Covering "Carmageddon" is driving some local television and radio stations a bit crazy.
One news director bluntly told the traffic reporter not to expect much sleep for the next two days. A news crew from another station will be living in a recreational vehicle near the 405 freeway. Still another station is avoiding using the "C" word in its coverage, hoping that the dire predictions for gridlock will not materialize.
Although varied in their approaches, local news stations uniformly are increasing staff, planning live cut-ins and using real-time driving reports and social networking to keep viewers abreast of the impact of the weekend closure. Much of the coverage launched Friday with live footage of the shutdown of the freeway ramps and is expected to continue until Monday morning when the critical roadway artery is slated to reopen.
"We take what's going to happen very seriously," said KABC President and General Manager Arnie Kleiner. "We're going into this expecting the worst, then we'll adjust, hoping for the best."
The following is a scheduled round-up of coverage:
KCBS Channel 2 and KCAL Channel 9: The sister stations will have extensive coverage all weekend. KCBS will have live 60-second cut-ins on the hour starting at 7 a.m. Saturday and continuing into the evening. KCAL's 8 p.m. newscast will also have expanded coverage. The stations will have a time-lapse camera on their website, while crews of reporters and cameramen will be deployed. The station will also staff a recreational vehicle which will be parked near the Mulholland Drive bridge all weekend "so we don't have to worry about getting crews in and out," said Scott Diener, KCBS news director.
Diener added, "We've been measured in how we're presenting this. We have avoided the word Carmageddon. Generally we have a countdown clock to the 405 closure. I don't know if it will be Carmageddon, but my hope is it won't be."
KNBC Channel 4: KNBC Assistant News Director Keith Esparros said the station would provide hourly cut-ins, and if it turns out to be worse than anticipated, "Then we have the option of staying on the air." The station will also have a news truck station deployed near the freeway for live coverage ("We have the best location because we won the lottery to determine where trucks would be parked," he said). The station will also have a "souped-up Skype"-type technology called LiveU that allows for live mobile transmission of full-resolution video over the Internet to be broadcast on air and on KNBC's website.
Said Esparros: "There's a very strong possibility that things will go smoothly, but we're dancing on the knife's edge. All it takes is one big rig to overturn, and we're in big trouble."
KTLA Channel 5: The station, which like the Los Angeles Times is owned by the Tribune Co., will be expanding its weekend newscasts. The morning newscasts, which usually start at 7 a.m., will start at 5 a.m.; the Saturday evening newscast, which normally starts at 6 p.m., will start at 5 p.m. The Sunday morning newscast will also begin at 5 a.m. Both days will also feature hourly live cut-ins.
The Monday morning newscast that usually begins at 5 a.m. will start at 4 a.m. and focus on the scheduled reopening of the freeway. Said news director Jason R. Ball: "This is a breaking news story we can plan for. Hopefully we did our jobs in getting the word out, and everyone stays home."
KABC Channel 7: The station for the last few weeks has teamed up with Waze, a traffic app, that uses social networking to provide drivers with turn-by-turn directions to navigate out of bad traffic conditions. "We're looking for ways to help our viewers even when they're not watching us," said News Director Cheryl Fair.
Expanded newscasts starting at 5 a.m. Saturday and Sunday will also be largely devoted to the closure. Two helicopters will provide aerial coverage, and a special traffic page on the station's website will be devoted to the closure. Monday's newscast, which normally begins at 4:30 a.m., will begin at 4 a.m.
"If history is our guide, everything will be fine and everybody will be too scared to death to go anywhere," said Kleiner.
KTTV Channel 11: The station is adding 405-related news specials at 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturday, and at 6 a.m., 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Sunday. The Monday 4:30 a.m. newscast will start at 4 a.m.
KNX 1070 AM: Reporters will be deployed around the closure area and all over the city, including the Emergency Operations Center. The 24-hour coverage will include a report on a wedding taking place in Santa Monica.
KPCC 89.3 FM: The news and information station is not a traditional traffic and weather station, but it will transform into one this weekend. The blanket coverage will include dispatches from reporters driving from the Valley to the Westside, and stories from reporters and a videographer bicycling around the 405 Freeway.
KABC 790 AM: The talk radio station plans constant updates all weekend. Also, listeners who get stuck in traffic on La Cienega Boulevard between Washington and Jefferson boulevards can stop near KABC's headquarters and get free lemonade and water and perhaps win some Dodger tickets.