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Boston Bombing: How Radio Can Help…
Or Hurt.

| April 16, 2013

By Holland Cooke
Radio Consultant

BOSTON — Prediction: The Boston perpetrator(s)’ capture will be crowdsourced.

Today, you will be photographed, possibly hundreds of times.  Cameras are everywhere now.  They’re in banks and stores.  They’re robo-toll-takers, and toll-evader witnesses; and red-light cameras and automated radar traps have become a controversial new municipal revenue stream.  Riding mass transit?  Smile.  Since 9/11, that’s been The New Normal…on a normal day.

marathon logoYesterday was anything but.  Patriots’ Day is a holiday in Massachusetts, and no Bay State event is more festive or better attended than The Boston Marathon.  So there were too many cameraphones in Boston for bombers to elude detection.  Whoever did this WAS caught-on-tape.  “YOURS?” radio should ask.

One way radio can help is to ask “Could YOU be Boston’s Zapruder?”

Radio everywhere should ask, because people come from everywhere, from all around the world, to this event.  And because the internet and that-thing-in-our-pocket-we-used-to-call-a-phone makes everywhere “here.”

You don’t even need to be a friend of a friend in the social media age.  Radio should ask everyone to ask everyone: “Were you in Boston?  Look carefully, at all your pictures and videos.  Someone saw something.”

Legacy media owners take note: Yesterday was yet another sad demonstration that you have lost control.  Many Americans first learned of the Boston bombings on Twitter.  I did, and I make my living working for legacy media owners… and a growing legion of self-publishers.

Yesterday in Boston, self-publishers were the news media.  And legacy media owners can take some comfort in the need for caveat emptor we witnessed; and some blame.

Some stations reported the rumor that wireless carriers had shut down Boston service, responsive to officials’ concern that someone like Dennis Hopper’s character in “Speed” could use a cell phone as detonator.  Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel said there had been no such requests.  Any strain on the network simply demonstrated the one-to-one network’s limitations, and reminded us why one-to-many radio is a more-robust technology.

Radio needs to get it right

As Michael Harrison warned in his State of the Industry presentation at the NAB Radio Show in Dallas, anyone can publish, so if we’re “the stick,” we need to be special, not just anyone.

In the frenzied, well-intentioned rush to deliver listeners the instant gratification they now accept no-less-than – and to “own” the story – stations resort to rumor-mongering.  People already ON Twitter don’t need us to tell them what’s-on-Twitter.  Heck, our doing so stimulates the “I already know that” response, eroding what should be our necessity.

More useful?  Repetition, for those just-tuning-in, of “What we DO know” (note “know”), and utilities such as:

  • The official Marathon check-in ( “Concerned for a friend who ran today?  See their last check-in here…”
  • Google’s quickly-launched Person Finder (, more efficient than the hundreds of sad “Have you seen?” photo posters we saw in New York after 9/11.
  • Hotlines, for families of victims (617-635-4500) or for tips (1-800-494-TIPS).

We’re better off repeating and repeating information than wandering into misinformation, let-alone disinformation.

Who won the conspiracy theory pool?

Ever in-character, raving Alex Jones jumped in front of the sad parade:

“Folks, they staged Aurora, they staged Sandy Hook.  The evidence is just overwhelming.  And that’s why I’m so desperate and freaked out.  This is not fun, you know, getting up here telling you this.  Somebody’s got to tell you the truth.”

THE ONLY THING Alex Jones should worry about is guys with butterfly nets.

The most frustrating fail I heard yesterday reminds us that…at any moment…the fit can hit the shan.  A one-day, sit-in by a local pol, guest-hosting for a host who was off, broke the promise of a gazillion promos.  Not being, as Rush would say, “a highly-trained broadcast professional,” the guest host actually made a point to talk about less-stressful things instead.  Ouch.

Day Two?  New information, new misinformation.  And an opportunity for radio to do what makes it special: give listeners their voice, catharsis.  Ask callers “What do you think will be different now?”


See, hear, read more from consultant Holland Cooke at and follow him on Twitter @HollandCooke.  Meet Holland Cooke at Talkers New York 2013 on Thursday June 6.

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Category: Advice, Analysis