When Emergencies Happen, Don't Get The Transmitter Mindset
January 19, 2016
We all know it: when there's a local emergency, that's where radio comes into its own, as new listeners tune in to your station in droves. It's a perfect time to remind your new listeners what your station does and why they should keep tuned in to you.
However, a station in Harrogate in northern England knows that it's not just the radio station that gets increased figures - but everything they do online too.
During some serious floods across the Yorkshire Dales over Christmas, Stray FM saw online listening had tripled; social media reach had quadrupled; and they had over fifteen times more traffic coming to their website.
Stray FM, part of UKRD, uses its own CMS to run its website. It's run by UKRD Labs, an internal division of the radio company.
Managing radio station websites demands a skill that many webhosts find unusual: that of coping with significant traffic bursts. Typically this happens in unusual weather events: unusual snow, high winds, bush fires or (in this case) floods.
A few years ago, radio stations used to flip over to a simple, text-only version of their website: but with advances like Amazon's CloudFront or the CloudFlare CDN system, radio stations can continue to serve their full websites without interruption. And, of course, increased use of social media means relying less on stations' own websites and more on services like Twitter and Google.
Streaming, too, comes under pressure. Many radio stations run servers with relatively low maximum concurrent listeners, adequate for their normal listening but regularly reaching their maximum under stress. Unlike a transmitter, online radio typically sets a maximum number of listeners (though there are increasingly robust ways to overcome this, including a new streaming technology called HLS).
As Valerie Geller says, the number one priority for your radio station is the health and safety of your listeners, and that's no longer limited to what comes through the speakers. During an emergency, it's just as important to staff-up your online content. Increasingly, people turn to Twitter, Facebook and other social media services to discover more about what's going on.
It's an ideal place to be showing your station's advantage: that you're not in mindless automation from hundreds of miles away, but you have local people on the ground, sharing stories and helping audiences. This content gets shared and amplified: so make sure it all contains branding for your station and, crucially, details of how to tune in. (It's amazing how poor we are with this in general, not just in emergencies.)
Stray FM's success all goes to show that it's important to look beyond the transmitter mindsetm, and ensure that everything a radio station does is relevant and updated - not just the stuff on-air.