they'll persevere thanks to the help of its dedicated staff members, volunteers and listeners.
"We've been through challenges many times," Chaos says. "So we'll climb this one too."