Back-to-back hurricanes sideline Puerto Rico pubcasters

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Public broadcasters in Puerto Rico are off the air after being battered by back-to-back hurricanes.

Some stations never got back on the air after the devastation of Hurricane Irma, according to the Latino Public Radio Consortium, which has been tracking the condition of stations in Puerto Rico. But at least LPRC could communicate with colleagues there, according to Executive Director Magaly Rivera.

“Then Maria came along, and now we know that all the stations are off the air,” Rivera said. The territory’s noncommercial stations include Radio Universidad, Casa Pueblo, UAGM Radio, Radio Vieques, WQTO, WRTU-FM and WMTJ-TV.

Current was unable to reach stations by phone, and many have stopped posting to social media.

Hurricane Maria, which left the island without electricity, “has had a catastrophic impact on Puerto Rico’s communications networks,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement. “Unfortunately, getting Puerto Rico’s communications networks up and running will be a challenging process, particularly given the power outages throughout the island.”

After Hurricane Irma, WIPR-TV/FM received $60,000 and WRTU-FM got $30,000 in emergency funding from CPB. PBS station WMTJ-TV in Rio Piedras got $30,000. Ileana Rivera Santa, LPRC’s station services manager, said she is working with CPB to possibly secure additional funding for stations following Hurricane Maria.

Joint licensee WIPR in San Juan was able to broadcast through the hurricane. Afterward, however, it lost its signals and began using Facebook as its primary platform. The station is intermittently streaming online. It posted a video on Facebook in which station staffers asked for patience from viewers and listeners.

WIPR staffers slept at the station to keep operations going, according to Santa. A curfew imposed by Puerto Rico’s governor has limited staffers ability to get around, Rivera said, though reporters are exempt.

Hurricane Irma also caused water damage to a historical archive at WIPR. Santa said she’s working on securing emergency funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities to restore the archive.

LPRC has also set up a GoFundMe page with a $100,000 goal to help Puerto Rico stations. “We have a long road ahead,” Rivera said. The National Federation of Community Broadcasters and other LPRC partners are also supporting the fundraiser.

Like so many Puerto Ricans on the mainland, Santa is worried about friends and colleagues. “I’m desperately trying to connect with them,” she said. “I am Puerto Rican, my family is there, and I have not been able to connect with them either. It’s really difficult.”