(By John Shomby) Several weeks ago, the southeast portion of the country was hit pretty hard by Hurricane Idalia. Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and some parts of North Carolina were in her path. With all the rhetoric for the past year about the role of radio when disasters hit, I was curious to see how many stations would back that up.
Rather than go right to the larger markets, I decided to monitor a cluster of stations in a rural Georgia area that was getting hit by the storm – a six-station cluster with two AM News/Talk stations (as they described them) and four with adult music formats. What I heard was fully syndicated programming on all six. Not one with any remnant of live programming – not even a short drop-in about the storm.
I moved on to the larger markets in places that had been hit or that were about to be hit. I did hear updates but only in regular talk breaks in between normal music programming. Music sweeps and giveaways still happening, by the way.
I confess that I’m an “old school” radio guy at heart. Yes, I’m a strong believer in advanced technology, etc. but I really believe that radio is still a crucial player in the communications world. I came up in the business when EVERYTHING was live and local and there were no questions about that. When I heard those stations that week, I remembered my days, not long ago, in Virginia Beach when we would broadcast wall-to-wall info when hurricanes would hit. It was what our audience expected from us, and we never wanted to let them down.
Where is that feeling now? I will say that I heard ONE station going wall-to-wall but the rest, as I mentioned, did not deviate from regular programming. The non-participants far outweighed the participants. We are spending all this time trying to convince our government representatives and automakers of the benefits radio brings to the table and then, we don’t put our “money where our mouth is”. We wonder why the younger generation uses radio less than any other age group and we wonder why all ages aren’t depending on radio as much as they had in the past.
It was drilled into my head from my rookie days to recently that, if the listeners expect something from your station, you better come through or they will look elsewhere – and apparently, in some cases, they have been. Yes, 82% of the population still listens to radio at some point in a week but that is down from 92% as we ended the last decade. We must be concerned about these eroding numbers.
I do realize we are talking about much smaller staffs than even ten years ago. There is not enough time or manpower to address various local situations as a big storm.
Several quick ways to handle disasters with a small staff:
- Create a partnership with a local TV station where even a simulcast of disaster coverage would be better than running your syndicated programming.
- Some stations already do this – pool your resources within the cluster or in nearby company markets. Have as many as possible pitch in with coverage.
- Work online through your website and socials to update everyone as quickly and as often as possible.
Radio’s most treasured connection is with its community, so I am challenging the higher management of clusters and broadcast companies to consider the future of radio, especially in your station’s market. If the listeners know we are there for them, especially when they need US the most, we still can overcome some of the other issues.
Based in Nashville, TN, John Shomby is the owner and CEO of Country’s Radio Coach. He is focused on coaching and mentoring artists, radio programmers, and on-air talent to help them grow and develop inside the radio station and the industry. Reach John at [email protected] and 757-323-1460. Read John’s Radio Ink archives here.