Get the tech right in an emergency | radioinfo

Get the tech right in an emergency

Wednesday 24 May, 2017
Kings Cross Station Bombing, London 2005. Photo: James Cridland

And get the facts right too!

Radio Tomorrow with James Cridland

This week, with the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester England, we saw another reminder - should we need one - of the benefit of radio in an emergency: and of its localness.

During a terrorist incident, mobile phone networks can quickly become overloaded. Worse: in the immediate aftermath of an incident, false facts abound. In this case, there was one story that circulated quickly about a gunman at a local hospital: proved fake, but still published by some news organisations who should have known better.

Measured, truthful, non-sensationalised and accurate coverage is what your audience is looking for. Your responsibility to your listeners is to give them that: and, yes, even at 10.30pm on a Monday night.

I’m not a radio programmer. I am a listener, though. So here are some things you might wish to consider.

Run more than one station in the area? Work out how to initially simulcast your output across all of them. It’s no good to carry coverage on your flagship station but leave your oldies station running in automation. Leave details somewhere in your emergency plan. The same goes for your HD or DAB subchannels - many of whom might not even come direct from your studio facility.

Produce some simple production. “This is a special report, from the studios of Hits 106.3 and Gold 1530”. Find some generic news beds (that might keep a listeners’ attention for fifteen seconds or so while your presenters or producers can talk amongst themselves). Give your team some tools for the job.

Work out how to pull yourself out of automation or networking if you need to. Make everyone familiar with this process, not just your station engineer. Do so very quickly. 

Communicate to your audience that you’re aware that things are happening, and you’re on the case. Understand how to place messages on-air from a remote location while you get on-air teams into the studio. “Here are the facts as we know them. We’re learning more - and our full coverage starts soon. Stay with us.”

Understand how to broadcast everything from a remote location if you can’t actually get into the studio. With radio stations frequently occupying highly-visible locations, it’s not guaranteed that you’ll be able to get in.

And, of course, get busy on social media. It’ll help you gather the news (remember to verify everything), but also help you communicate to your audience. And remember many will find your station for the first time as a result - so help them with frequent reminders of how to tune in.

Radio’s place during an emergency is one of our strengths. Unlike television, we can be quick and nimble with our coverage, and mobile phones mean there are literally no limits to the amount of correspondents we can get on the ground. But only if we prepare the tech, as well as the people.

Do share other tips in the comments below. And stay safe this week.

About The Author

James Cridland is a radio futurologist: a writer, speaker and consultant on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business across the world.

A former radio presenter, James has worked for stations and companies across the world, including the original Virgin Radio in London, the BBC, Futuri Media, Imagination Technologies and Seven Network. He has judged many industry awards, including the CBAA, ABC Local Radio, RAIN and the UK's ARIAS.

He writes for publications across the world, and runs the worldwide media information website. He also runs a free weekly newsletter with news of radio's future.  

British by birth, James lives in Brisbane, QLD and is a fan of craft beer.


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Paige Nienaber
30 May 2017 - 11:55am
James really nails it. We train part-timers how to switch to the backup transmitter but that's 1920's technology. When the 35W bridge collapsed in 2007, it was on the cusp of social media BUT everyone still had their cells. The bridge was the most heavily traveled bridge in the state and at 6 pm, there were 20,000 people at a baseball game 1/2 mile to the south and 50,000 students were at the University, which was 1/2 mile to the north.

I had dinner, checked my email and my client in Greece had messaged to ask if I was "all right". I knew something had happened. We went to the state of a post-apocolypse zone in about 60 seconds. All cell service crashed. People were using payphones to call and let loved ones know they were safe.

And that's what Radio can do. Fill in the gap when there is a loss of communications. But you need a plan first.
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