Ithaca, N.Y. — The news came in late Saturday night: A lightning strike had knocked WRFI radio off the air in Watkins Glen.


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Because of obscure FCC regulations, WRFI also had to power down in Ithaca. The radio station was suddenly completely off the air.

It wasn’t clear how, or when, they would return. “At first, it wasn’t clear how we would get back on the air, or how long that would take,” says Felix Teitelbaum, the station’s general manager.

WRFI has been on the air for just over 2 years and is a community radio station, run by volunteers and operated as a non-profit.

Over the next day, Teitelbaum says, the radio station received the stunning support of over a dozen volunteers — and the generous help of WSKG and WVBR — to return to the air by Sunday night.

“It started off with two brand new DJs who noticed that something was wrong and sent the email that started an amazing whole chain reaction,” Teitelbaum says. “… It was just kind of miraculous.”

Over the next 20 hours, various WRFI volunteers and community members scrambled across several counties in the race to restore the radio station to power.

Here are a few of the ways the community helped:

— WVBR lent WRFI a back-up transmitter and WSKG offered parts and man hours;

— One volunteer left a party and to deliver a ladder to the tower in Watkins Glen;

— One volunteer drove out to Painted Post to meet a WSKG technician;

— Another went to Perry City to retrieve test equipment.

— Overall, 15 people were involved in “a lot of scrambling,” Teitelbaum says.

“It was just a huge slew of people that put work in to bring us back,” he says.

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Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.