Radio's Severe Weather Advantage By Andy Meadows

Over the past couple of weeks my family and I have been within twenty miles of three different tornados. Two here at our home in DFW and one while traveling to a wedding in Georgetown, Texas. The last was definitely the most frightening because we had the kids in the car, very low visibility and the wife and I could tell by the windspeeds that at any second we could be driving directly into a tornado. On all three occasions radio was our lifeline because for the two at home power and internet were spotty. The events reminded me of the massive advantage radio still has, especially over digital-only competitors, when severe weather strikes (or any emergency happens). Here are a few ways to ensure we maintain that advantage and get the most out of it.

Have redundancy throughout the audio chain. We can’t be that lifeline for our community if we’re off the air. Obviously if a tornado directly strikes the studio or transmitter site there’s little that can be done. Although I did work at a station here in tornado alley that had a full additional tower-site with a second tower, antenna, generator and transmitter for that very reason. But, in most circumstances that’s overkill. However, every station should have a generator or at least a battery UPS that will keep something like an excitor or low power transmitter with enough strength to cover the city of license and 60dbu coverage area for six to twelve hours (depending on how reliable the local power grid is). Lots of broadcasters assume that if the worst happens and something knocks them off for more than a couple hours they can scramble to get a generator to put in place. That’s true unless it’s a major event that knocks out power for a heavily populated, or wide-ranging area. In that case the nearest available generator may end up being a state or two away. The same goes for the studio, either a generator or a UPS on everything needed to keep on-air should be in place. Another level of redundancy is added when we embrace home studios with the ability to go on-air live in an emergency.

Anyone who cracks a mic on the stations behalf should know how to handle emergency situations. When it’s warranted to interrupt programming and when it isn’t. The easy answer with severe weather within our coverage area is simple, we interrupt immediately if people’s lives are in immediate danger, like a tornado on the ground or even a severe thunderstorm without tornados but large hail or straight-line winds roughly equivalent to a low-level tornado. We only wait until the end of the song, recorded talk segment or commercials if it’s anything less than immediately life-threatening. Because of that though, talent have to be comfortable with going live on the air at the drop of a hat and going years without doing that because everything they do is voicetracked, will make that difficult and talent reluctant to do it. Doing live radio is somewhat like riding a bike, if you’ve done it before it will come back to you, but those first few minutes are going to be a little shaky. So, if on-air talent aren’t in a position to regularly be live on the radio they should keep their chops up by at least occasionally going live from one of the station’s social feeds.

If you’ve read my blogs in the past you might have come away with the impression that I’m anti-weather. I’ve written about how talent can use weather as a crutch and mentioned how it should be left out of aircheck demos. But, I am NOT against on-air talent talking about the weather. I’m against talent talking too much about the weather when it’s generally what it should be that day within their market. We always coach talent to identify the BIG thing everyone is talking about that day and hit it early and often. On days when we get severe weather, or even for a few days following a major event, weather is the thing everyone is talking about and so it absolutely should dominate the on-air conversation on those days.

Pic designed by duallogic for Envato Elements.

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