This Is A Test..

17 Jan

When it comes to telling a breaking story, radio is still best.

WCBS Newsradio 88 jumped into action within minutes of hearing the USAirways flight was in trouble this week.

Thankfully for me, their internet stream worked beautifully that day.

Television was not so good at least for viewing the story on the internet.

New York is fortunate to have a fully staffed news station.

But it’s not just radio’s ability to tell the story.

In a major disaster radio becomes the vital communication link to inform the pubic.

I wonder what kind of coverage a story like that would get if the same accident occurred in another city?

That flight had a happy ending.  But it was so close to being an unthinkable disaster, perhaps even crashing into the busy city.

How many radio stations are staffed to cover that kind of story?

Would the staff be trained and ready to handle such an emergency?

A growing number of major population centers have no real local broadcast teams.

This lack of staff is a national security concern as well.

Until some point in the 1980s or 90s America had something called The Emergency Broadcast System.

It had flaws and probably was terribly inadequate in a real emergency.

The EBS  did two things:

  • Made station operators stay on their feet because this time it might not be a test.
  • Reminded the general public that radio offered information in times of crisis.

Of course this was in the days of ‘element 9’ and when we lived in fear of FCC inspectors.

Back then people were paying attention.

It was your job as the guy  signed on the log to pay attention.

The government required that  you pay attention.   Logs were signed, transmitter readings taken every half hour.

Even the AP wire was checked and cleared.  Many stations had UPI too.

If you worked Sunday and left without clearing the wire, there was hell to pay Monday.  And the machine better have paper in it too.

This is not about nostalgia for the ‘good old days’.

I am talking about what should be a real concern for the safety of our communities.

Empty radio stations can’t respond to trouble.

Disasters happen.

One day something will happen somewhere that will require the radio station’s full attention.  But no one will be available.

There won’t be anyone to clear the wire.  There won’t be a wire.

There won’t be anyone to get into the news car, or break in from the newsroom with live update.

There’s no news car, newsroom or live person to do the update.

Business is business and should be free to operate in the best way it can to make profit.

But radio is more than a business.

Station owners aren’t really owners, they’re trustees.   The government can take the license back at any moment.

A little wind storm like Katrina showed just how different radio is as a business and the role it plays in the community.

The true owners of the frequencies need to demand that the trustee operators do so in the public interest, convenience and necessity.

Radio operators get rich off the licenses.   Therefore, the true owners should be given real service and protection in return.

Big broadcasting is now full of robber barons.  They’re taking money out of the community but not putting something back in.

Every mayor and city council should demand an emergency plan from  every radio station licensed to their community.

They must know how stations will respond in times of trouble.

I’m not talking only about the next Katrina.

There’s the next Three Mile Island to think about too.

Why is it so important for the radio stations be ready?

Because when the really bad stuff happens electricity is out, the cable tv is off, there’s no internet and portable radio is your only way to get vital information.

Portable and easily accessible. Still radio’s greatest strength.

Go with your strength.

1 Comment

Posted by on January 17, 2009 in Uncategorized


One response to “This Is A Test..

  1. Michael Cruise

    January 20, 2009 at 5:09 pm

    “This is a Test” is dead on.

    Was a time when the lights were on and someone was ready for that tornado, power plant explosion or incoming soviet missle.

    The times haven’t really changed that much. Need I point to September 11th, when the EAS sysyem was never even activated. EAS and it’s mentality of let the machines take care of things suffers from a disconnect.

    The problem with letting the EAS interrupt the voicetracking in an emergency is that it misses the most unique service that radio provides. Companionship.

    Yes, the computerized voice coming from the National Weather Service will give you repeated details on the storm, but there is so much more.

    Having worked with a staff that worked through a hurricane in Fort Myers, Fl, I can tell you the weather service storm track info was 10% of what mattered. The true community service came in the form of constantly taking calls from listeners. Some trying to relay what streets were closed due to downed trees, others asking about shelter, and still some simply scared to death, crying, and being comforted by the only people they could reach. The local radio station.

    I recall whenI was 5 years old, I used to sneak down to the kitchen at night to steal a snack. I always switched the radio on (which was always tuned to WMCA) because the radio made me feel less scared in that dark house in the middle of the night. I’m sure that’s how I fell in love with the medium.

    I’m sure I’m not the only one who misses the companionship of an old friend, and the glow of that dial.


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