Not long after Chris Wright took over the K98 morning radio show following the departure of popular DJ Rick Burgess, everyone expected the ratings to take a drop.
But no one saw what was coming: the Great Blizzard of ’93.
With all other stations knocked off the air, Chris was suddenly the only outside voice to be heard in homes throughout the area. It’s a fact of which he was blissfully unaware.
“I thought all the other stations were doing what I was doing,” he said. Had he known he was the only one broadcasting — “It might have overwhelmed me.”
The adventure began on Friday night, March 12, 1993, when Chris got a call that the power had gone out at the radio station. “I told the evening DJ to go home and I would take care of it,” he said. Not long after arriving at the station, he found himself snowed in. Around 5 a.m., the power returned and he went on the air.
Only 22 years old at the time, Chris had no idea what was going on in the outside world: the massive road closures, businesses shut down, widespread loss of power. “It was when the phone calls poured in that I started to understand the significance,” he said. “I heard many stories of life-threatening situations.”
As the only employee at the station, Chris stayed on the air for 17 straight hours, taking calls and relaying information from first responders and other officials.
The Emergency Management Agency arrived to set up an additional phone line, and then late on Saturday night, the National Guard delivered another DJ, Justin Brown, to the station.
“The only time I’ve ever been that happy to see someone was when my son, William, was born,” Chris said.
Food was also delivered. A good thing since Chris was living off Girl Scout cookies he found in the break room. With Justin at the controls, Chris was able to catch some sleep, and later the two worked furiously to keep the community informed of updates and to assist people in need.
“One family called because their son was on life support,” Chris remembers. “They had a generator, but it was running out of fuel.” Several people rushed to help.
Other listeners in desperate need of assistance included a diabetic who had run out of insulin and several women going into labor. “I’m told that more than one child was named after me,” Chris said. “But I’ve never actually confirmed that.”
Not all the calls were of the life-and-death variety. One guy in Jacksonville phoned to say he was out of beer and cigarettes. “It bothered me at the time,” Chris said, thinking back on it. But today he realizes that everyone needed a good laugh.
The remarkable weather event catapulted his career and Chris became a local celebrity overnight. He was named a member of the Congress of Outstanding Calhoun Countians, and Troy State presented him with the Hector Award for Outstanding Public Service. The governor issued a proclamation for the radio station as well as for Chris himself, and his morning show ratings became the highest the station had ever recorded at that time.
As his career continued, he went on to receive nearly a dozen awards from the Alabama Broadcasters Association. They included such honors as Morning Show of the Year (three times) and Personality of the Year (twice).
Today, Chris airs a morning show from a studio in his home to a radio station in Alexander City. Local viewers also see him on TV24, where he does the nightly weather reports and hosts “Shop24” and “Calhoun County’s Most Wanted.” His full-time job, however, is recording voiceovers for projects all over the globe.
“You might hear me answer the phone if you call a company in Ireland,” he said. “I’m on radio and TV commercials in South Africa, Australia, Europe, Asia, South America and, of course, the United States, including for Subway restaurants.”
People in Turkey and Brazil learning to speak English are repeating words after him, and he has narrated documentaries about Silicon Valley and the Goodyear blimps.
“Fighter pilots get instructions from me,” he said. “And if you’re ever in a certain Escape Room in Denver, that’s me helping you figure out the clues.”
He has also narrated close to 100 audiobooks.
When the Great Blizzard hit 25 years ago, Chris was fresh out of Jacksonville State University, dreaming of becoming the next Dr. Johnny Fever, the DJ from his favorite TV show, “WKRP in Cincinnati.” Just like the words from the show’s theme song, he intended to move from “town to town, up and down the dial,” but the Blizzard of ’93 changed all of that and he settled himself in this community.
He met and married his wife, Alice, and became stepfather to her son, Reese. Their son, William, was born in 2006.
Looking back on that weekend when he was trapped at the radio station, Chris gives credit to all of the first responders, rescue workers and volunteers who heard his voice.
“Taking all of those calls from desperate people would have been extremely frustrating if there weren’t others out there risking their own safety and property to help,” he said.
Donna Barton’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.