PR TECHNIQUE RADIO: How to use radio in a crisis - The news neverstops, but it often runs fastest on radio. Sherri Deatherage Greenreports on how best to use radio during a crisis

The days of Edward R. Murrow reporting from rooftops in war-torn

London are long gone. 'Most cities now have only one radio station that

makes any reasonable effort to cover the news,' says Mike Cox, member

services director for the Texas Press Association.

Many channels depend on other media for news leads, and often disc

jockeys - not reporters - rotate among control rooms, reading headlines

on sister stations.

'USA Today is the assignment desk of choice for many organizations,'

jokes Donn Pearlman, senior managing director at Minkus & Dunne

Communications in Chicago. Thus, daily reporting can become a game of

gossip with errors introduced through repetition, according to Gus

Weill, CEO of New York's PR21.

So when a time-sensitive story heats up, don't put radio on the back

burner. During a crisis, radio can go live within minutes - faster than

TV crews can set up remote trucks and hours before newspapers hit the


Between 6am and 9am on most days, radio journalists are too busy reading

the news to do a lot of reporting. The best time to contact them is

before 6am or late morning/early afternoon for evening drive time.

Michael Hill, president of News/Broadcast Network in New York, says

pitching between 3am and 5am can make the biggest impact.

Michael Paul, president of Manhattan's MGP & Associates PR, says he

often uses radio and wire services to redirect stories after the 11pm

news. For instance, when a pro football player client got arrested for

DWI, Paul arranged apologetic 6am radio interviews. The client came

across as humble and sympathetic before the next print or TV news


Getting up early and casting a wide net can help catch listeners, but

don't expect to find them all in the same pond. Audience fragmentation

in radio can be both a blessing and a curse. Twenty or more stations may

compete in major markets, but format specificity lets PR people hone in

on targeted groups. News and talk listeners are generally decision

makers, and are often reporters, Pearlman notes. 'You might only hit

3.5% of the audience, but it's the right 3.5% to reach.'

Turner advises PR practitioners to study ratings to get a feel for

audience shift. News and talk stations often get the best ratings in the

morning, for example, while rock and easy-listening channels tend to do

better in the afternoon.

Contacting a plethora of local stations isn't always a chore, as many

are often owned by a few big parent companies. A common newsroom may

serve two to five sister stations, says Steve Turner, principal at

Solomon/Turner in St. Louis. Asking reporters to share a story with

affiliated stations can give it longer legs.

Don't bother pitching your story to radio if you can't give details and

sound bites (radio people call them 'actualities') within an hour or

two, advises Darrell Azar, Austin bureau chief for Houston's KTRH.

'Saying, 'We're going to have something for you in four or five hours,'

is like saying 'No comment,'' he says. 'News-papers can wait six hours

to get the real story. Radio needs it immediately.'

The telephone lets you place news-quality actualities quickly and

cheaply from just about anywhere.

Having the right phone numbers may be the key to successful radio crisis

communications. Receptionists don't work at 5am, so maintain media lists

with direct extensions, cell numbers and e-mail addresses. You might

also want to keep news hotline (and even music request-line) numbers

handy to increase your chances of getting through.

Even if you have a spokes-person at the scene of a breaking story,

manning the phones is still important, Azar says. Radio stations may not

have the resources to send reporters to the field, or they might not be

able to get good audio outdoors, so they often rely on office phone

calls as a backup. If a radio station gets a reporter to the scene of

breaking news on time, 'the station still needs somebody at the office

who can feed them quick information,' Azar says

Live radio can get dicey when a reporter calls seeking an on-the-spot

interview. Paul advises that you don't put your client on the spot when

this happens. Instead, give yourself time to prepare your spokes-person

by promising to call back in 15 minutes. But if you get in a pinch,

coaching clients during a live radio interview is infinitely easier than

during live TV spots. Without the cameras watching, media trainers can

pass notes or whisper message points to clients, Paul says.

To compensate for the absence of facial expressions or hand gestures

during radio interviews, Weill trains his clients to speak loudly and

emote. Cox suggests standing up for better voice projection, even when

talking into the telephone receiver.

PR people who know radio reporters merely as faceless voices on the

phone might be surprised to find them hungrier and more receptive than

other journalists. 'Radio reporters seem very warm and open to building

relationships because they often are put on the bottom of the totem

pole,' Paul says.


1. Do have details and sound bites ready before you pitch from

authoritative sources

2. Do ask radio reporters to share your story with sister stations and

affiliate networks

3. Do monitor all-news and talk stations during crises so you can

respond to erroneous information or negative comments

1. Don't overlook radio because of individual stations' small market


2. Don't let radio reporters read your story from the morning paper or

find out about your client from disgruntled callers

3. Don't grant a live interview unless your spokesperson is well


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