Wednesday, October 26, 2011
A Unique Use of the Airwaves – Radio and Hurricane Irene
We often think about media in terms of its coverage of stories of importance. Many times though, those stories don’t necessarily impact us personally. Weather stories, however, take on a personal level of urgency when they are happening right outside our doors. Hurricane Irene is one such story.
Coverage from RadioInfo.com’s Ross on the Radio completed an analysis of how radio covered the coming storm during “Irene,” especially music-oriented radio which doesn’t necessarily stray into “news you need” territory very often.
What the article provides us with is a comparison and contrast between the coverage a listener could get on news and talk radio, like WPRO, a news talk station in Providence and WEMP, news station in New York, with NJ101.5’s weekend oldies format and Philadelphia’s classic hits WOGL.
Not surprisingly, even the lighter formatted entertainment-oriented stations were taking on the role of information provider by disseminating important news and information for their local listening audience. What the article also outlines is music-oriented stations had a nice “helping each other” tone, instead of the more urgent reporting tone on the news and talk stations.
The article also finds some lighter programming like “hurricane dance parties” and themed songs like “Dancing in the Rain” and “1999.” It’s interesting to see radio as both an information lifeline and a companion during “Irene.” In a more dramatic turn, on September 4, the New York Times ran an article that details one DJ’s determination to provide lifesaving information in the face of unprecedented flood waters.
According to the article, “As floodwaters rose on the morning of Aug. 28, [Big Jay] Fink interrupted the regular Sunday programming on WRIP-FM (97.9); instead of a classic Casey Kasem countdown, listeners found Mr. Fink — beginning what would be a 13-hour on-air marathon. He calmly fielded calls from people trapped by the surging waters and doled out information on makeshift shelters.”
Fink provided information when listeners were unable to get cell reception because of down towers and power being knocked out to a large number of citizens. People listened from battery powered-radios during the storm and later from their car radios as they were assessing the damage. Big Jay Fink and fellow DJ Joe Loverro who joined him took numbers and relayed information from listeners to emergency response units.
In another example of radio as a companion, Fink also played some music between callers, and even that was carefully chosen to help out in times of trouble. “I didn’t want sad songs; I didn’t want happy songs,” he said. “I wanted songs about being together.”
We have often said that radio provides local information unlike any other medium and these stories of storm coverage illuminate that message greater than any number of listenership statistics or surveys of listening audiences ever could.
posted by Lynn Harris Medcalf