What Kind of Day Has It Been

August 9th, 2018

After a gunman opened fire on DJs at WORT Madison, volunteers at the community radio station began picking up the pieces.

WORT is a Madison community radio station. For the past two years I’ve spent more than 40 hours a week working or volunteering as a producer and reporter. It’s pillar of the Madison community and my home away from home. I put this story together to show the different reactions from folks across the WORT community.

Audio Transcript Below

At approximately 3:12 a.m. Sunday morning, a man wearing a mask and hood entered the WORT station and opened fire on three DJs in the broadcast studio.

Witnesses say five shots were fired as the DJs ran from studio to studio looking for cover.  One DJ was shot in the backside and a window between studios was left with a large bullet hole. They were able to seek shelter in the vinyl library and call 911.

Madison police officers secured the area, searched for the runaway gunman, and sent the injured DJ to the hospital where he was quickly discharged. The incident ended with only that one minor injury and no fatalities. It also ended with no arrests.

In the meantime, police sealed off the building and the station went radio silent for a few hours as detectives investigated the crime scene.

Yet before police reopened the station, volunteers were already lining up to get WORT back on its feet.

Chali Pittman was one of those volunteers. She showed up after rolling out of bed and hearing dead air on her radio dial, which is always tuned to WORT. She didn’t hesitate to walk down the street and check on a station that she calls her home away from home.

“I feel like that’s one of the great things about WORT. It has this incredible community of people who really care about it and are willing to pitch in at strange hours,” she said.

Eventually, police allowed volunteers back into the studio.

Then at 9:38 a.m, Sunday morning, Board President David Devereaux-Weber went on air to make an announcement regarding the shooting. And WORT returned to regularly scheduled programming.

But just as the station got back on the air, phone calls, Facebook messages, flowers, even food and financial donations started coming into the studio. A statement put out via Facebook was shared 2,000 times.

I was able to sit down with Devereaux-Weber to catch up on the day’s events. He says support from the community and from other media outlets is heartening. “The concept that media in general, and WORT is a great example of this, we provide people with information which helps them make intelligent decisions… The feedback I’m getting from the different media I’ve talked to in the last two days is a concern about how we keep going, how do we keep doing this job?”

He went on to discuss the role volunteers played in getting the station back up and running. “It’s very gratifying. When that happens, you know you’re on the right track. You’re filling a need that’s a real need and you’re filling it in a way that’s useful to people.”

Word continued to spread as the day continued on Sunday, with volunteers reacting to the news in diverse ways.

Just before 3 p.m., Helena White walked into the station to host her world music show, only to discover what had happened. “I was broadcasting out of a studio that had a bullet hole through glass just to my right while I’m broadcasting. It just felt crazy to be broadcasting out of the same room where three people were when somebody came in and were shooting at them.”

Lang Schmitt was the first late night DJ to broadcast after the shooting, taking over the turntables at 2 a.m. Monday morning.

Schmitt was one of many volunteers to leave voicemails with the WORT news team, expressing their feelings and concerns. Along with shock and concern, he wants to make sure people don’t connect the incident to any specific genre of music. He says, “The minute that we blame the genre, that’s some racist dog whistle stuff. Gun violence is an American problem. It was a shooting at a radio station, that’s what’s important.”

Many volunteers responded with concerns over the current political climate, with worries about how elected officials are treating the media, with concerns over gun violence.

One thought on everyone’s mind is security.

Pittman, a late night DJ, says there have been times she’s felt nervous being the only person alone at the station in the late night hours. “I remember doing a show in the middle of the night and feeling kind of freaked that something might happen just because you’re kind of a sitting duck in a radio station.”

Finding that balance between new security challenges and WORT’s core identity as an open, community space is the next challenge.

I checked in with former staffer and Board member Laura Gutknecht. She has been a volunteer for the past 20 years and calls the dilemma a tightrope. “With video cameras and that sort of angle, I don’t want people to feel though that they come near the station and they are under surveillance”, she says.  “The security of the volunteers is primary.”

Devereaux-Weber says security changes are coming. He’s getting bids on new locking mechanisms for the doors and more cameras around the building. The station had installed a video camera at the front door for the first time only a few month sago. It was created for receptionists and hosts to see who was outside. But all this will cost money.

Regardless of the challenge, receptionist and WORT Board member Kathy Hoveland believes WORT volunteers have a strong spirit and will overcome this latest challenge.

“We are going to continue to do what we do. I’m a native Madisonian and this is my radio station that I grew older with from the 70’s on… I’m just really, really proud to be a volunteer, ” Hoveland says.

Police have not yet made any arrests in the case and have not identified a suspect.



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