Alan Furst is using his Program Director’s Blog to ask what may soon be a critically important question. When DTV goes through and an even higher percentage of viewers are watching on an MPVD, and the electricity goes out, making broadcast television inaccessible to many, will radio be able to carry the emergency information load?
If a cable system is knocked out, many will not be able to access television news, since they will either have an obsolete analog receiver that can’t get programming over the air, or the consumer’s own lack of power will prevent any television set at all from being turned on, since they rarely are battery-powered.
Furst says if Houston were to be forced into a radio-only scenario for emergency information, a likely proposition at some point given its position at the end of a hurricane alleyway, then there may be trouble. He says there is only one radio station in the entire market will a full newsroom, and even it relies heavily on syndicated fare, and it’s also on the AM band, with which many people have completely lost touch; meanwhile, the more familiar FM band has never been a good source of news and information. He said he suspects the situation in Houston is duplicated pretty much everywhere in the US.
“Every city needs a well publicized emergency plan that defines the radio and television outlets that will provide official information during emergencies,” said Furst. “There should be Plan A, B, C, down to little plan z. If you hold the license, you accept the responsibility. It’s that simple…This is the stuff the FCC should be concerned about.”
RBR/TVBR observation: It does not necessarily take a newsroom to provide emergency information during a crisis. Great stations get the job done with whatever and whomever they have. But Furst is right – it would be pretty disappointing to be ducking a hurricane, and when you finally get a station tuned in its some guy coming in from Des Moines via satellite railing about water fluoridation. There should be well-publicized municipal emergency broadcast plans, which should include local government resources aimed at keeping participating stations up and running. W strongly suspect that the attendant free publicity and good will generated for those stations agreeing to take a major share of this burden will ultimately be very good for business.