What to do when you’re a music station and there’s a terror attack in your city

When the bombs went off at the Boston Marathon finish line it was just before 3PM local time, and it was a holiday, Patriots’ Day. For those unfamiliar, Patriots’ Day is in honor of the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere and the Battles of Lexington and Concord that began the American Revolution. It’s celebrated in Massachusetts and Maine (Maine used to be part of Massachusetts) and two big sporting events are held that day. The Boston Red Sox play an 11AM game at Fenway Park (the only morning start in all of professional sports) and, since 1897, the Boston Marathon has been held. It’s also the beginning of school vacation week. The idea of the morning Red Sox game is that people could take the kids to the game, then saunter one block to Kenmore Square, the 25-mile marker of the race, and watch the runners on the final stretch. Which is exactly what I was doing that day.

So what happens at a music-intensive station on a holiday? Typically, the station is on a Saturday schedule – meaning there are no newscasts and there is no news person around. Especially at 3PM. WBZ-TV and WBZ-AM always broadcasts the race from the starting line in Hopkinton to the finish line at Exeter Street in Boston, so they had plenty of reporters already on hand when the bombs went off. Their sister stations, 98.5 The Sports Hub, 100.7 WZLX, 103.3 AMP Radio and Mix 104.1 all simulcast the WBZ-TV audio. Perfect, and appropriate. Clear Channel’s Kiss 108 and Jam’n 94-5 had updates from Fox 25. Greater Media’s five stations all have music formats and no news people on duty at 3PM any day. Magic 106.7 was busy telling me that they play the Most Music.

I got home via the last outbound train on the T Green Line. When my wife picked me up she asked me what I would have done if I were still the VP/Programming at Magic. I responded that I would have done exactly what I did when the Challenger blew up in 1986 and again the morning of 9/11. Call WCVB-TV, tell them who I am and say I want to run their audio. They said yes two times before and would certainly have said yes again.

I’ve read columns and blogs from some consultants who claim that’s being lazy and letting someone else do the heavy lifting. I disagree 100%. When you’re running a music station your job is to get big ratings by playing the songs your target listeners like a lot – as long as they fit the brand of the station – and play them a lot. You also need to connect with the local community in a meaningful way.

The acronym we all learned in school is PICON. Operate in the Public Interest, Convenience and Necessity. When something terrible happens – especially in your own market – you need to do whatever you can to keep people informed. When your station has absolutely no resources to cover something like the Boston Marathon bombings, you do what you need to do to serve the public interest. In this case, using the resources of an excellent local TV station that has a huge news department and is doing in-depth wall-to-wall coverage is the correct choice. Does it matter if your station gets no credit? Absolutely not. The important thing in a situation like that is not getting credit or worrying about lost revenue or a bad PPM day – it’s about serving the public interest the best way you can.

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