by Radio Ink Publisher Deborah Parenti
Over the coming days, we will hear a lot about how radio stepped up to the plate in covering and serving their communities during the aftermath of the horrific events in
Orlando. In particular, of course, was the response of Orlando radio as events unfolded and listeners called in to express their disbelief and shock. And thanks to today’s
digital platforms, the ability to stream local Orlando stations gave an even broader out of market audience the opportunity to hear some outstanding, up close and personal
“live and local” radio.
As is typical at these moments, listeners, especially those in Orlando, needed a place to share their sense of loss and horror – or in some cases, just to talk – and it was
radio to which so many turned. Over and over, their remarks were laced in deep gratitude. One gentleman, who had never listened to WTKS until the tragedy, showered
praise on the air staff for “knocking it out of the park” in terms of sensitive community reporting and service. And there was the woman who tearfully thanked the
personalities for coming in on Sunday to help the community through the initial stages of shock and grief. Their noticeable reticence at accepting a compliment for what
one could sense they felt was “only” their job was palpable and touching. As one of them commented, “We take in as much as we give out.”
It was, and continues to be, radio’s role to be the voice of the community as well as provide a sounding board and ad hoc grief counseling post for its audience, both
locally, and today, as far afield as streaming takes it. No other medium can match radio at times like these. Cable news outlets run 24/7 updates from news sources and
press conferences. They hash over the events with talking heads, “experts,” and “analysts”, interspersed with a few eye witness interviews repeated over and over
throughout the day. Depending on the channel, some of it is also presented through a political lens. Indeed, it’s a role they have carved out as part of their 24/7 cycle, one
which has also shunted broadcast TV coverage to more of a “bulletin” status. This weekend, while CNN and its fellow cable outlets were interviewing politicians and
former FBI agents, the PGA was in full play on network TV.
But where radio distinguishes itself and what truly spotlights its niche among all media is/was and will continue to be, its distinct ability to reach out, dig in and be part “of”
the community. That’s a far different role than reporting “on” the community. It is also a daunting charge thrust on men and women, primarily trained to entertain and to
inform, who suddenly find themselves in the precarious role of careful listener, compassionate consoler and even a voice of hopeful light in a sea of darkness. And all the while, they, too, are coping with their own sense of loss, anger, fear and grief.
It is a terrible and sad time for our nation. An unspeakable horror has occurred, impacting so many innocent lives. There have been numerous heroes – those who helped others to safety, first responders and men and women from every walk of life who have offered their assistance in any way they could. This is not to place radio’s
contribution above and beyond any of those; rather to simply acknowledge within the industry that when radio was called on, our pros on the “front line” not only rose to
the day, but they did it with their hearts on their sleeves and gave voice to the masses.
Deborah Parenti is Publisher of Radio Ink Magazine and can be reached at [email protected]