POINT REYES STATION, Calif. — With evacuation warnings still in place, smoke from back burn fires drifted out of the oaks and pines above the tiny town of Point Reyes Station in Marin County on Friday, mixing with thick, coastal fog until the two were indistinguishable to most people.
But Amanda Eichstaedt, general manager of KWMR, the local public radio station, easily saw the difference. Like most topics related to this quixotic town of about 400 that abuts the West Coast’s only National Seashore, she was happy to share her knowledge — with everyone in about a 20-mile radius.
“We know that people totally rely on the radio,” she said of this Arcadian territory, where cellphones are spotty on a good day.
Since fire broke out here after an afternoon lightning strike on Aug. 18, Eichstaedt has turned the one-studio station into a vital source of information for the remote outpost and the rural towns that surround it. In a place where local news is otherwise a once-weekly paper or a conversation at the post office or local market, the radio station has long been a trusted source of knowledge when emergencies hit.
Across California, stations like KWMR fill a vital vacuum during crises, especially fast-moving wildfires. With their local knowledge — from where exactly back roads are located to quick access to the fire chief — these broadcasters are increasingly finding themselves to be crucial authorities in the worst moments, when power is out, danger is high and a radio wavelength floating through the air is a lifeline.