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At the Epicenter of Media Coverage : KFWB, Tops on the Richter News Scale: 'We're All Earthquake, All the Time'

October 02, 1987|DENNIS McDOUGAL | Times Staff Writer

Since the conclusion of Popejoy's series on Sunday, KFWB has received about 9,000 listener requests for a free earthquake preparedness kit, comprised of materials supplied by the American Red Cross and a 55-minute tape cassette of Popejoy's reports, according to news director Bill Yeager. After Thursday, however, Yeager and Fisher said that they are gearing up for a deluge.

"I'm going to have to re-think this," Fisher said. "We've got over a million listeners and we may have to go to transcripts of the reports instead of cassettes."

"It's one of those coincidental things," said Sims. "It turns out to have been an opportune time for them to have done the series, didn't it?"

And KFWB made the most of it, according to Yeager. Popejoy headed directly for Caltech the moment the temblor hit, making learned comparisons to the big quake of 1857 over the air while on the way.

Besides two-way radios, each of KFWB's seven mobile units have gas masks and riot gear in the trunk, according to Yeager. When there were reports of a quake-caused gas leak in Santa Fe Springs, Yeager told reporter Sharon Katchner to put on her mask and get to the scene.

While other stations' on-air deejays were suggesting that homeowners shut off their natural gas, KFWB anchor Charley Braylor was telling listeners not to shut off anything unless they smelled gas. Listeners were told that people who needlessly shut down their natural gas lines after the 1971 Sylmar quake found that the Southern California Gas Co. had such a huge backlog of turn-on requests that they couldn't get to everyone for a week or more.

"It's rare for an all-news station like us to break format and drop commercials, but that's what we're doing," Yeager said Thursday.

Sherwin said that KABC was also cutting out most of its commercial messages. Instead of Michael Jackson's normal routine of interviewing news figures by phone and in-studio stars or authors plugging a film or a book, the morning talk show host spoke with Caltech seismologists and Lt. Gov. Leo McCarthy about the state's earthquake precautionary measures. Consumer reporter Ciji Ware offered the simple but smart hint to listeners to look in the front of their telephone directories for quake preparedness information.

"She pointed out that the three things near your bed you need are good shoes so you don't cut your feet on broken glass, a flashlight and some source of water or something to extinguish a fire," Sherwin said. "And, if you do nothing else, drag your phone book out and read it."

But KNX's Sims said his station dropped no commercials.

"It's certainly a major, major news story, but I doubt that the Los Angeles Times will come out tomorrow with no advertising," he said. "Just like you, we've got plenty of room for news, but we'll be able to get it all in and still do our commercial time."

Sims said overreaction to the quake was as imprudent as not reacting at all.

"It's a major story, but it's also a fact of life in Southern California. This is not The Big One," he said. "I was driving in from Pasadena when it happened and it was clear to everyone on the street around me that there was a rolling around. But, when the light turned green, we all drove down the street."

Times Staff Writer Judith Michaelson contributed to this article.

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