It's interesting doing an audio interview with Josh Marsh, since the reason we've sought him out is his skills on the other end of the mic: as a journalist and broadcaster, news director and morning co-host at FM 102.9/AM 1310, KZRG. It was in this role that Josh, and we're not hyperbolizing, became the voice of Joplin after the tornado.
Unlike many people we speak with, Josh had an idea something big was going to happen on May 22.
"Being in news, we were aware that a cold front was pushing through. Even in church, people caught me checking my cell phone and radar."
Josh was already broadcasting from the station even as the storm ripped through town, and it was there that he came to a realization: "I remembered thinking at that point it would be the worst thing in the world for the station to go dark."
That wisdom was prescient. Reports were filtering back to the station; "The Joplin as we knew it no longer existed." And then Josh did something risky.
"I kind of broke the golden rule of radio – you don't take phone calls on the fly. But I knew in my heart that's what we needed to do."
What happened next was staggering: a community radio station became the bulletin board of a disaster. "It was this crazy, amazing web of information. People couldn't call one another or text one another, but we became a platform for people to find one another." A truck with supplies would come into town, unsure of where to go; the driver would call Josh. Knowing, from previous callers, where to send it, the DJ would essentially become a relief director. And a counselor.
"My dad is a preacher, and he has always stressed this important aspect : show the way out. Everything he has ever said or preached, it came through in that moment for me." Josh gave his listeners words of faith and hope, even as he was unsure if his own wife was alive (when she came in an silently hugged him, letting him continue his work while acknowledging she was OK – that, says Josh, was about the best moment of his life).
KZRG provided nine days of 24/7 coverage of the tornado. Today, the corkboard in the entrance hall to the station is pinned throughout with thank-you notes from those who heard Josh's voice, and found a way out.