I purchased a GE Superadio
for my mom and dad about 10 years ago because I wanted them to be able to listen
to morning radio in their kitchen.
Jim Stagnitto, director
of engineering for WNYC, sent this photo of the organization’s AM site in
Kearny, N.J., shortly after Sandy left the area. The walkway serves Tower No. 1.
Mom’s a lifelong WOR listener, a habit she
inherited from her own parents while growing up in Brooklyn. So I wanted her to
have a good AM receiver. As longtime readers will recall, the GE Superadio was
considered among the elite.
My parents’ safety was not part of my
thinking when I bought the radio, but it could have been.
They live in northern New Jersey. Like
millions of other people they were whacked by Sandy. They were not hurt, for
which I am thankful, and their house lost only some shingles. Nevertheless, they
had a scary time of it. They were plunged into nighttime darkness. They had no
heat. They were cut off from Internet connectivity and TV. They had cell
service only as long as their cell batteries lasted.
They steadfastly declined
my offers to fetch them, preferring to stay in their home and keep an eye on
it. I monitored from a distance and worried about nighttime temperatures.
On Day 2, my mom mentioned that she and Dad
felt so out of touch with what was going on in the world. “Why don’t you listen
to the radio,” I asked. She replied that her radios didn’t work without power.
I reminded her of the one in the kitchen and suggested she put batteries in it.
Their power outage ultimately lasted a
week. My folks were not entirely cut off from the world — they had landlines, newspapers
and kind neighbors — but during this time, the GE Superadio was an important information
pipeline. Were other people in the same situation? Were grocery stores open?
Were gas stations open? What was the utility saying about when power would be
back? Would the temperature go below freezing at night?
The radio also was an important source of
comforting entertainment when TV was unavailable and darkness made reading more
My parents’ experience is a ringing
reminder to me that pronouncements from NAB and others about radio’s role — as
a “first informer” and listener friend in times of crisis — are not just PR
talking points. They highlight a fundamental truth.
‘One medium that matters’
Others noticed too. The National Journal,
citing FCC data, reported that because of power outages and physical damage, as
much as 25 percent of cell sites in the storm’s path were flat-out not
operating the morning after Sandy. A quarter of broadband, home phone or cable
services experienced widespread outages.
AdAge wrote: “Batteries are drained, Internet connections long-gone. For the
nearly 5 million households muddling through a fourth day without power in the
wake of Hurricane Sandy, there’s really only one medium that matters, and that’s
received many such reviews (though sometime with a condescending subtext: “Not
bad for an otherwise outdated technology.”)
Radio and its regulators would do well to
consider the lesson.
As a reader noted on our
is something we’ve known for years in the Gulf Coast region of Texas and
Louisiana. No other medium has the solid-built infrastructure of TV and radio.
When all the others fail such as satellite, Internet, cellphone and cable, over-the-air
broadcasting is still on.”
New Jersey Broadcasters
Association President/CEO Paul Rotella was interviewed by Radio World’s Emily
Reigart after Sandy:
listen to Pandora to find out your weather, your emergency information, where
to find food and shelter. Not only don’t you go there, you probably can’t go
there, because we’re so dependent on electricity and other infrastructure
that’s very weak in nature.” He also reminded us that many in local radio have
built particularly strong relationships with the National Guard, law
enforcement, EMS and other first responders.
you missed it, find Rotella’s interview at radioworld.com/links. He had particularly nice
things to say about engineers.)
Simply put, a station’s broadcast
infrastructure is more robust than that of many media alternatives. Further, if
a given station does goes off the air, others probably did not; we can tune to
another station, whereas we can’t just change cell or Internet provider in the
middle of a hurricane.
So the next time you hear
some industry bigwig hailing radio’s role in emergencies, don’t dismiss the statement
as mere lobbying to influence a piece of legislation. It might be that, surely;
but it also happens to be true.
To hold up our end of the bargain, radio
stations must plan to stay on the air.
That attitude needs to come from station management, who must explicitly make continuity
of operations a key goal.
Are your engineers or
operations managers given that mandate? Do they have authority to carry it out?
Have you considered where the “failure points” in your air chain lie? Have you
built your facility with redundancy in
mind? Do you own generators? Do you exercise them regularly? Is there sufficient
fuel for extended operations? Have you created an emergency staff contact list?
These are familiar questions to Radio World readers.
(Programmers bear an equal responsibility.
At news stations, this is obvious. Music stations: If your community is hit by
a crisis but your jocks or automation system are happily doing exactly what
they always do, with little or no reference to the situation in which your
listeners find themselves, you are not only wasting an opportunity, but you are
not upholding your license.)
So. Well done, radio. For myself, I’ll be
thinking about my mother’s radio. And I’ll be grateful for it.