Worth Repeating: Radio must broadcast severe weather alerts

Steve Kowch blog photoFrom where I sit On the Kowch, summer time is about hot and hazy weather with high humidity that leads to severe weather and great summer radio ratings. Now, I know it’s not nice to think of ratings at a time of people’s misfortunes. But that’s how radio people think. And it’s not a bad thing because in order to get those ratings you have to take into account the need of your listeners when bad weather strikes.

In the winter time radio doesn’t think twice talking about winter snow storms. They even sell packages to advertisers to sponsor their storm watch coverage and school cancellations.

But radio’s mindset for thunder storms is that it’s only rain.

Really … a severe thunder storm can create a lot of havoc on the roads, with people’s roofs and quickly turn into a tornado – even here in Canada.

If Environment Canada thinks it is important enough to issue severe weather warnings to the media in the summer, than radio should treat those warnings with more respect for its listeners.

Sadly, the majority of radio stations pay lip service to severe weather warnings. They’ll mention it when it is issued and then forget about it. DJs will play their songs and talk show hosts will continue to talk about what they planned for the day.

I know because I had battles with hosts over the need to mention these severe weather alerts during their shows. My rule was every 15 minutes repeat the warning until Environment Canada canceled them.

But I went one step further. I insisted that the talk shows encourage listeners to call in when the thunder storms and high winds occurred in their listening area.

Where radio stations get fooled is that it may be sunny and nice outside their studios. But up the street or around the corner in their market all hell is breaking loose.

People love to talk about bad weather – especially if they get caught in it.

We encouraged our listeners to call in and share their experience with severe weather. And call they did when the storms got out of hand.

Hosts would put their topic on hold to take those calls and then return to “regular calls”.

If your station isn’t doing that, then you are not meeting the needs of your listeners during bad weather in the summer time. If another station in the market is doing that – then they will generate more ratings than your station because they are meeting the needs of their listeners.

It is why when the tornadoes passed through north Toronto a few years ago we were better prepared than other stations because it began with a severe weather alert. Listeners were calling in with their stories about severe thunder storms when suddenly people were calling about funnel clouds.

A man was on air talking about the storm when he suddenly said a tornado had touched down in the field right in front of him. He would never have been live on the air with his dramatic eye witness accounts  if we weren’t into a summer version of storm watch.

From where I sit On the Kowch, it’s the responsibility of radio to announce the Environment Canada severe weather warnings every 15 minutes so that listeners can take appropriate action to protect their property and even their lives.

If it gives the radio station the edge over the competition than its karma … payback for providing helpful information to listeners. Not my fault our ratings went up by doing this because listeners tuned us in to stay on top of what’s happening in their community when there’s a hint of bad weather on the way.