Broadcasters: America’s ‘First Informers’

Every day across America, local radio and television broadcasters serve communities in extraordinary ways: raising millions of dollars for charity, rescuing kidnapped children with AMBER Alerts, and creating awareness about important health and safety issues through public affairs programming.

Regardless of individual broadcasters’ level of commitment to public service, there is no role stations embrace more seriously than that of “first informer.” Indeed, during times of crisis, no technology can replicate broadcasting’s reliability in reaching mass audiences. It is also during these times when an ethos prevails among broadcasters — an ethos that compels stations to go “the extra mile” for the safety and well-being of viewers and listeners.

2011 was no exception. The year included devastating tornadoes, a rare East Coast earthquake, wildfires, Hurricane Irene and other severe storms and flooding. Through it all, local radio and television stations were a reliable lifeline, preempting regular programing with news coverage and life-saving information.

When Hurricane Irene was creating dangerous conditions along the East Coast, local TV and radio combined boots on the ground reporting with social media updates to keep viewers informed on the storm. FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate recognized this role when he told Americans to turn to their local TV and radio stations for information about the impending storm and to receive important updates from first responders.

In April, Alabama and Missouri were devastated by the worst tornado outbreak in 40 years. In the span of a few hours, entire neighborhoods were destroyed and hundreds of lives lost. Thousands were left homeless. Radio and television broadcasters were instrumental in saving lives with tornado warnings and emergency and disaster relief information. They also played a critical role in the recovery and rebuilding of communities in the aftermath of the storms.

These feats of courage, dedication and generosity demonstrated by local broadcasters are captured in this short film produced by talented media arts professor, Scott Hodgson, and his students at the University of Oklahoma, along with Chandra Clark, professor of telecommunications and film at The University of Alabama. Working with the Broadcast Education Association, Scott and Chandra compiled stunning footage for a video account of broadcasters’ response to these horrific tornadoes.