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TV, radio broke in with tornado news

A routine Saturday morning with Bugs Bunny and Tweety turned nightmarish when people watching WTSP-Ch. 10 learned of the deadly tornadoes that ripped into mid-Pinellas County.

Meteorologist Dennis Feltgen said the station first broadcast a severe thunderstorm warning between 9 and 9:30 a.m. and interrupted a cartoon show about 11:30 with news of touchdowns.

Like most area TV and radio stations, WTSP returned to regular programing after the news interruption. Most stations added frequent cut-ins for news reports throughout the afternoon.

The Emergency Broadcast System was not used because, county officials said, the tornadoes were gone so quickly.

Radio station WFLA-970 AM canceled scheduled broadcasts of a Rush Limbaugh talk show repeat and the San Francisco Giants-Cincinnati Reds baseball game. Assistant news director Bryan Brewer took the microphone following the noon newscast and took calls from people who had seen the storms. Jay Marvin, normally the weeknight talk-show host, took over at 3 p.m..

TV sports broadcasts went on as scheduled.

The Florida State-Miami game on WTSP was interrupted in the first quarter, Feltgen said, when the station got a report of a tornado hitting New Port Richey. The station did a major report during halftime that included aerial footage of the damage.

The Georgia-Arkansas football game on WFLA-Ch. 8 and the Detroit Tigers-Toronto Blue Jays baseball game on WTVT-Ch. 13 also were interrupted by news broadcasts. WTVT did news cut-ins on the hour and weather bulletins every 15 minutes, managing editor Daniel Webster said. It first broadcast footage of the damage during its 2 p.m. newscast.

WFLA cut into its football broadcast "a number of times," said Steve Fenske from the newsroom.

Like most of the other stations, the first cut-in came between 11:30 and 11:45 a.m., Fenske said. The station got footage of the damage on the air during a 1:30 p.m. football game cut-in.

On the radio side, WQYK-1010 AM stayed with its scheduled remote broadcast from the Beachfest celebration in St. Petersburg Beach, a spokesman there said. WFLZ-93.3 FM added two newscasts an hour and periodic cut-ins, said Sue Treccase of WFLA, which is WFLZ's sister station.

_ Staff writer Kevin Thomas contributed to this report.

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