Another tragedy has touched the lives of listeners in a very personal way. It’s become common. When it happens, radio shows must make quick decisions on how to respond. It’s too late to react to this event, but you can be prepared for the next tragedy.

When news events disrupt everyday life, personalities have decisions to make, and several factors influence those decisions:

Information: What role does news play for the show, station, and brand? Most of the audience already knows the facts. Updates on the story are not necessary unless news coverage is an important aspect of the station brand.  If it is, the primary emphasis should be on covering the story from as many angles as possible, with less emphasis on opinion and emotion. If not, don’t try to become an information source. Emphasize emotional connections.

Issues: Is it appropriate for the show to dig into a story and try to solve an underlying problem (talk shows)? If so, great. Make it the central part of the content. But most shows are not policy-changers and should not play in this arena. It’s not what you’re for.

The Rants: Should you go on an emotional tirade about the horrors of the situation? Maybe. But for most shows, only do this if there is a very personal connection or if it is part of what you normally do.

Mind-Changers: Many shows are tempted to try and persuade listeners to agree with their point of view. You know how that usually turns out, right? It doesn’t work. Again, if the show’s role is to argue a point, go for it. If not, this is the wrong time to try.

How To React To The Next Tragedy

Each event is unique, but shows can be equipped to react to the next tragedy. Here are important considerations:

Know Who You Are And Aren’t: Every air talent should know where they are in the Personality Success Path. Shows in Stage 1 (Introduction) or Stage 2 (Familiarity) should do less, and perhaps nothing. Doing nothing is better than generic “thoughts and prayers”.  And it’s far better than trying to do something that you’re not ready for. Those in Stage 3 (Growth) could take a major step forward with the right approach. If in Stage 4 (Like) or Stage 5 (Love), listeners expect a response and will be disappointed if you’re not there for them.

Be Authentic: Don’t try to be something or someone you’re not. Personalities create problems when they step outside their character brand because they think it’s expected. This is a time to stretch who you are on the air, but stay authentic to your personality.  Don’t feel like you must say something profound. It’s okay if you don’t have anything to say. Don’t try and fake it.

Be Personal: When the next tragedy strikes, listeners will connect with a personality emotionally if the talent is personal in the approach. Many times, simply holding a mirror up to the market is all that is required. Talk about how you feel and what you’re going through and let the audience do the same.

Stay Focused: There will likely be many talking points, subtopics, and angles. Media will be all over each of those things. Avoid the temptation of trying to touch on all of those things. Find a focal point and explore it in greater depth. That’s where you’ll find unique content that is also more personal. Topic Grazing (jumping from one aspect of the story to the next) will not hold attention or build credibility.

Other Tips

Here are a few more lessons to apply to the next tragedy:

Mood: Stay within the expectations for the station/show brand. It’s okay to shift the nature. But don’t change it. It will not attract new listeners, and you’ll run off many of those that count on you.

Relevance: Adjust the response depending on geography and psychography. A local tragedy in your backyard deserves more attention than one in a distant location. The same is true for an event that impacts the type of people your station appeals to.

Listener Responses: Put on phone calls over text messages. Text messages don’t transmit emotions the way a phone call does. Sometimes, just opening the phones and letting listeners share their emotions is all that’s needed.

Use Audio: But only audio that supports the point of view and angle you’re taking with the segment.

Don’t Wallow: Move past the negative emotions. React with empathy, but get over it as quickly as possible and move on to a positive message. After Tuesday’s show, some of our clients stopped talking about the school shooting this week, but added this message every 30 minutes:

Mom and Dad…when you send your kids off to school this morning, don’t forget to give them a hug.

That’s all that’s needed. They know what you’re referencing without saying it. And it’s positive.


For more details, check out this thorough guide to dealing with tragic moments and emergencies. There’s also an ebook on the topic here and a seminar on-demand here.

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