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The Blizzard of 2009

 

I’ve never been very good about keeping a diary but have started writing up some memorable professional moments. Some of them involve high profile teams, events and athletes so might be interesting to someone else besides me. In any case, this a good forum for me to capture these stories.

 

thunder_logo_2It started to snow around mid-day on Christmas Eve 2009. It seems to happen  every year around the holiday season, one huge storm hits the OKC metro area.

My family was in Baltimore visiting friends. I was at the Oklahoman’s (local newspaper) studios taping our weekly magazine show “Air Thunder,” This was year two, the show was nominated for a regional Emmy in it’s first season. I added a couple of new wrinkles, brining in MIke Steely, the leader of the market’s dominate morning radio sports show as the new host. Steely was very good, well

known in the market and would help promote “Air Thunder” on his radio program. I also brought in the team’s web reporter to add commentary. The other co-hosts remained the TV and Radio Broadcast team of Brian Davis, Matt Pinto and Grant Long.

 

Air Thunder’s primary outlet was Fox Sports Oklahoma but also aired on KSBI-TV, a local over the air station. It was also posted by the Oklahoman’s on their web site and posted on the Thunder’s Web site. We had made a deal with the Oklahoman to use their new “web” studio at a reduced rate and offered them the content as part of the arrangement.

 

We finished shooting the studio segments and proceeded to do the final edit, inserting feature stories that had been packaged up over the past few days. By the time we were done editing, it was around 4:30 PM and the snow (and wind) had picked up in intensity. In the winter of 2009, we didn’t have the bandwidth to send an entire half-hour HD upload to KSBI and Fox digitally, so tapes had to be hand delivered each week. At that moment we had a problem, no one had any idea how long the 20 mile trip from the Oklahoman studios to KSBI would take, or if it would even be possible to get there. The show was scheduled to air at 7PM that night.

 

It was now a full-fledged Blizzard and I had a decision to make. I couldn’t ask anyone else to make the journey and could have simply had KSBI air a re-run…and deal with the fall-out from sponsors and fans later on.

 

I had just bought a new SUV. With my family away I had no special plans for Christmas Eve, so I decided to give it a whirl and attempt to make the trip to south OKC. The show’s Producer Dane Cleaven agreed to be my co-pilot.

 

The going was incredibly slow. Cars were wiped out on the side of the road (or blocking the road) all along the way. We kept to the side streets and don’t think we exceeded 10 miles an hour for the entire trip. We were making slow but steady progress so I decided to go for it. As we approached our third hour it was almost impossible to see but we were to close to turn back.

 

We made it to the station with a only a few minutes to spare. The master control operator loaded up the video and the show made air as scheduled. Now the trick would be to get back.

 

It took almost two hours to make it to the downtown area (around 10 miles). At that point we needed something to eat and believe it or not gas. Thinking it would be our best bet, we drove into a deserted downtown and managed to reach the Skirvin Hilton Hotel. Amazingly, the bar was still open and they were serving food. Next up was to try and find gas. We found a 100% self serve station and luckily the credit card reader and pumps were not frozen. Getting out of downtown was a nightmare and the worst part of the trip. Every road we tried was either blocked by abandoned cars or by snow drifts. It looked like a scene out of the apocalypse. We luckily found an escape rout and made our way north. A couple of hours later we arrived a Dane’s apartment complex in Edmond (just north of OKC) and I dropped him off. I then navigated the 4 miles back to the house we were renting.

 

At 12:30 AM, after an 8 hour round trip (to go around 50 miles), I got to my house and found the hilly driveway covered with a foot of snow. I used the wheels of the truck as a plow and got through to the garage. Fortunately, the power had not gone out.

 

In retrospect, it was a crazy thing to do, the world would have continued spinning if the program didn’t make it but I felt I had to give it a shot.

 

The story didn’t end there. MIke Steely could not make it home as his car got stuck in a drift. He managed to get a ride in the opposite direction from where he lived and was only able to find a room at an awful motel in Edmond. Dane Cleaven found his car buried a day later.

 

I headed out the next morning to pick up Mike and Dane and help them dig out their car’s. It was one for the book’s, but the show did go on.

 

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