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Radio station has been alerting area of storms for decades

June 15, 2018

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — June 9, 1978: Disco ruled the airwaves, most weather reports lasted about as long as a jingle, and severe weather too often caught people by surprise.

But at 10 a.m. that day, Richmond’s nerdiest radio station began a marathon broadcast of current temperatures, boating conditions, river levels and shrill but lifesaving alerts of impending tornadoes and floods.

The radio voice of the National Weather Service is now in its 40th year of serving central Virginia.

The “NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards” station WXK65 covers Richmond, the Tri-Cities and surrounding counties with a nonstop loop of weather data and forecasts from the local NWS office in Wakefield.

When conditions turn dangerous, the station triggers the region’s Emergency Alert System, according to Jeff Orrock, the meteorologist in charge there.

“We push the concept that this is simple technology and acts like a smoke detector for severe storms,” Orrock said.

The station broadcasts outside of the usual AM and FM broadcast bands (it’s at 162.475 megahertz, to be exact), so a listener needs a special kind of radio to pick up the signal.

Fortunately, weather radios are now fairly inexpensive and carried by most big retailers.

Newer models can also be set up to sound off only when a particular county is under a warning.

Many schools and public facilities keep a weather radio in the office, and it’s still a good idea for households to have one around even in this increasingly digital era.

If the power is blacked out and cell networks are jammed, a battery-operated weather radio will still beep when a warning is issued by the meteorologists in Wakefield — or let you know that you’re in the clear.

An extra advantage of the weather radio is that an alert comes through the instant the NWS sends it out, while some third-party app notifications and text message alerts can be significantly delayed.

It can also notify the public of non-weather emergencies such as nuclear accidents, chemical spills, 911 outages and child abductions.

NOAA weather radio gradually caught on and expanded across the country between the 1960s and 1990s. Today, there are more than 1,000 stations from Utqiagvik, Alaska, to Guam.

Meteorologists voiced the updates on each station until the 1990s, when a synthetic computer voice took over the task.

If you haven’t listened in several years, you’ll now hear an upgraded version of the voice that’s more lifelike and easier to understand.

The NWS in Wakefield now uses a microwave link to send its programming to a tower at the Virginia State Police headquarters on Midlothian Turnpike just west of Richmond. From there, it ripples out to the rest of central Virginia.

Other stations covering surrounding areas may provide a better signal (or a backup) for your town:

— Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula: WXM57 in Heathsville at 162.400 MHz

— Fredericksburg area: WZ2527 at 162.425 MHz

— Hampton Roads: KHB37 at 162.550 MHz

— Southside Virginia: WWG33 from Margarettsville, N.C., at 162.450 MHz

— Charlottesville and western Piedmont: KZZ28 Covesville at 162.450 MHz (currently off-air awaiting repairs)

Information on nonverbal use of weather radios for the deaf and hard of hearing is available at nws.noaa.gov/nwr/info/special_needs.html .

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