Apres le Deluge, Moi
November 2, 2012
Let's get the important stuff out of the way first: There are a lot of groups working on relief efforts in the area affected by Hurricane Sandy, and if you can help, whether by financial donations or sending material goods or volunteering to help people there, that would be a good thing. You can give to the American Red Cross (I don't know that they specifically earmark donations for a single disaster relief project in particular, but they're obviously in a leading role in dealing with Sandy). As someone who was born and raised in that area and worked there as well, the things I'm hearing from family and friends and seeing on TV are heartbreaking, as they were for Katrina and Joplin and other disasters. Last week, I wrote about seeing South Florida after Andrew; I'm having a hard time with the idea of living that all over again the next time I go to New Jersey.
So there's that. And there's radio's response, and I really only have a couple of things to say about that. First, I heard some of the coverage, and then I got a call from Walter Sabo, who told me about how, in his opinion, the very best coverage of the storm was on Z100, New York's Top 40 giant, which he said was doing tremendous service with what he called "eye-level" information. I didn't hear Z100's coverage, but I understood what he was talking about, and it's something to remember for every station as you prepare for the next emergency (you ARE preparing right now, right?).
The idea is simple, and it's something that, I trust, you know and practice already in programming and producing every day: keep everything eye-level. Know your listeners' needs and wants, and give them information with that in mind. The Mayor's press conference is news, but it's way, way less important than telling people where they can get gas, or when the power is coming back, or what roads are closed. Official proclamations are secondary to real people talking about real situations. I can't say I heard a lot of stations' coverage during Sandy, but I did hear some stations (including my old one, New Jersey 101.5) getting essential and eye-level information to people, and that's what radio should be doing when an emergency hits home.
Another thing that came to mind was that the folks clamoring for FM chips in cell phones are going to use this storm, and, yep, they're doing that. But before they do an unseemly victory dance over this, let me note a couple of things: The FCC's figure of 25% of cell towers down in the first day of the disaster still left 75% functional, which is not ideal but hardly a total failure. Also, not all radio stations stayed on the air, and not all that did provided any service of note (unless music while the water's halfway up your living room wall is a service). But, yes, radio did serve as a lifeline for many people and continues to do so while the power's still out.
Sure, nobody's going to argue against having an FM radio in their cell phones, as long as it doesn't cost them anything. Yet, making it a government mandate is a little crazy, since even after this happened, you just don't see people upset that their cell phones don't get FM or HD radio; they don't really use their phones for that, emergency or no. So, what's the industry to do? Here's some free and probably useless advice: You're lobbying the wrong people. Lord knows the industry hasn't figured out that whole marketing thing yet (remember "Radio Heard Here"?), but maybe the people to lobby are consumers. Let THEM know that they could have FM radio in their phones -- one less device to carry! -- AND it won't cost them anything AND many of their phones already have the chips and need only to have them activated AND you could use that capability in an emergency, and tell them to email their cell carriers and politely ask for it, and ask for it again, and ask until the carriers can't ignore the market forces. If they want it, it will come. If they don't, don't force it on them, and either way, don't use a tragedy to advance your business model. You wouldn't be doing this merely to get your programming on another device without bandwidth costs or data usage, would you? It really is purely for emergencies, right?
And we can debate that forever (hello, Mr. Smulyan!), but the time now is for rebuilding. Everyone back in the Old Homeland of New Jersey and everywhere in Sandy's path needs your support. The rest can wait.
The storm was, of course, Topic A for a lot of you this week. But that wasn't the only thing happening, and when you need something to talk about, fast, you should go to Talk Topics at All Access News-Talk-Sports, where you'll find hundreds of ideas for your show, from kicker stories to "real" news, for all formats. And follow Talk Topics on Twitter at @talktopics, where you'll find every story linked to the appropriate item at Talk Topics. Also, don't miss "10 Questions With..." WBCK/Battle Creek and WKMI/Kalamazoo host David "Renk" Renkiewicz, a new talent (discovered as a caller!) who's getting attention doing local and state talk in a competitive market.
Follow me on Twitter, too: @pmsimon. I'm on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pmsimon as well. And I also serve as Editor-in-Chief of Nerdist.com, where you'll find fun stuff about pop culture; watch the Nerdist Channel at YouTube, too.
Again, our thoughts are with everyone affected by the storm. Any jokes that would normally go in this slot can wait. Right now, I'd rather use it to encourage you to help the relief efforts if you can, however you can.