As America mourns the tragedy in Newtown, I was curious how radio would respond to the crisis. Thanks to apps like TuneIn and iHeartRadio, I was able to listen to stations in the Connecticut area. (Here's how Cox Media Group in Connecticut covered the
events as they unfolded.)
To my surprise, during my brief sampling of music stations, I heard upbeat air personalities playing music as if nothing had happened. Talk stations raised the issue, of course, but I heard little local talk programming, which is why I had tuned in. I wanted to hear the local perspective.
Frankly, I heard much more mention of the events on nationally syndicated talk, and even during some non-issues talk programming. For instance, weekend computer guru Kim Komando acknowledged the tragedy at least once each quarter hour, saying she was trying to have a normal broadcast while America grieves. It was appropriate.
What are stations to do in times like these? I'm sure programmers across the country are wondering if their normal glib or comic tone is appropriate. Frankly, listening to some stations where cheerful air personalities rambled on about the music felt out of sync with America's grief. Especially stations in Connecticut.
And of course, one wonders about automated or voicetracked stations. Were they playing the hits as if nothing was wrong?
These are moments when it's not easy for radio, during a tragedy that has touched all of America. What's the right tone for a music station? As a former programmer, I'm not sure what I would have done back then, but today I believe frequent acknowledgment is important, along with a slightly somber or more measured tone. Listening to upbeat DJ breaks just feels wrong somehow.
To their credit, loads of stations are showing their true community spirit, including many outside of the Connecticut area, raising funds to help the affected families, having their communities sign cards, etc. This is where radio shines, using local relationships to help.
When I was a program director, I used to say my title was really "program reflector" because my job was to make the station a reflection of the community. It is that reflection that makes us more than just another media property; it makes us part of the family. Clearly, this past few days has been a time for radio to reflect, in some way, the grief felt in all communities across America.