With Texas slowly draining and Irma now threatening the east coast, it’s maybe a good time to review one of our medium’s greatest strengths: being able to change the plan and be of assistance during crises.
Great radio stations have seminal moments. Those click-over-to-10 moments when they just hit and never looked back. I can’t name one of these moments that involved “giving stuff to people”, ie: contesting. Jamz in Greensboro was a caravan to help Hurricane Andrew victims in Miami. The Boxx in Houston was the same promotion but with the LA earthquake.
With Moore, OK in 2013 there was a station that was poised for a seminal moment. Within an hour of the tornado they had free trucks, a place to collect the next morning, a plan for covering it digitally from the road…and then…over the course of 30 minutes…they let their consultant get involved.
So here are do’s and don’ts.
Do Be decisive. Meetings suck. Waiting sucks. Do it. The morning the Oakland Hills caught on fire, I called the GM and asked if it was cool to start a relief drive. He chewed me out. Said that “No good manager will ever be mad at you for being decisive and taking a risk.” He also added that he WOULD fire me for NOT doing something. Put your heads together, don’t get mired in details and get it on the air.
Don’t Get mired in minutia. A station-to-remain-nameless was been told by management not to do anything until a charitable partner or organization to deliver their collected supplies to a tornado in a nearby state, had been locked down. Dumb dumb dumb. Do it. Start collecting. KRST in Albuquerque had multiple semis of water on their way to Louisiana post-Katrina before a final target location/group was finalized for delivering it to.
Do In most of these disasters (earthquakes, hurricanes and tornados) water is king. Followed by ice. Cleaning supplies after a flood are GREAT. Batteries. Chain saws after a hurricane. Generators after a hurricane or earthquake. Work gloves and work boots after a tornado.
Don’t Do clothing. It’s disgusting. It’s a nightmare to sort. Yuck.
Do Think about kids and pets. After any huge disaster there are lost pets. Work with the humane society. Help retrieve and return animals who are separated from their owners. Maybe do something on the website; post pics. I’m not a big fan of “begging for money” but for the humane society, it works. Kids are another good hook. I was in Edmonton the weekend after Katrina. We put together Operation Teddy Bear and collected 900,000 teddy bears for the kids of Louisiana who’d lost everything and were living in shelters. There was not a teddy bear to be found on the toy store shelves of Edmonton. They then caravaned it down to Texas. Huge huge huge.
Don’t Forget agencies in your own community that will be sending aid, like the SPCA. Or Caravan For Hope which is based in a Scripps market and was going to be sending aid to Houston. Or an organization in Cincinnati that does worldwide disaster relief and that Hubbard there has teamed up with several times.
Do Find a good local “need” in the disaster area and focus on that. A church. A school. Jamz in Birmingham rebuilt a playground at a school that was hit by a tornado.
Don’t Text a code. You want something visual and that will pop on TV. Anything involving collecting cash. Bucket Brigade. Penny Pickup. The Mile Of Money (done by CBS in Denver where they laid bills out end to end.) We’re in Show Business. Texting a code barely qualifies.
Do Think “niche”. Pet supplies. Baby food and baby supplies. Hygiene products. Quite a few stations did diapers with Harvey.
Do Have a contact lined up that you can call and get a semi…in under four minutes. Or do what KDWB did and hire a great Promotion Director who coincidentally has a family member with access to a semi. BTW: freezer trucks are good too. And be ready for needing more. KZIA in Cedar Rapids planned to send a truck of supplies to Louisiana. They ended up sending ten. Every time one filled, they got on the air and asked for another….and a listener showed up. But transportation is always the biggest headache. With Harvey, iHeart in Portland found a trucker who was heading that direction anyway. Boom. Problem solved.
Don’t Under-estimate the weight of water. Eight pounds per gallon. “Oh, we’ll just fill the van and drive it 1000 miles.” Yup. That’ll work. KLUC in Vegas literally sat on the side of a highway in New Mexico and watched a truck go up in flames from an overheated engine…from hauling water. (Alanis was right)
Do Take into consideration the user-friendliness of the drive. Best place to set up? In the parking lot of a grocery store or Target. So people can buy their stuff, walk out and give it to you.
Do Invite a TV crew to tag along and track the delivery. Magic in Colorado Springs brought a truck to Florida after Hurricane Charlie. The NBC affiliate chased them in a news van.
Don’t Get sucked into the “it’s not in the market” trap. It’s an excuse. We can always find more reasons not to do something then to just go and do it. Newcap in Edmonton did a better job then 95% of US stations with Katrina. The station in Houston did a better job than the station in Riverside with the LA Earthquake. Greatest line EVER, from a PD who tanked one station and then was promoted to a larger market where he almost tanked another station before SOMEONE at corporate went, “Wait a second…this guy’s an idiot.” The day of Virginia Tech he said, and I quote, “Uh, we’re not IN Virginia.”
Do Deliver it. With the airstaff. That’s the punchline. That’s the climactic scene. That’s the finish. To be able to drop off a case of water or cleaning supplies and four days later to be able to listen and hear it being handed out to refugees in a parking lot inTexas, is amazing Radio. When Wild in San Francisco borrowed a 737 from United Airlines and flew water to LA after the earthquake you could hear Renee Taylor handing cases of the stuff out to people living in a park in Northridge. Amazing Radio.
Do Track a donation. This was a Dave Ryan thought from Moore. Track a single bottle or case from the person who dropped it off to the person who gets it.
Do Allow the audience to participate. Again, sandbagging, or any other op from them to become active. Not just passive people who donate to some Red Cross account. Jamz in Birmingham did a neighborhood cleanup with 200-300 listeners after a tornado. It was massive. KS95 in the Twin Cities took two busses of listeners down to St. Peter, Minnesota to help after a tornado. That’s the stuff that GREAT stations do.
This is the stuff that moves the needle. This is the stuff Pandora could never do.