We were having dinner with friends when word came of Elvis Presley’s death.
‘Beyond stunned’ was our reaction.
This was after all ‘The King’. People like that don’t just up and die.
As I recall we quickly finished dinner and did what all radio geeks do in times of trouble. We headed to the radio station.
The air staff was already gathering and beginning to get a handle on the enormity of the story. Elvis dead.
Listeners jammed the phone lines. Many were crying. Age didn’t matter. It covered the entire spectrum from young to old.
This was at 14FEC Harrisburg. We had a pretty good staff and a good PD in Dene Hallam.
The team worked throughout the night finding special Elvis songs, audio cuts and anything that would help tell the story.
The same was happening at WHN where Ed Salamon flew into action. They provided us with a ton of material that night.
Elvis was passed his prime. But he still had huge appeal with the country audience.
For many of us it felt somewhat like the day JFK died. The response was that big.
The phones rang though out the night. I did overnights then and that night was busier any morning drive show I ever did.
We put callers on the air to talk about Elvis and generally grieve. We grieved right along with them.
That was one of the toughest nights I’ve ever encountered on radio. But it showed just how much radio means to the audience.
Radio has a unique ability to comfort while informing and entertaining.
There were other days in recent years where people needed radio’s shoulder. The Space Shuttle explosion, the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan, and of course 911.
This time when the ‘King Of Pop’ died the dial seemed rather quiet. A few great stations went right into action like CBS FM and KRTH. But so many others seemed caught at the end of the work day without anything of substance to offer.
People first got the news from Twitter or on line. Much of their interaction was not with a local dj but instead others of like mind in the social networks.
The news happens so fast and word is around the world in an instant. Radio can’t wait hours or days to decide its response.
It needs to be the medium of ‘right now’ otherwise it has no purpose anymore.