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Is Radio Shirking its Public Service Duty During Disasters?

Oklahoma tornado

Can you rely on your local radio station during a disaster

The horrific devastation in Oklahoma following yesterday’s tornado reminds me once again about the importance of terrestrial radio during disasters. Today, as I read through tornado preparedness literature, it was clear that radio communication is vital during and after severe weather events. A safety publication (PDF) from University of Oklahoma not only recommends that everyone own a battery-powered AM/FM radio in order to not only monitor weather warnings, but to also receive updates following a tornado.

I’m sure there have been some radio heroes during the storms of the past few weeks, but, sadly, there are probably instances of radio stations that were unable to provide local updates because they did not have live DJs or because they were simply unwilling or unable to handle disasters. As we’ve discussed before, fewer and fewer radio stations have a truly local presence, with many opting to air syndicated programs or automated music. Radio Survivor reader and radio veteran Bill Lundun recently wrote in to express his sadness over this state of affairs.  His comment, posted to my story about Jon Bernhardt’s 8-hour shift during the lock-down following the Boston marathon bombing, is timely in light of the events of the past 24-hours in Oklahoma. Lundun writes:

“First, I want to give credit to WMBR’s Jon Bernhardt for staying on the air 8 hours during Boston’s lockdown. This is what radio is supposed to do. It is what it used to do. Kudos Jon.

That brings me to my second comment, which is how far radio has descended as a medium that we would even note an 8 hour airshift. During emergencies, at least twice in my career, my co-workers and I were on-air well in excess of 14 hours. You couldn’t have kicked us out of the studio, or off the street in those circumstances, because our community was depending on us.

Radio is in a very unique position to respond when local emergencies occur. We are first responders as much as fire, or police when our communities need information affecting citizen’s health and safety. Don’t forget our license requires us to act in the public interest, but beyond that, we in radio should be helping our neighbors and community when it counts the most because we CAN.

Admittedly, I’m old school, but stories like this irk me because Jon’s broadcasting ethic seems to be a rare standard today, when it should be an expectation. It’s a sad statement on the industry.”

Do your local radio stations provide your community with important information in times of crisis? Can you think of instances where local DJs have presented breaking news and safety information over the air? I was pleasantly surprised last September when I heard live news coverage about wild fires on Ft. Bragg, California commercial radio station KOZT The Coast. Is this a rare occurrence or can you think of other examples? And if you are in Oklahoma this week, who were your radio heroes?


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