No Hyperbole; Just Facts

September 15, 2015

Peter Smyth

We live in a world of claims, counterclaims and hyperbole.   It seems that the spin masters are always hard at work, trying to manipulate public opinion or attitudes.  This phenomenon is most obviously at work in the political realm, where candidates and policy ideas are routinely praised as groundbreaking and simultaneously derided as the worst idea in the history of the republic.

Same goes for business; in these days of disruption, large armies of public relations specialists work tirelessly to convince us that the globe may or may not be warming, that coal is really clean or really dirty, or that everyone needs a certain type of smartwatch.  These assertions are usually backed up with very carefully selected facts that seldom contain the whole picture.

That is why it is so refreshing to see some recent facts – no spin! – shared by our friends at NextRadio, the mobile phone app that enhances smartphones by activating the onboard FM tuner chip and provides two way interactions.

While the story of radio’s performance in times of emergencies or natural disasters has been told often by many of us, the new technology champions have dismissed or minimized the important role of broadcasters, and claim that mass text messages or cell phone alerts can perform the same service.  Wireless carriers claim that there is no need to activate the chip and there is little consumer appetite for it.  While it may sound convincing in a sound bite, those who have had firsthand experience know that once the power grid is interrupted, both voice and data communication to your phone becomes unstable or outright unavailable, sometimes for days.  Whether it’s downed trees, rising flood waters, or tornado or hurricane aftermath, high tech solutions are simply not reliable.

The recent data from NextRadio allows us to examine specific behavior by real users and move beyond generalities and anecdotes.  Real people, real data; not just estimates.   In July in Brainerd, Minnesota, a straight-line windstorm caused an average 260% increase in listeners to 12 area radio stations and a 615% increase in listening sessions tracked by the NextRadio app.  In Northern Illinois in April, NextRadio tracked a 54% increase in listeners to 67 area radio stations.   When tornadoes and flash flooding hit Oklahoma City in May, a 146% increase in listeners to 46 area radio stations translated to a 254% increase in listening sessions.  Real people, a lot of them, turned to radio for information and instructions.

This is a case where the facts provide clarity and insight.  They demonstrate the necessity for broadcast services and information during times of emergency.  For those of us in radio who have worked and lived through a crisis, whether it was a huge event like Katrina or Sandy or a more localized challenge, we have experienced firsthand the needs and gratitude of listeners in our communities when we respond with live, local and life-saving information.   We have always taken this part of our public service obligation seriously and we are proud to do our best when times are trying.

Now the data confirms that experience.

Peter Smyth