April 23, 2013
Cover, or not?
It's always interesting these days to scan local radio when any catastrophe occurs. In Denver, on the Monday that the bombings occurred, a local sports FM (owned by LFG) was talking about the Boston bombings, and one AM NT station (owned by Salem) was in live network news coverage.
Rush Limbaugh's show, carried by the 50,000-watt Clear Channel station, KOA, never mentioned it. Rush himself wasn't on the air; it was a guest host, and I had to believe it had been pre-recorded. The other CC Talk station was running Glen Beck's show, also apparently pre-recorded: nary a mention until that show ended.
Not one Denver FM music station had one word about the bombings during multiple times that I checked out their frequencies.
So, what did you do on your stations?
It seems to me, you need a procedure for these things now. An emergency playbook, ready to go.
If your station is in Boston, or a suburb -- and that includes a lot of major East Coast cities -- I don't see how you can not go wall-to-wall coverage, regardless of format.
But even if your station is in Colorado, what is more compelling content than a terrorist attack on the Boston Marathon? Taylor Swift? Seriously?
Now, you may say, "but that's not why listeners come to my station" in Seattle, or Denver, or Boston. "They come to escape reality. And once they hear my station mention it, they'll leave and go follow coverage on TV or on the local NT station."
That is almost certainly true.
If your station is music-based, stopping music to cover a terrorist attack will almost certainly send most of those listeners to find more in-depth coverage online, on TV, or on a station better equipped to provide useful information.
But what will those listeners think of your station if they listen all afternoon, hear nothing at all about the biggest story of the day, and find out about it only when they get home, or when a co-worker runs in to shout the news?
Will they ever trust your station again? Will they ever know with certainty that you will give up today's ratings because you found out something they need to know, something they will want to know, and follow?
To me, this has always been a no-brainer.
It's tougher now because, as the Denver example proves, even those stations in big cities that own the News/Talk image, cannot be relied upon to interrupt syndicated programming to carry content you desperately want to hear.
Radio as a medium is responsible for losing the "immediacy" image we once owned, of surrendering it to television.
And it just goes to show that even a Soft AC or Oldies or Country station may be doing the smart thing by interrupting normal programming to carry urgent and important news, because News/Talk stations may not be reliable sources of immediate information today. In Denver, they are not.
Plus, never underestimate the role you and your station play in allowing your community to vent its anxiety, its grief, and its anger after an attack or a catastrophe.
There is comfort to be found in shared experience. What we go through together brings us closer together, and as a community resource, isn't that part of your station's responsibility?
You may not have a news staff. You may not have a large air staff. But if you have a live body, someone with good judgment and empathy and a sense of calm and optimism, just talking it through with your listeners is probably the very best programming you could've offered.
I honestly think this helps your station win ratings long-term, but even if it didn't, it's the right thing to do.