(By Deborah Parenti) It’s a sad commentary on the times in which we live that a community’s being assaulted by horrific violence or destructive acts of nature is, if not inevitable, increasingly likely.
For all of the national press that descends, an attack is personal to a community. It’s local. And radio is local. At least that’s what we like to tell listeners, advertisers, the FCC, and Congress as we fight for a more even playing ground against a host of non-local competition that is not subject to license requirements.
Localism is what distinguishes broadcasters from the others — something we frequently reiterate for those who would seek to impose more financial obligations on an already heavily burdened industry. And there are multiple examples of radio’s service to its markets that are frequently cited in support of the importance of local ties.
Last month’s 4th of July shootings at a parade in suburban Chicago was one such illustration of radio at its best when WGN quickly replaced regular programming, first with an audio feed from its television station, followed up by hours of live coverage that kept listeners informed as well as providing an outlet for the community’s grief and horror. No canned voicetracking. No business as usual in the face of an unfolding, horrific situation. It was radio as we claim it to be. Up close and personal when most needed.
That is radio at its finest. Community- centered, caring, local. Different from its non-licensed competitors.
That, however, is not always the reality.
And with technology that advanced light years during the pandemic, there is simply no excuse for it not to be. Not in any market, large or small. We learned the hard, fast way that we can “be” where we need to be, when we need to be, if we have the will and the conviction that the moment and the circumstances warrant it. Whether standing on a street corner or sitting in the comfort of home, technology allows us to be live and on the air at any time and from any location. For that reason alone, there is simply no good reason not to be ready, able, and quick to serve and share with those who depend on us. Who in many cases, are hanging on our every word.
But that calls for planning and preparation. And it means that every station and every group should have a plan of action for times of crisis or when a situation calls for going above and beyond. What’s the chain of command, and how far does it extend down the ranks if the first in line is not available? If we aren’t affiliated with a television station in the market, can we make arrangements to carry weather or other important feeds from them until we can get our team in place and operational?
In some markets, television stations are likely to have larger news and weather departments, so having a relationship with them can be a benefit, especially when
information is scarce and news is breaking fast. Once it’s determined that a situation warrants special attention, the goal should be to get off the regularly scheduled pro-
gramming and move to covering the crisis for your listeners who are depending on
you to alert them and inform them of what to do and where to go, depending on the
situation. How long or how in-depth the coverage may be of course depends on the
circumstances, but to respond immediately and to demonstrate that localism we so
proudly hail is paramount in the moment.
Thanks to the internet, today listeners have the ability to connect with their
hometown radio station no matter where in the world they are, and when disaster
strikes, they want to know how friends and family are faring or what they can do to
help. Radio needs to be that local connection. That means being prepared.
Deborah Parenti is the Publisher of Radio Ink Magazine and can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]om