After the Storm
September 2, 2011
The radio industry wasted no time in congratulating itself for its service during Hurricane Irene, and, for once, it was at least in part justifiable. Many stations had a lot of which to be proud. There were stations pumping out great coverage under difficult circumstances. You know who you are.
Well, maybe not. If you're at a station that was in the line of fire, are you proud of what your station did last weekend? Really proud? It goes back to what I wrote about last week, and it was interesting (to me, at least) to hear it play itself out during the crisis. There was great coverage from several stations, but I also know of stations that stuck with music right through the storm. Maybe they ran some weather updates, maybe a little news, but for the most part they played the hits while people needed information. Yes, the listeners could go elsewhere on the dial for the news, but what were YOU doing when that was happening? (Oh, by the way, "check our Facebook page for updates" isn't much use when the power's out, you have no Wi-Fi, and you have to conserve the battery in your smartphone. Just sayin'.)
It would be romanticizing the whole experience of working in radio to think that we all got into it for this kind of challenge, but let's say huge news is breaking, there's absolutely only one thing on every listener's mind, and you're there with a mic and a board and a transmitter. Did you get into this business to play music or roll a tape in that situation when your listeners need you?
If you're in talk radio or news radio, the answer's obvious, or at least I would hope it is. You thrive on breaking news. But some stations stuck with the hits, perhaps slipping in the occasional extra weather report, while people tuning in were wondering if their houses would be flooded out or blown away. Maybe it's true what some managers undoubtedly thought: hey, it doesn't matter, nobody who cares is listening to OUR station for the news anyway. But emergencies are when radio is supposed to shine, and it's hard to believe that every single station didn't go into full emergency mode as the storm hit their markets, even if it was just to simulcast another station or TV news audio. And it continues: I know people who are STILL without power on Long Island, and they tell me that some of their local stations are all over the situation while others are ignoring it. Maybe the latter stations think there's crisis fatigue setting in, and people just want to lighten up and escape now. Maybe they're right. But if your power's off or your street's washed out and there's no cavalry coming to your rescue and you're wondering when and if a LIPA truck will show up to get power back to your house, you'll remember which stations came through in the clutch with vital information, and who didn't.
The NAB's right: Radio is often the most important lifeline for people in an emergency. What you did when the storm hit, and what you've been doing since it's been gone, makes a difference to those people. If you played music, or rushed back to regular programming the moment lower Manhattan escaped -- if you didn't throw your regular rulebook out the window and get on the air with information and open phones to let your listeners communicate about what was happening in your area -- you didn't do right by those people. And when the industry celebrates how it's always there for its listeners, that doesn't necessarily mean you.
When the chips AREN'T down, on the other hand, you'll need to come up with things about which to bloviate... er, pontificate... talk. That's the word I was looking for. Talk. That's when you'll most appreciate All Access News-Talk-Sports' show prep column Talk Topics, where you'll find hundreds of topics for your talking and bloviating pleasure, and it's right here, and on Twitter at @talktopics. Also at All Access this week, you'll find "10 Questions With..." longtime radio guy Rich Stevens, who's embarked on a talk radio career at WFTL in South Florida after being a top jock all over the country, and you'll get the best radio and music industry coverage at Net News, with the top stories tweeted at @allaccess. And, unrelated to All Access, you can follow me on Twitter at @pmsimon, read my stuff at Nerdist.com, and check out my personal website at pmsimon.com.
We have a long weekend coming up (if, that is, you're in the U.S.; if you're not, at least you'll know why Monday might seem quiet around here). Enjoy the day off if you get one, and we'll get together again next week, assuming I don't get distracted by football that night. That's a difficult assumption to make.