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Rising from Ruin is an on-going MSNBC.com special report chronicling two coastal Mississippi towns, Bay St. Louis and Waveland, as they rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

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WAVELAND, Miss. –- The owner of a radio station who was honored for his heroic efforts to keep the community informed during and after Hurricane Katrina says the tiny operation’s future is less certain now than it was during the storm.

Brice Phillips, who runs the low-power, noncommercial station WQRZ at 103.5 on the FM dial, says he’s running out of money to stay in business. His appeals for funding from FEMA and other agencies have not been successful.

Phillips seems confident he’ll keep his station running, but says he has “no clue” how he’ll pay the bills after spending the last $2,000 of a $16,000 prize he received from the federal Small Business Administration in 2006. The prize was attached to the SBA’s Phoenix Award honoring him for “outstanding contributions to disaster recovery by a volunteer.”

The award citation noted that as the hurricane approached, “Brice Phillips loaded his van with transmitters and extra antennas and relocated WQRZ radio to the county’s emergency operations center. As the storm surge waters reached the building’s second level, Phillips braved the elements and rigged his car batteries to power the station’s broadcasting of search and rescue information.”

Featured in an earlier Rising from Ruin piece, WQRZ was one of just four stations along the Gulf Coast that remained on the air during the storm and its aftermath, beacons of hope and information to many residents who were stranded for days without food, water or shelter.

Phillips, 41, has hardly left the emergency center since, logging 6,000 volunteer hours – that’s 60 hours a week since the hurricane – to run the station, while also performing some public information duties for Hancock County and serving as an ad hoc technician on computer and telecom systems. The station, known throughout its 30-mile broadcast radius for an eclectic musical play list, does not feature as much original programming as it did at the height of the recovery efforts, but it still runs daily news and weather reports and a weekly “FEMA Facts” show.

Phillips gets by on $600 a month in disability payments for an adult attention deficit disorder. His own home in Waveland was destroyed by the storm, and he has so far been unable to replace it, living the past two years in FEMA trailers parked there and at the county center.

His chief concern is that when the county’s lease on its emergency operations center runs out in the fall, WQRZ will have no place to go. He has rigged a secondary transmitter in a storm-battered eight-foot-square shed that remains on his property to avoid being without broadcast facilities should he have to leave the county center, based at an old school in Kiln.

Hancock County Emergency Operations Manager Brian “Hootie” Adam says he’ll do everything in his power to maintain a home for the station. “In my opinion, wherever I go, WQRZ is going to go,” Adam said. “I’m partial. This man stayed with me during the storm and anybody that’s stood by me, I’m going to stand by him.”

Adam said the county is trying to negotiate an extension on its lease of the Kiln school. Longer term, he needs $5 million or more to build a new emergency operations center. While county finance officials have tried relentlessly to find the funds from federal and state programs, so far they have only met dead ends. “Everyone else seems to be getting funded except emergency operation centers.”

Adam and Phillips are hopeful that the recent rebroadcast of a public television piece on the WQRZ story will attract fresh support. If and when money allows, Phillips has big ideas about moving to a different location on the FM dial and boosting the station’s signal.

Regardless, Phillips vows to keep the station running as long as he can out of his own pocket. “When the money runs out, I’ll pay the phone bill and power bill and have $100 a month left. I’ll be begging for food.”

He scoffs at the idea that he would walk away from what has become his life’s work.

“Come on! I survived Katrina and saved a lot of folks doing it.”

NOTE: Information on supporting WQRZ is available on the station’s Web site or by calling Phillips at 228-463-1035.

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8 COMMENTS

What a true American hero is all about!

Seems to me that if the rest of the individuals affected by hurricane Katrina had half the drive this man has then they wouldn't be in the circumstances they are in (i.e. standing around wondering where THEIR government money is).

I wish and pray that you will continue your life's work for many years. I am hopeful that the Gulf Coast will recover in full and become its finest. It is disheartening to see all that still needs to be done and to know of the struggles of those who are trying to rebuild their communities. Keep strong! You are not forgotten

Bet Matt from Rochester NY thinks Brownie did a hell of a job too! How dare you? This reminds me of Newt and his rants about welfare mothers - well mine was, got through the NYC welfare bureaucracy to get me life-saving surgery for a heart condition, and today, 48 years later, I am an attorney with a wife and two daughters. You have no idea what these people went through. So stop the Republican moralizing from afar, stow your ignorance, and put the blame where it belongs: the former governor of Texas.

It seems to me that Matt from Rochester has been watching a little too much Fox News.

I hate to be the barer of bad news, but come on, the guy works 60hrs a week, pulled together a radio station, managed to get funding, pulled it together during a storm, when others were running away..and you are going to tell me he is on disability for ATTENTION DEFICIT DISORDER...(this does not in any way, take away from his efforts during the storm, which I sincerely admire..but come on now lets be honest for a minute...HE RIGGED A RADIO STATION TO A CAR BATTERY AND HE IS ON DISABILITY.....WTF...

Brice works more than 60hrs a week every week. Not to mention that he is so dedicated to his station he doesnt stray away from the EOC compound. Let's not forget that all of the monies he received went into the PUBLIC radio station and not his own home.

Just thought I'd tie some of these things together here. Whatever the merits of this disability money he gets (it's messed up that he gets money for that and not for anything else), that's something a lot of people don't have after Katrina, not to mention the technical skills and his own property. There are many people working just as hard who aren't so fortunate. This idea that all hard work is compensated equally is ridiculous.

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