SUGAR LOAF KEY (CBSMiami) – When the leading edge of Hurricane Irma struck the Florida Keys, it almost immediately knocked out power – leaving residents in the Keys without access to information from the internet or television.
The only way people knew they weren’t alone, was the sound of Bill Becker’s voice on US1 Radio – providing them a calm but candid assessment of what should expect as the worst of the winds approached.
“People who had battery powered radios said they slept with their radio, they hunkered down with their radio to listen to us – to just hear somebody in the darkness,” Becker said recently as the station prepared for another hurricane season.
“This was the only means of communication for everybody,” he recalled. “We were basically back to the Stone Age of communications. There was nothing else except this radio station. It was pretty incredible.”
Becker stayed on the air through the worst of Irma and in the morning, when the eye of the hurricane, passed right over the radio station, Becker took a quick break to go outside and see if for himself.
“Well here we are, the eye of the storm, the eye of Hurricane Irma,” he said on an iPhone video he shot himself for posterity. “Boy this is amazing you have incredible destruction all around here. But we are still looking at the back side of the storm coming at us so we will do our best to stay on the air here.”
As the eye passed, he went back on the air because he knew he needed to warn people the worst was still to come.
“Forty minutes in the eye of the hurricane and some people thought the storm was over and were going to go out,” he recalled, “until they heard us tell them, this was the eye of the hurricane don’t go out in it.”
That warning likely saved lives. For Becker, who has been the news director since 1980, this was the worst storm he ever encountered. He said he felt a duty to stay because he knew people would be counting on him. And that was even more the case once the storm cleared.
“We had people lining up outside our studio here to get on the air with us to relay messages to their loved ones and find out where people were find out what services were available,” he said.
Local officials came by as well, providing updates on what was happening. And when the station’s generator ran low on gas, Becker put out a distress call for help.
“We had people siphoning the gasoline from their boats so they could keep us on the air,” he said.
Becker said he is proud of what the station accomplished.
“I feel like we did something really special here, being able to stay on the air,” he said.
And for their incredible work during the storm, Becker and his colleagues at the station recently won the prestigious Murrow Award.
Becker promised to be there in the future should the need arise.
“We’re going to harden our system here,” he said. “We’re going to do the best we can to be there next time as well.”