Resources | The WCM Quarterly | Sun Prairie Media Center keeps residents informed during gas explosion disaster
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Friday, August 24, 2018 09:57 AM

Sun Prairie
Sun Prairie Media Center keeps residents informed during gas explosion disaster

ike many city employees and elected officials, staff working for the Sun Prairie Media Center were close to the explosion that shook downtown Sun Prairie on Tuesday, July 10.
As usual, Marc Borland, staff producer/director, was at City Hall directing and live broadcasting a city meeting. "The plan commission meeting had not yet started," remembered Borland, "and then the explosion happened. My immediate thought was that something had hit the building. That's how immediate and severe the impact was. Then, since the meeting hadn't started, I ran down the street along with [The Star editor] Chris Mertes to see what was going on and take a picture."

That picture was then texted to SPMC Director Jeff Robbins.  Robbins said, "I was in Monona at the time at my daughter's swim practice. It was hard to tell from the picture how severe the explosion was and I couldn't abandon my daughter. But I started seeing more messages and getting more reports and it became clear that this was a pretty major situation.

Once we left the practice and got on Stoughton Road, I could see the smoke billowing in the air. Then I got in touch with a few people, from [Economic Development Director] Neil Stechschulte to [SPMC Production Manager] Lisa Wolf to [local radio producer] Bill Baker. We decided that the least we could do was get on 103.5 FM [the city-run low-power FM station] and pass along whatever information we could and advise people to stay away from the area."

After a couple of hours on the air passing along whatever information was coming in, Baker and Robbins got up early the next morning and set up a live radio broadcast at Sun Prairie High School where the American Red Cross was serving evacuated families.  From there Sun Prairie Media Center's low-power FM station promoted the many community fundraisers that were being held and carried emergency-related press conferences live, all the while updating the Cable TV station's crawls with the latest.

(Pictured at right) Sun Prairie Media Center broadcast many live radio remotes at disaster relief fundraisers, this one at the Nitty Gritty, a Sun Prairie restaurant, which donated 50% of its sales that day.  Mark Gonwa, community radio volunteer producer (right) poses with a guest wearing a red Sun Prairie Strong t-shirt. 

On Friday, the Sun Prairie Media Center was privileged to get a call from the family, asking it to be the sole media at the funeral of fallen Sun Prairie Firefighter Cory Barr on Saturday, July 14. "We got the call the afternoon before that the family wanted us to make the funeral available for live viewing," said Robbins. "Of course we wanted to help out, but it was a challenge to scramble together staff for a Saturday shoot on a Friday afternoon.  Much appreciation goes to Lisa Wolf and [high school production specialist] Jake Robbins [no relation] for being there.  We also used some new production equipment that we weren't yet expert with" continued Robbins, "but it allowed us to employ multiple cameras in different locations around the gym without using wires. Going wireless was important because the one request made of us was to be as discreet as possible. We did have a couple difficult moments, made all the more nerve-wracking as our signal was going to several media outlets around the state and to a jumbotron set up right outside the high school.  We've heard from several people how much our coverage meant to them," said Robbins.

"While we'd obviously rather be covering different types of happenings in and around Sun Prairie," said Robbins, "I'd like to think that we proved again that not only is the media center an important outlet for Sun Prairie news and information but also a vital part of the community."   

Cory Barr's funeral can be viewed online at at the KSUN On Demand page.