By Howard B. Price
NEW YORK — A few weeks back, I had a terrific Facebook conversation with one of my dearest college buds – who has gone on to become one of radio’s truly great local operators. For him, radio is more than a business – it’s a passion. As we do frequently, we were talking about the state of radio’s operational resilience, and my friend told it as it was. “Investors,” he said, “just don’t care about that.”
As we exit March – the month when we “beware the ides” and hope goes out like a lamb – it’s worth taking a moment to fully unpack this respected group operator’s candid, and regrettably true, statement.
Investors pour thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands – sometimes millions – of dollars into broadcast companies in the hope of generating meaningful return. Yet, they’re not in the least concerned about the ability of the properties in which they’ve invested to sustain critical operations in the face of disruption?
The Gulf, Southeast and the Caribbean last year were ravaged by three major hurricanes that damaged or destroyed a number of TV and radio stations. We’ve seen wildfires out west – raging mudslides and floods, and earthquakes, too. This has been a debilitating and deadly flu season. And just in recent days, a train of strong nor’easters – four in one month — left hundreds of thousands of customers blacked out for days – in some cases, a week or more.
Imagine, please, what YOUR station would lose if it were off the air for an hour (make it an expensive hour, like morning or afternoon drive). What would it lose if it were off the air for an entire daypart? A whole day…a week…or even longer?
Then let your imagination go beyond your P & L – because the greatest impact of your not being there when your audience expects the most from you could be on your reputation and brand. What price would your investors put on that?
Your business has value so long as it operates. When it doesn’t, it has no meaningful value to your audience or your clients. And modern technology has made reasonable operational resilience easier and more affordable than ever. Seems like a no-brainer.
After all, no one would (should?) invest in a business that didn’t carry at least some insurance. So, think of resilience – backup – as another form of insurance. Insurance that can actually be productive and revenue-generating, like a fully-equipped live truck that can not only be the showpiece at a remote, but that can also feed programming to your transmitter and web stream from anywhere there’s line of sight or a broadband connection, should you need to evacuate your main facility.
And speaking of the transmitter, think about putting your backup antenna on someone else’s stick, rather than a couple of feet down from the primary on your own. In business continuity, we call that a risk mitigation through geographic diversity.
Still too rich a prospect for you or your investors’ blood? Why not partner with your local competitors on assets everyone can share when necessary? How about engaging your local emergency management agencies for help in co-locating backup broadcast facilities in their emergency operations centers? They come with robust connectivity AND backup generators – no charge.
Why not create a sellable preparedness campaign for your community – and use the proceeds to pay for your own resilience? That pays your investors TWO ways – in real revenue AND in reputational enhancement that only makes your brand more valuable and sought-after.
In the county in which I live, just 30 miles or so from Manhattan, neither of our local radio stations is a reliable, viable provider of emergency information. Neither is staffed fulltime. Neither has backup transmission facilities – one doesn’t even have a primary transmitter site now and the other has been operating on reduced power since losing one of its four towers in a windstorm. Neither has a generator. In an emergency, our county of nearly a third of a million people turns mostly to TV (if the power is on, and cable is up) – or they go to the big New York City all-newsers down the dial. Which means at the precise moment that listenership might be highest, and the greatest opportunity to retain listeners exists, the lack of resilience renders these two local stations completely irrelevant. Perhaps permanently.
Ask your investors how they’d feel about that. About losing listeners FOREVER because you weren’t able to serve them when they were counting on you the most.
For a relatively small investment of time, training and operational resources, you can build the safest broadcast investment on earth. Ignore common-sense risk management, and you and your investors surely will lose in the long run.
Howard B. Price, CBCP/MBCI is the former director of business continuity & crisis management for ABC’s News and Technology & Operations divisions, and has also served as senior manager, enterprise business continuity planning for The Walt Disney Company. A certified business continuity professional, and the founder of MediaDisasterPrep.com, he brings cost-effective resilience planning, innovation and thought leadership to the media industry. Reach him at HowardBPrice@gmail.com or 917-414-1751, and follow him on Twitter @mediadisaster