A Missing Child… And Your Station’s Social Media Presence

Amber Alert Radio Station Social Media

The following commentary was submitted by a programmer who wishes to remain anonymous

Today, I witnessed an event somewhere in the U.S. radio landscape that truly upset me and made me question if some of us in our business truly remember precisely why we are on the air to begin with. How many of us have been told throughout our career that our number one duty was to “protect the license of the radio station”? I would hope that each person reading this has been given that speech at least once, otherwise the rest of this article won’t make a lick of sense.

You see, we – unfortunately – live in a world where people make really bad decisions and do awful things, such as, in this case, abducting a three-week-old child from their parent’s car while they were inside of a small-town post office for just a couple of minutes. The “bad parenting” of that individual aside (“GASP! They should NEVER have left their child alone!”) and the event itself aside, the biggest thing that stood out to me in the aftermath of the situation was just how poorly certain radio stations in the surrounding areas reacted.

I took the time to look at the Facebook pages of all fourteen commercial stations licensed to the market, as well as the leading non-commercial (in this case, religious, not educational or community) station in the market, and was horrified by what I saw.

The incident occurred at approximately 8:15AM and the market’s newspaper had the story on their social media pages at 10:52AM. That alone, according to a University of Washington study that says that 74% of children who are abducted and later found murdered are killed within three hours of being abducted, is critically late in delivering information. The market’s radio response time, however, is enough to send ice cold water down the back of any parent in the world.

Of the fifteen total stations that I checked on, six of them – 40% – NEVER MADE A MENTION OF THE ALERT, PERIOD.
40% of the market’s radio stations failed to due their federally-mandated duties as trustees of the public airwaves. 40% of the market’s radio stations failed that time-tested advice of “Protect the license of the radio station”. 40% of the market’s Program Directors should take a very hard look at themselves in the mirror and question why they have their jobs.

Oh, by the way, one of the stations that made no mention of the incident? That would be the market’s “legendary” News/Talk outlet. Yep, the one station that you would think would be all over the story absolutely was not (the fact that this station NEVER posts content to their social media is another story for another day). That N/T station’s AC sister station – the one that is “the station that your family can agree on” and is in the top three of the market’s 12+ every ratings period – did not make any mention of the incident until nearly four hours after the market’s newspaper reported the story. Oh, but they WERE able to make a post about their major book promotion, which I suppose is SO MUCH MORE important. The other three stations in this cluster still, as of the writing of this article, have not said a single word in their social media.

The other seven radio stations that actually did their public duty and spread the word, well, they did so with mixed results. Six of the stations – four of which were one full group in the market – had the information posted to their social media within thirty minutes of the market’s newspaper releasing the story. One of the stations was the non-commercial operator and another was an Active Rocker. But, statistically, even this would have been too late, as the three-hour mark since the incident had passed. The final station that got the word out on their social media may as well have not even done so, as they made no mention until 5PM, over six hours after the story broke.

Folks, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognize that our industry is – and has been for awhile – under attack. As the weeks pass, more and more alternatives to our platform of content delivery are emerging and taking away our audience. How many times do we hear comments to the effect of, “Why should I listen to radio? It doesn’t play the songs that I want to hear, nor is it relevant to me in other ways. What can radio do for me that I can’t get from my Pandora, Slacker, iPod, or MP3 collection?”

Information. THAT is what radio can provide and should be providing that the alternatives simply can not. When a child’s life is potentially at stake, your advertiser’s sixty-second message that you have probably annoyed your audience with at least fifty times in the last week is irrelevant. When a child’s life is at stake, the fact that you just gave away a thousand bucks to Suzy Homemaker who says that she is going to take her kids to Disney World with the money is irrelevant. When a child’s life is at stake, you – as a personality (Wait, what is that? How many air talents actually know HOW to be a “personality” anymore?) – are irrelevant. Do your duty to the public as a broadcaster temporarily in control of a piece of public property and present information.

“Protect the license of the radio station.”

  1. brad says

    a wake up call reading this article for sure. sad….

  2. AJ says

    uh, excuse me, but a radio station licence covers a ‘radio station’ not a site you might have on a social network. Radio stations are not required to, using your term, ‘spread the word’ on Facebook. Some small radio stations don’t even have websites or Facebook pages: you think the FCC is gonna yank their broadcast license? You don’t mention if the stations broadcast the alert or not and broadcasting it is all they are required to do. That being said, they might have thought to broadcast it, post it to Facebook, Twitter, and maybe email anyone who was signed up to a station fan club, etc, but broadcasting an Amber alert is all they are required to do to ‘protect their license.’

  3. MattParker says

    Not to diminish the horrible crime described here but I can’t agree with some of the writer’s assumptions. First, a station’s license has nothing to do with whether (or how quickly) it reported a crime like this. Station’s no longer are required to broadcast news. Many do not and are not equipped to do it. Many stations are automated. This is the world of broadcast radio today. It is it better? I personally don’t think so, but no station is going to lose its license because it did not do an Amber alert.
    Second, today there are alternatives that can (and do) provide information and can do it better than radio. The death of newspapers is a problem because it means the loss of people and organizations that actually gather news. Radio has never been a news-gathering organization (unless you consider taking stories off the wire, out of the paper or from a press release, then calling somebody to get a sound-bite, gathering news). New media technologies can customize news to the individual and push alerts as needed. Radio alerts only work for those already listening to regular programming (who probably don’t appreciate having it interrupted).
    Also how a station deals with a crime such as this on their Facebook page may or may not have anything to do with if, how or when they broadcast the information. And many people visit Facebook; few stay at Facebook waiting for breaking news.
    Right now most people’s smartphones are better equipped to “cover” news than local radio newsrooms. I have the AP, Reuters and AFP in my pocket; I never worked in a newsroom that had either of the latter two.
    The broadcast era is over. People who work in audio content need to adjust to that.

  4. Jeremy Andrews says

    Amber Alerts are not mandatory. But it’s ridiculous for stations not to run them.

  5. Anonymous Radio Programmer says

    Folks, you’re missing the point of my article.

    Yes, the FCC regulates what we put out over the air and has no jurisdiction – yet – over our social media platforms. However, it can deny license renewals upon receiving objection to those renewals from the public, if it sees fit. I question the job that some of our fellow broadcasters are doing on an everyday basis when things such as what I’ve written about here happen, because if somebody isn’t taking the five seconds to copy and paste a link to Facebook / Twitter / any of the third-party apps and programs that will post to as many places as you need it to, how confident can we be that they are taking the time to relay the information over-the air, where our licenses ARE judged by the FCC?

    The article was more about the failure to disseminate information in a time of need, thus differentiating our medium from the alternative platforms that so much of our audience is turning to more and more every day. Admittedly, I got off on a tangent, but the underlying point is very real and very valid.

    1. AJ says

      I didn’t miss the point of your article: you made some good points about dissemination of information, but where you got it wrong was to associate Facebook with a radio station’s license. You got it wrong again in thinking the FCC would entertain a ‘petition to deny’ filed because a station neglected to post something on Facebook; they wouldn’t. You also got in wrong in assuming because it isn’t on Facebook it might not be on-the-air. These arguments hold no water. To ‘protect your license’ you will do everything you can to get the info on the air without regards to social networks: on-air is what counts when it comes to a broadcast license. Maybe you should restate your argument for using social networks as a way of getting out information but without including the FCC.

      Yes, broadcasting today means reaching an audience in all sorts of ways (FM, online, smartphone,etc) and a good broadcaster will use all these ways to get information to their audience, but the terms of the license do not include Facebook.

  6. Jaxon says

    Dear Anonymous PD:

    If you simply want to prove that Peoria radio (which, to be fair, is 40 miles away from the town where the abduction occurred) pissed this story down their leg, well…mission accomplished.

    But your premise seems to be that broadcasting the Amber Alert somehow protects the license of the radio station. With that, your premise simply fails. As has been pointed out elsewhere, news is no longer required by the FCC. Even simply rebroadcasting an Amber Alert is completely voluntary. Whether these stations did anything or nothing with this story has absolutely nothing to do with their license status.

    Should the PDs have made sure their stations covered this? Yes. Should the PDs who did nothing be embarrassed? Yes. Did the PDs who did nothing endanger the license of their radio stations? Absolutely NOT.

    Premise fail.

  7. Anonymous Radio Programmer says

    Dear Jaxon:

    See my previous comment.

  8. Scott Free says

    Hmm, In Philly the Amber alerts are broadcast through the emergency alert system, thus requiring broadcast. I agree with ARP, programmers, and more importantly the owners, have failed miserably when it comes to the public good.

    1. Jaxon says

      Scott: Amber Alerts are broadcast over the EAS everywhere. The only EAS alerts that are legally required to be rebroadcast are the monthly tests and emergency action notifications. Everything else, including Amber Alerts, is up to the station on whether to rebroadcast. Most are smart enough to rebroadcast the AAs regardless.

      I posted my comment about ARP’s “premise fail” before his reply posted. While I stand by my comment that nothing these stations did (or didn’t do) has zero to do with their license, the bigger point — that the stations who didn’t do anything failed miserably — is absolutely correct.

  9. The Fat Man says

    In regards to your last comment. That has nothing to do with this situation of the child abduction. Radio is in the shape it’s in because there is a handful the same regurgitated formats over and over again. We break apart CHR and Hot AC in separate formats, which are exactly the same. Then each city has two stations per format. How many talk stations are there per market? How many Rock stations? How many sports stations? Everything unique is tossed to useless HD sub stations. So don’t blame the attacks on radio on anything other than where it belongs, the companies buying these clusters and programming it this way. CBS is the biggest culprit. Repeating itself with ordering mandat ed playlists and not allowing any originality, except on that crap sports talk. Just what we need. Guys who couldn’t survive one day in Pewee sports, getting paid huge checks to waste radio frequencies talking about Payton Manning’s pass percentage.

  10. Homer Jay says

    And those guys manage to deliver, on average, some of the best results. It’s all well and good that it’s not your thing, but by and large (and we can always point to miserable failures; exceptions do not disprove a trend), it works.

    1. The Fat Man says

      I see your point, but ultimately all that is doing is buying time. By having three different places for the same useless banter by a group of either overweight wanna be hack sports writers, or in some cases washed up has beens who can’t cut it on a pre game/post game show, or commentator role, isn’t helping radios future. Just because it is for the mass doesn’t mean it will prove successful in its current trend of over satuation when WFAN broke new grounf, it was unique, original. Now it’s cookie cutter radio. This is new shiny thing for the mass of morons. As times change, this will too.

      1. Homer Jay says

        Everything “buys time.” It’s the essence of business of just about all types. Formats come and go; that’s been true since day one. Even those with a comparatively long shelf life have typically made substantial changes over time.

        Yes, WFAN was unique. It’s spread to other cities was a result of that success. That’s just good business.

  11. MattParker says

    Has an Amber Alert ever recovered a child before any harm could be done to him or her? Does anybody pay attention to these interruptions? That is anybody still listening to live terrestrial radio in their car? Does anybody pay attention to other vehicles on the road – assuming a described vehicle is still on the road by the time an Amber Alert airs? How many false responses have their been when some “good citizen” who can’t tell one make of car from another and is fuzzy on whether some car is blue, black or dark green reports some dad going for ice cream with his kid – and the kid gets traumatized when a bunch of cops point guns at the old man?

    Amber Alerts on TV are a total waste, unless the perp knocks on your door right after it airs and asks directions. That’s assuming you watch live TV any more. I usually see them two or three days later when I watch a show I’ve Tivo’ed.

    This is another example of “we’ve got to do SOMETHING – so it doesn’t matter what we do,” which always leads to dumb decisions.

    Also the underlying assumption here is putting something on the air the cops or government want on the air is serving “the public.” Maybe, maybe not. Maybe there’s something to be said for broadcasters exercising judgement.

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