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AM 680 WCBM Leapt Into Action As the Francis Scott Key Bridge Collapsed

As Americans woke up to a cargo ship hitting Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge Tuesday morning, the crew at AM 680 WCBM was already hard at work gathering the facts.

Just before 1:30 AM, a cargo ship lost power exiting the Baltimore harbor, striking a support beam that toppled the 47-year-old structure. In the wreckage, six people working on the bridge died, while drivers were rescued from the rubble in the chilly waters of the Curtis Bay.

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The AM news/talk station — which celebrated its 100th anniversary Thursday — went wall-to-wall breaking coverage, something most outlets now avoid because of budget concerns. 680 WCBM morning host and Program Director Sean Casey told BNM in an email exchange how his crews handled the breaking news.

BNM: When did you guys hit the air with breaking news coverage?

Sean Casey: We first broke in with updates at 3:30 AM, approximately two hours after the bridge collapsed. Breaking news updates continued every half hour until 6 AM.”

BNM: How did you coordinate coverage in those moments?

SC: Full wall-to-wall coverage started at 6 AM and included full newscasts as well as interviews with state and local law enforcement agencies, eyewitness call-ins, and our national news partners. Our producer made call-outs and our news department shifted to full-blown local coverage.

BNM: How much experience did you have in putting together coverage of an event like that on the fly?

SC: Having been on the air during 9/11, I used the same formula that listeners want to know: Who, What, When, and Where? The why will come later.

BNM: How does your coverage show the importance of both local radio and AM radio?

SC: In times of breaking news events that impact our listeners, local AM radio stations are more in tune with the local listening audience. Our employees live and work here and know what’s important to our listeners. We also know the local players and officials and can get immediate reaction.

The talk component of our news/talk format offers listeners a chance to vent, share, and communicate with each other in good and bad times. This is why AM radio is still relevant. In some emergencies you can lose your cell service or have too weak of a signal, AM radio remains viable for in-car listening and at home with battery backup.

The AM 680 WCBM morning host and Program Director concluded his thoughts by noting the importance of a team effort, not only in coverage of breaking news events but also in operating a successful station and business as a whole.

“One of the biggest concerns we have is budgetary. More and more AM stations are abandoning the format because of its expense. Very few can afford a live and local news staff and show hosts,” Casey told Barrett News Media.

“Now more than ever, it’s vital that there be synergy between ownership, sales, and programming to maximize ratings and revenue so that we can continue to deliver vital information to listeners in our market.”

Krystina Alarcon Carroll
Krystina Alarcon Carroll
Krystina Alarcon Carroll is a news media columnist and features writer for Barrett Media. She currently freelances at WPIX in New York, and has previously worked on live, streamed, and syndicated TV programs. Her prior employers have included NY1, Fox News Digital, Law & Crime Network, and Newsmax. You can find Krystina on X (formerly twitter) @KrystinaAlaCarr.

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