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Community Needs an Alternative to KSSK; Hawaii Public Radio Could Grow into Role

Let’s shift the focus to how emergency broadcasting can be improved and away from KSSK‘s marginal performance during Friday night’s island-wide power outage. Clear Channel’s apparent “entertainment first” philosophy – even during emergencies – poorly serves the public, as many are concluding. (See “comments” beneath stories in the daily papers and in Comments added to our Saturday and Sunday posts, below.)

Update: Today's Honolulu Star-Bulletin editorial also criticizes KSSK for its performance during the outage.

Would the public be better served if Hawaii Public Radio enjoyed that official status, too? We think so. HPR’s two stations – KHPR and KIPO, both FM stations – already are the state’s undisputed leaders in public affairs programming. Stepping up to emergency broadcaster status seems only logical.

First Things First

HPR’s leadership already has done a fine job upgrading its capabilities, including the recent increase in KIPO’s transmitting power. But the job is far from done; both stations were off the air Friday night, so getting to emergency broadcaster status will take a lot more work. Emergency stations have to stay on the air during emergencies!

General Manager Michael Titterton told a Hawaii Media Council audience last year that “some things just have to be done” to ensure HPR’s stations can operate in a power outage. So as a community, we could get behind HPR to help them achieve that critical first step and then move on to emergency broadcaster status.

News Orientation Needed

KSSK’s emergency coverage doesn’t come close to “journalism.” HPR is all about news and fact-finding, and you have to believe its on-air reporters would have been probing for information on how the outage was affecting critical communities and seeking answers about what (obviously) failed on HECO’s system for the entire island to go dark. As it was, KSSK’s team virtually attacked callers who asked questions of their own. (“Don’t you understand, sir? This is an ISLAND! We’re not connected to a bigger grid! Maybe you should just go back to Ohio….” and so on.)

Another consideration: HPR’s stations are commercial-free, so there’d be no temptation or motivation for the public station to provide kid-glove treatment to a company experiencing a crisis (utilities included) if that company is an advertiser.

We haven’t had time to check into whether some kind of financial subsidy is available to emergency broadcast outlets, but it’s worth looking into to assist HPR with upgrades to its facilities.

Anybody out there feel the same as we do here at CHORE? Feel free to add your comment below; you can be “anonymous” or sign your name.

It's about time for the public interest to come first in emergency broadcasting.

12/30 Update continued: The editorial notes that Mayor Hannemann was the first to tell the public the outage would last 12 hours.  You have to wonder why HECO didn't go public with that information itself.

Comments

  1. >>> We haven’t had time to check into whether some kind of financial subsidy is available to emergency broadcast outlets <<<

    Yes, I think there is. KSSK-AM is LP-1 and KRTR-FM is LP-2. I think you'd have to somehow take the title away from one of those stations to get funding. (See http://www.scd.state.hi.us/documents/EAS_Plan.pdf)

    Seems like KSSK used to go off the air (anyone remember the time when KSSK teamed up with KEDO? KSSK had the news room, KDEO had the working transmitter on that event.) until they were able to grab the title (and funding) when KGU went defunct.

    Probably faster to go after the traditional HPR funding.

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  2. Thanks, Anonymous, for your comments and link to the Emergency Alert System plan. We'll see what we can learn in the days ahead about funding for the designated stations. Hawaii's congressional delegation needs to hear from residents who feel under-served by the existing system.

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  3. Hey Doug,

    Really glad I stumbled upon your blog after the recent island wide outage. You definitely bring up a lot of salient points.

    Listening to Perry and Price intermittently on Friday night I was kind of put off by their sometimes cavalier attitude. I felt that coverage by Mike Buck and other "first responder" DJs/radio personalities that were in studio at the time were doing an ok job fielding calls and disseminating information on air.

    I guess what I'm getting as is, why are Perry and Price "the masters of disaster?" Do they have specialized training in emergency responsiveness? And if so from whom? Now I'm not knowledgeable with everything that goes on with state/city government or running a radio station, but my guess would be that they carry this self proclaimed title because their show is highly listened to . . . aka because they're popular.

    While I don't think Perry & Price were "playing it for laughs" on Friday night, I do think that there needs to be some sort of protocol or guidelines in place for what should happen in these types of emergency situations for the radio station and the on air personalities to follow. I mean I'm sure HECO, civil defense, and those types of agencies have emergency playbooks they run off of. Does Clear Channel and the Masters of Disaster have one as well?

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  4. Thanks, Matt. In 2007 at a Media Council panel discussion on crisis communications and in personal emails, Clear Channel's top executive made it clear he believes radio is an entertainment medium and didn't see a reason to change that philosophy during a crisis. Since we the people are the ones allegedly being served by emergency broadcast stations, we have a voice in either endorsing that philosophy or demanding a different approach. CHORE obviously believes we deserve better than what we're receiving.

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  5. Mr. Carlson:

    For all the reasons you stated, I whole heartedly agree with your suggestion that the community work together to get Hawaii Public Radio designated as "Oahu's" Emergency Broadcast" radio outlet.

    As I said in my earlier post (12/27). . .I was particularly offended at the caviler and disrespectful responses made to some "call in" listeners who contributed what seemed to be useful and/or intelligent comments. Put downs and insults should not be the coin of the realm when Oahu is experiencing a complete and total power outage.

    Furthermore, did the notion of "hard questions" directed at HECO ever enter the minds of Hawaii's biggest air heads, Perry & Price? Seems like they were more an extension of HECO's PR Department. Shameful in the extreme!. . ."

    Keep up the good work, Mr. Carlson. Your work and the questions you raise deserve wider coverage.
    bzo

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  6. Doug...

    I stopped listening to P&P after the second Gulf War. I began to detest listening to Perry's opinion about what was going on, and decided I wanted to hear WHAT was going on.

    So I switched to KHPR.

    MW Perry's insulting commentary to people questioning HECO's inability to contain a fault was just short of unconstrained cheerleading. I'm convinced that the KSSK team is incapable of reporting things as they are. Rather, they go on and on about how they thing things should be. And that's hardly a service to this community.

    On the other hand, Mike Buck did a great job of calling 'em as he saw 'em. Maybe P&P needs to take a dose of humility and reconsider the weight of their responsibilities in times like these.

    Aloha, from a former news guy.

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  7. To be the devil's advocate here: The advantage of having Clear Channel be the emergency station is that there are multiple stations that carried the signal. There's a better chance that the information will get out at various points on the dial on AM and FM bands.

    It would be tough for Hawaii Public Radio to compete with that, with only two frequencies -- 88.1 and 89.3. I mean, I'm an HPR member and I love them to pieces, but you can't argue with that basic reality.

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  8. Roselani, you make a good point. My current thinking is that HPR could be assisted by a community-wide effort to step up its capabilities (including emergency generators) and then act as if it's an emergency broadcast outlet whether it receives the official designation or not. With time and with the congressional delegation's backing, that designation could be achieved. Clear Channel would continue doing what it does, but at least the public would be served with fact-based inquisitive broadcasting -- not what we saw last week. And who knows; with time and COMPETITION in news gathering, maybe even Clear Channel would change for the better. Thanks for your comment.

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