State of Emergency
January 22, 2016
You know what to do by now.
I'm speaking, of course, about emergencies. As I write this, the mid-Atlantic states are bracing for Winter Storm Whatever Arbitrary Unofficial Name Someone Gave It, with snow of up to, like, 700 feet deep expected. I've checked with some of the stations in the region and everyone seems to be on top of things, staffed up and hunkering down and ready to go.
It's one of the strategic advantages of radio: In a real emergency, it's reliable, you can access it even if your power's down, and, unlike podcasts, it's immediate, not pre-recorded. And there's also the ability to put regular folks on the air to relate what's going on in their neighborhoods, too. Yes, social media can and will do that, but you can't convey everything in a Facebook post or a 140-character tweet that the human voice on the line can say.
But if that's all you're doing, that's not enough anymore. Your audience IS going to use the Internet to get information. If you're concentrating solely on the on-air content, you're going to miss a chunk of your audience which expects you to be where they are. We've seen it with school closings: When we were kids, we'd dutifully tune to the designated radio station and wait for the name (or number, in Philly) to be called. Now, you get the word online, whether on a website or via text. But ALL information in a weather emergency, from alerts to closings to traffic to radar to travel delays, is online now, and if you're only reading that information on the air, you're only doing half the job. Your brand should be strong enough for the local audience to come to your website and social media accounts, too, and if you're on the ball, you won't fail them there, either.
By now, I think the message is out that every station should have a plan in place for emergencies, not only for weather but for everything. And, to me, that means that there should always be someone at the studios with a) the plan in mind, and b) the ability to put the plan in motion and get it on the air right away. I know, a lot of smaller stations are unattended in "off hours." It costs money to have someone around. But if the industry is going to, rightfully, be proud of its response in emergencies, proud enough to make it a calling card when lobbying Washington for things like FM chips in cell phones, it should at least invest in being prepared 24/7/365 (or, every four years, 366).
Oh, and a reminder: Not all emergencies are weather-related, and you probably have resources available to you that you aren't even thinking about. A major celebrity death is an emergency -- we had a few in the last couple of weeks -- and while you can't be expected to be like the New York Times and have obituaries ready to go for every famous person on Earth, you should always have someone who can make the call to, for example, add a lot of Bowie or Eagles songs (or Mott the Hoople... well, okay, maybe not wall-to-wall, but "All The Way From Memphis" would have been nice to hear) when appropriate, and make the decision to open the phone lines for listeners to talk about it, and make sure the station's social media accounts and website are on it, too. But if you're a network affiliate, remember, they probably have stuff you might have a hard time compiling otherwise, from full audio coverage to archival interviews, web copy, video, and access to experts to guest on your station. If you just use the network to plug newscasts into your automation, you're missing out on what an affiliation can do for you.
Right now, though, at midday on Friday, it's all about the snow. I'm looking forward to the radio coverage, because it's entertaining to hear radio news departments in full crisis mode, getting the story and rattling off closings and cancellations. It's especially entertaining when you're listening from someplace where it's 63 degrees and partly sunny. I'm sorry, I couldn't help myself. I miss a lot of things about living back east, but blizzards ain't among them.
If you're in the affected area this weekend, you're talking about the snow, or at least I would hope you are. If you're elsewhere, you'll be talking about other things, and All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics, with news items and kickers and bad jokes for your show prep needs, is here for just that. It's available by clicking here and at the Talk Topics Twitter feed at @talktopics with every story individually linked to the appropriate item. And there's the new Podcasting section at AllAccess.com/podcasts. And there's "10 Questions With..." radio news veteran Rich Johnson, now working freelance at WTOP/Washington, who has a lot to say about radio news and his eventful career.
Full Disclosure: I also serve as Director of Programming for Nerdist Industries, a division of Legendary Pictures and Legendary Digital Entertainment, which includes the Nerdist Podcast Network, one of your major podcast entities.
Good luck to all of you in the path of the storm, by the way. I hope you got to the supermarket before all the milk and bread and water were sold out. That's still what you do when a storm's coming, right? Or do people rush to buy quinoa and kale now?