What Good Is An FM Chip For Emergencies If The Content Isn’t Getting There?

I live in New Jersey, near the Raritan Bay in one of the areas hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy. Thankfully my street and home escaped any damages. I write this now from the warm shelter of a friend’s house after over two days in the dark.

We lost power just after 5:00pm on Monday just as the worst of the storm was starting to reach us. By the time the roads were clear enough for me to make the 35 mile drive where I needed to go, two days in the dark had gone by. During that time my battery powered radio was the only source of information to the outside world we had as our nearby cell towers were offline.

At the peak of the storm only two local FM’s were in full storm mode. New York Public Radio’s 93.9 WNYC-FM and Disney’s 98.7 WEPN-FM, the latter of which was simulcasting the programming of sister WABC-TV. Some other stations had local break-ins but for those fearing their lives what good is it that Taylor Swift is never getting back together?

The NAB has been on a crusade to have FM chips placed in cell phones using crises such as this as a reason why. That’s all and good, but without the content the listeners need what good is it? Here’s two examples:

CBS owns two All-News stations in New York, 880 WCBS and 1010 WINS. It was not until those AM’s transmitters went dead very early on Tuesday, that the AM’s programming began airing on FM. Where were they during the height of the storm? Same goes for Cumulus’ WABC or soon to be Clear Channel’s WOR? They had dedicated their programming to storm coverage on AM, while their FM’s interspersed brief updates between letting us know that Taylor still was never, ever getting back together with her ex beau.

The hyperlocal News/Talk station in my area is Greater Media’s 1450 WCTC. They supposedly did a tremendous job keeping listeners informed with their storm coverage. Those that were relying on an FM chip would have no way of knowing as their sister AC “Magic 98.3” WMGQ continued with their usual music mix.

Kudos go to Longport Media’s 1400 WOND Atlantic City, which even before the storm hit began simulcasting on sister 102.7 WWAC. The AM quickly went off the air and is awaiting the arrival of new transmitters but the programming continues to be pumped out on FM reaching those in need of pertinent information. We wouldn’t be surprised if that simulcast ends up being permanent.

There was great information and content being provided by many stations, including those that did stick with music in between the information. But if the goal is to serve the public with the most vital information why is not going to as many ears as possible why weren’t the programming being fed by the AM’s placed on the FM signals? We can debate all we want about the other reasons pro or con for placing FM chips in mobile devices, but if there’s no content of use being placed there then the whole issue is a non-starter.

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