Remember the 1979 song Video Killed the Radio Star? Marconi’s invention has proved to be surprisingly resilient over the decades but an article I read today on a US media blog was alarming. In the olden days when I was a fulltime radio journalist, we lived for emergencies and crises . We dreamed of major snowfalls so we could launch special round the clock services bringing vital information to drivers stuck in drifts and families unaware of school closures. Of course, the Internet has changed all that – and for the better. Long lists of closed classrooms never made good listening and worried Mums and Dads probably missed ‘their’ school if their attention wandered for a moment. However, the Jacobs Media blog claims radio stations in the Bay Area in Northern California largely ignored the ongoing earthquake story last month because overnight programming had been automated. With one exception. Staff at Napa Valley stations KVON and KVYN battled power cuts and a dead generator to keep their listeners informed. Well done to presenters Bob St Laurent and Mindi Levine who kept the news coming and thanks to manager Larry Sharp for telling the story online and explaining how he worked with engineer Ben Webster to fix that vital generator.
Now, it’s easy to snipe at US radio stations which have long used technology to run professional services on a minimum of staff. But how many UK radio stations would have risen to the challenge? I’m sure BBC local stations would throw formats out of the window and broadcast rolling news for as long as necessary. Could we say the same of today’s commercial broadcasters? I’m not too sure….