Like so many, I learned of Whitney Houston's death while browsing Facebook. Immediately my old programming instincts kicked in. Had I been a programmer of an AC station, I would have instantly phoned the hotline and told the jock on the air to play nothing but Whitney records for the next hour. Then I would have phoned the production director to begin work on a special. We would have placed Whitney into high rotation for a while and probably put listener comments on the air.
Mind you, I'm not big fan of Whitney Houston and the choices she made. I met her early in her career, when she was coked-up, and I have no tolerance for that. But from a programming perspective, if our listeners loved her, I'd be all over it.
The very first thing I did after hearing Whitney Houston had died was go to CNN and Fox News, and there was no mention. Then I turned on a couple of local radio stations, and again no mention. Then I went to my TuneIn app so I could check out stations in different markets, and again, no mention. Though her death had just been announced, my quest for someone being responsive was not fulfilled.
Though this may not seem like a very big deal, it is in these little moments when radio stations are made, when audiences are dazzled. Though we never liked to see this kind of misfortune, we used to love these opportunities. It makes great radio, engages listeners, and makes your station stand out over others. It was true for the few stations I eventually found playing Whitney tunes, as it was true a few months ago, when Amy Winehouse imploded.
Whatever is on the lips of the public should be on radio stations immediately. Super Bowl wins, storms, national emergencies, local kidnappings. Radio can be responsive. Scratch that. Radio SHOULD be responsive. Unfortunately, a lot of stations can't be responsive.
Pre-recorded programs and pre-planned playlists are where radio falls apart when topical opportunities arise. Those stations could take days to respond and start playing Whitney Houston songs or talking about Super Bowl scores. Though some will tell me that I need to stop living in the past and accept the current way of operating radio stations, I still think these lost moments are a loss for radio.
Frankly, someone needs to be in charge and ready to respond at a moment's notice. A program director, assuming one is employed at these autopilot operations, needs to drop everything, grab access to the station automation system from home, break in with the announcement, and play some Whitney Houston music. Maybe it makes sense 90 percent of the time to operate on cruise control, but when that ice hits the roads or hail is about to pound your listeners' homes, radio needs to break in and be topical or local.
Call me old-fashioned, but this is one of places radio shines best. Sadly, too many did not shine this time, and that's a lost opportunity for radio.