How To Cover A National Tragedy


When we all woke up on Friday to the horrific events in Dallas, many of us grabbed the first digital device we could find to tune into a local radio station to get the best coverage directly from that city. Cumulus owned WBAP was in a local talk show monitoring the protests when the sniper story broke. We spoke to WBAP Program Director Tyler Cox this weekend. He detailed how WBAP covered the event when it broke and in the days that followed.

Radio Ink: When you heard what had happened what was your first plan of action to get WBAP on the coverage?
Cox: WBAP was in a live, local talk show with Chris Krok when the shootings began. We were already keeping an eye on the protest march in downtown Dallas, not too far from our studios. Chris was able to instantly begin describing what was happening based on our reports, Twitter and Social Media feeds, and content from our TV partner, WFAA Channel 8. Our evening news anchor began updating the story during Chris’ show, which switched its full content to the story. Our reporters who had ended their day went back into the street, our News Director Freda Ross returned to the station, and we began what turned into commercial-free coverage all night and into Morning Drive. Our news staff serves both of our news/talk stations, WBAP 820AM and KLIF 570AM, and as we have done with other emergencies such as severe weather, we began to immediately simulcast the two stations and continued all night.

Radio Ink: What kind of plan of action do you have in place in case of an emergency or tragedy like this?
Cox: The biggest advantage we had was advance planning. As a cluster, the Program Directors of all the DFW Cumulus stations began planning for just such a tragedy following the San Bernardino shootings. We all submitted our plan-of-action for each station to Market Manager Dan Bennett, be it news/talk, sports, country or CHR.   Standard practice in the WBAP/KLIF newsroom is: everyone mobilizes, and resources are pooled into one programming feed for both WBAP and KLIF AM.

Radio Ink:Talk about the quick reaction of your team once you started to put your plan in motion.
Cox: Our reporters were on-scene within minutes of the first report of shootings. Our News Director Freda Ross and I were in immediate communication about the initial start-up of our coverage, with the understanding that, like any disaster coverage, the “script” will be fluid, constantly changing, and requires quick re-adjustments.

Radio Ink: Tell us about how WBAP covered the events
Cox: We went wall-to-wall coverage within minutes of the shooting starting. As mentioned before, we began simulcasting WBAP content on KLIF AM to ensure that the event was being covered on both news/talk stations without duplicating effort. Our procedure also calls for the news staff to produce short “cluster updates” for the rest of the D/FW Cumulus stations.
These are made available to the rest of the stations for use at their discretion. Our country stations, 963 KSCS and 99.5 The Wolf relayed detailed information since the investigation was still going on. Rolled the press conference from the Mayor and Police Chief. Opened the phones for listener calls to express their feelings. The big priority was to be sure that everyone was updated. Sports Stations: Ticket: Morning Show broke sports format for wall to wall coverage including airing live PC at 7:35am   Station imaging changed to reflect thoughts of community during AMD and in place all day. ESPN: Station imaging changed to reflect thoughts of community during AMD and in place all day. Local sports shows will keep listeners up to date on the latest on the story all day. Hot933 (KLIF-FM) stayed on top of the developments through social media, and kept our listeners informed all through the night, including interviewing members of law enforcement.

Radio Ink: At 3AM you had coverage from the local TV station. Talk about that relationship.
Cox: We interspersed our locally produced content with that of WFAA-TV Channel 8.   We have had a long-term relationship with them for years, and have put their resources to work as well as those of our own.

Radio Ink: What are you hearing from the listeners?
Cox: Frustration. Anger.   Support for police. At this point we’re not taking a lot of calls,police shootings instead focusing on the ever changing elements of the story. We’ll hear more from listeners as the days moves on.

Radio Ink: What is your plan to cover the story moving forward? We won’t stop covering it. Cox: We’re formulating our coverage plans, both for the routine follow up stories as well as planning for the “what if” aspect of what may or may not develop.


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