Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A tale of two situations....

Today,  Wednesday September 13th 2017  was an interesting morning at WION!  I received my usual news briefs on the radio industry that many station owners get each morning, and I was on the air.  What I didn't know was what a CONTRASTING situation was developing.

We'll call the hurricane part of this story, "Situation #1." 

The radio "news" in my inbox today  listed the stations off-air due to the hurricane in Florida.  Out of about 20 main stations, only five....FIVE were not owned by the "big corporate giants."  I had thought about trying to donate to a "local" station recovering from the hurricane, hopefully one similar to ours, but...all except the Catholic Church-operated stations were owned by companies bigger than ours, either by  number of stations, or having "huge corporate" ownership.   It was a real eye-opener.

Tie that information in with what I'm about to say, and you'll agree WION (and WGLM, for that matter in Greenville/Lakeview) are rather unique.  During the height of the hurricane on the west side of Florida, the EAST side was experiencing tornado warnings.   Since I'm a radio geek, I thought I'd tune in online to one of the stations south of Daytona which I know to be locally owned down there.  During this tornado warning, they PROBABLY had the mandated EAS tones go off one-time as required by the FCC  to warn listeners.  Just SIX minutes in to their local warning I began listening. No announcer.  No news-break. Just the usual satellite delivered music and commercials as if their county was having beautiful sunny weather.  Basically, they had the bare MINIMUM amount of coverage and equipment to pass FCC inspection.  Sad. 

I guess I grew up and was trained in radio to be IN the studio for emergencies.  If there's power, and there's a tower, we're ON the air at WION.  It's what I was taught in my many previous radio jobs, and it's what we still do today.   Does it make us any extra money?  NO.  Does it help us in ratings against the big boys of broadcasting?  NO.  Is it what RADIO should do?  YES.  What I heard, or rather, "didn't hear" was appalling.  My view of this recent disaster in our country is that local radio got an "F" grade in helping the listeners and community.

Because of corporate ownership and lack of news departments  (my bet, anyway) many of the Florida radio stations that WERE offering coverage were simulcasting the local TV stations (2, and 7, I believe.) The TV stations promoted this as I watched on free-to air satellite feeds,  and even suggested snapping a picture of their screen and the radio logos, so you could know where to tune on RADIO for coverage provided by TV. I guess that's an "effort" for radio to inform, anyway.  TV, meanwhile was working together, two stations that probably usually compete to combine forces in meteorology, reporter-pool, and general information.  I spoke about this on the WION morning show, and I give them, an A+ for their tireless efforts...but, let's face it. With cell towers going "down", and people obviously not near their TV sets, coverage by TV was probably viewed more out of market than near the super storm.

In this electronified,  messaging-crazy, bump-into light poles while texting society,  RADIO still has the potential to help in emergencies and in every day life. But, unlike the one station I monitored with no live announcer during a Tornado Warning,  it takes owners who care, and maybe...just maybe...owners who care enough to build an EVERYday audience through localism to justify staffing the studio during emergencies, knowing your efforts will reach people in your town. 

And, that brings me back to WION. Situation #2. Quite the contrast.

No, we don't have a fulltime news department.  We DO choose our sources wisely and give you the Michigan News Network, CBS, and we cover local weather emergencies LIVE. We always have. Many times we beat the sirens and the EAS system in getting the word to listeners. We even get it on social media ahead of most "big" stations and authorities.  Of that we're proud.

How would WE react in a storm of the recent hurricane's damage potential?  I can't promise we'd be "on" through it, but I can say that we'd make every effort.  It's why we have a generator. It's why our towers have been maintained for standing in strong winds.  It's why we have a backup internet service if the (AC powered cable) internet goes down.  It's why we don't "bundle" our phones with cable, and still subscribe to copper lines running into our studios.   I know we'd make every effort until the building was targeted by the storm.   We were announcing the severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings just before the Portland tornado of a few years ago when other (bigger) stations were on automation.  We try very hard to get you information when it's possible to work with authorities and pass credible info on to you. 

Sad, however what the image of ONE station down south, and OTHERS that are off the air do to broadcasting, either by negligence, or by being so "big" there's no plan in place when a whole bunch of stations are in one building, and are hit by a huge storm.  That's one argument for NOT having studio consolidation, which the FCC is close to allowing more-of in their relaxing of the "main studio requirement" rule. Granted, there's not much they can do if their studios are destroyed by water and wind. I'll give you that, but to lose the signal of  ALL stations in a "cluster" because of penny pinching and consolidation of studios  is deplorable.

Then...on the GOOD side, and by incredible morning at WION.

I put a poll on our listener pages and on facebook about HOW you listen to our station.  AM, FM, phone, smart device, internet radio, etc. It got quite the attention.  This same morning, as the old  I-phone app for WION expires with the rollout of the new IOS, a fan of our station informed me the NEW IOS app was in the app store!  The author of it (and WION fan) is Scott Greczcowski of and he wanted to make sure we didn't drop support for our i-tunes listeners, so WITHOUT asking for pay, he designed the app with some online service, and it looks and works GREAT!  Now THAT'S loyalty...from way out on the East Coast!

Later in the morning show a note comes from "Chuck" listening as he drives through Virginia using our android app!   And, a note from our Ionia City Clerk stated that September should be "WION Month" since it's the month we brought this (small town) AM station back to life some 13 years ago!

How can an owner and on-air host NOT be pleased with all of that in one morning?  

Top that off with the fact all lit took was a discussion of our upcoming broadcast from Ionia High School Homecoming with the students of the Link Crew organization, and yet ANOTHER sponsor sends me a text wanting to be on the list of advertisers for that event, putting us OVER what we donated last year to the group through our advertisers!

Does any of this help ratings?  NO.  We don't participate in ratings. Is it what radio SHOULD be doing? YES!  And, it proves that listeners here care about their local AM station, and what we do to give back to our community.  Notice I said, "AM Station"....yes, our FM is nice, but 212 watts barely reaches the edge of the county...the AM is still the most-powerful signal of our two. 

So, on a day when "corporate" radio in Florida is listed as MIA due to a huge storm and damage to their multi-station facilities, and when another station in the path of a hurricane's aftermath during tornado warning is absent of staff to inform the public, it WION proud, as we stand-out from the (radio) crowd.

We hope....HOPE...that you will tune in not only in emergencies to us, but each day. and that you understand our 13 years here is only possible because you support the advertisers who pay our bills. Without them, we wouldn't be the contrasting situation to a studio with "lights on, nobody's home" which seems to be more the "norm" these days.

Keep listening. Keep shopping locally, and keep in touch by using our new I-phone app, and the good ol' Android app we've come to know and love, or any online smart-method you choose.  We LOVE serving you, in good weather...and bad.

-Jim Carlyle