Gary Berkowitz

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By: Gary Berkowitz
Berkowitz Broadcast Consulting

By now, everybody knows the pain and devastation that was caused by Hurricane Irma. Since the beginning, coverage of storms like this have been radio’s strength. Radio people love emergency coverage and, if I must say so myself, nobody does it better. Listeners depend on local radio, yet are we prepared to handle these situations? You’d be amazed at how many radio stations do not have a plan to execute emergency coverage.

The purpose of this is not to discuss staffing cutbacks in radio. It’s to give you guidelines of how to deal with the next weather (or any other type of) emergency that can hit at any time. With that in mind, here are the steps I recommend you take as soon as possible:

  • Get a generator at the studio and transmitter site. Obvious yes, but you’d be surprised how many stations do not have working generators. If you have generators, great. Just make sure they are tested on a regular basis. Yes, they are expensive, but in an emergency, it’s the most important tool you will have. Without power, well, you’re done.
  • If nothing else, do this today. Establish a working relationship with a local TV station. The fact is, local TV stations (with news staffs) have more people and are better prepared to handle emergency coverage. The arrangement needs to allow you to simulcast their audio at any time. Promote your new alliance. Let your listeners know that when an emergency occurs you’ve teamed up with (TV station name) to keep you updated.
  • If you are truly committed to “live and local” have your own personalities handle emergency coverage. No matter what your format, I’ll bet that your on-air people would do a great job with bad weather coverage. Plus, you can enlist other staff members to help. You’ll be amazed how they will do. Use all the staff power you have, no matter what their position. Interns, receptionist and sales assistants might surprise you.
  • Drop your format and let them go. Emergencies are not about most music. It’s about information.
  • Even though you will depend on TV for the bulk of the coverage, you still need one of your personalities on your air. If for no other reason to jump in every 10-15 minutes and let listeners know what they are listening to and to update from your end.
  • Set audio feeds up so all you need to do is hit a button on the board and their audio is on your air. This needs to be done today. You never know when you will need it. On September 11, many stations found themselves putting a microphone in front of a TV speaker to carry audio.
  • Have an emergency “play-book” simply written and in the control room. It should outline all procedures when initiating emergency coverage. Local emergency phone numbers should also be here.
  • Have imaging done and ready to go. What will you call your coverage? Have verbiage written. Have a plan for commercials. In many emergencies, you will need to suspend them.
  • Keep emergency food & water stocked up. Food delivery might not be available. Water and nonperishable food (that can be stored) is best.
  •  Last, but not least! Consider building showering facilities. If your people are stuck there for a few days, this will be a lifesaver!

Gary Berkowitz is President of Detroit based Berkowitz Broadcast Consulting, specializing in ratings improvement for AC radio stations.

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