From the Corner Office – February 2010

January 29, 2010

Peter Smyth

When Tragedy Strikes – Haiti

None of us can escape the stream of tragic stories that have poured out of this small Caribbean nation since the earthquake destroyed its capital city. The pictures of the loss of life and devastation are haunting and horrible. As the world digs into its pocketbook to donate what we can to help ease the suffering, radio is once again at the forefront of the efforts to provide help, information, assistance and hope to a people wracked by disaster.

Text messages and Twitter got the first words out of Haiti to the world, and the cable news channels showed us the scope of the disaster through images and updates. But on the island itself, it is the local radio stations who swung into non-stop action for the survivors, providing information about the rescue mission and where to find food and water, and reconnecting a terribly dislocated community.

In fact, stations like Radio Caraibes set up outside their destroyed studio building and continued to broadcast information from a makeshift studio in the street. I saw an article from AP that told the story of a survivor who had text messaged a friend from the rubble. The friend called Signal FM, who relayed the information to emergency workers who were listening to the station.

One person put it succinctly: “Radio stations are holding the country together. They’re kind of replacing the government in a sense.” As proof, high on the list of aid that the US military was sending to Haiti were 43,800 solar and crank operated radios for distribution to the displaced and homeless.

Haitian broadcasters share American broadcasters’ most fundamental priorities. They know what information is the most vital and compelling, they know what their audience needs, and they know how to communicate and commiserate with listeners in their time of need. Broadcasters are there; they’re going through the agony with their listeners, and they’re trying to help the best they can.

How many times have we heard this same dynamic play out, whether it was Katrina, the tsunami, floods, or tornados? Every time, broadcasters immerse themselves in the task at hand: to save lives with immediate, widely-distributed and easy-to-hear information. It makes no difference if we’re journalists, salespeople, disc jockeys, or office staff, I’ve seen every single member of a station staff show up at the studio, asking what they can do. We know our role and we eagerly accept and discharge it.

Television provides images and information on a national and global level; text messaging and Twitter can communicate individual emergency information. Only radio can act as the immediate glue to hold a local community together in a time of crisis.

I do not personally know a Haitian radio broadcaster, but after reading about their excellent work, I know they should be commended. I also know that they’re still too busy for that type of thing.

Our Greater Media stations have joined with countless other broadcasters around the world to do our part and help raise contributions for the Haitian victims. We thank all of our listeners who have responded to the need. It is, and will continue to be, immense

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Best regards,