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Column: When the Weather is the News

Ice Storm - April 9, 2013
Tea Storm Chasers/KSOO-AM

Last week’s extreme weather event and the resulting power outage raise some interesting questions about the role of the media in general, and talk radio in particular, in such situations. When the electricity went out for tens of thousands of people in the Sioux Falls area, those people lost their ability to watch TV and access the internet. What most of them didn’t lose though was the ability to make phone calls, and if they had an old radio with new batteries, the ability to listen to local talk radio.

If you watched anything on local television during that time, you can’t help but have noticed the list of cancellations scrolling across the bottom of the screen. It ran during the news of course, which was obviously dominated by coverage of weather and storm related matters, but it also ran during the stations’ normal programming. TV stations can do the public service of informing you of what is cancelled without breaking from their usual format. Talk radio wouldn’t be able to do that.

Despite losing power at the broadcast tower for some time, KSOO’s programs went on as scheduled during the storm and its aftermath. As can be expected, the weather and its consequences dominated the local talk discussion, but other subjects also made their way onto the agenda. One caller to Viewpoint University expressed his frustration that the broadcast wasn’t more devoted to listing cancellations for listeners who were without power.

To be fair, some important cancellations were announced at breaks, but the full list was posted on the website. A fat lot of good that does people whose electricity is out, I know, but let’s not forget the phone.

Many, if not most, of us are using smart phones that can access the internet and find those cancellations on the website. More importantly, there is a government sponsored information service, 211, that exists solely to help people find the answers for which they are looking. At 211 a real person receives your call and does their best to answer your question. Those are your tax dollars at work, so if your phone is working, why not put them to use?

As for local talk radio; it exists to sell advertising airtime. In order to do that it needs an audience. Ask yourself, if all KSOO did was repeat a list of cancellations during such a storm, would you listen? Probably not, at least not after you heard whether whatever it was that you were interested in was or was not cancelled.

When the weather is the news, just like every person on the street, your local talk radio programs are going to talk about it. If those programs happen to have a political bent, they will probably talk about the politics of it. That is how it should be, at least if that program wants to keep its audience listening.

More Snow Headed Our Way?

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Gossom and do not reflect Results Radio, Townsquare Media, its sponsors or subsidiaries.

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