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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Baltimore Radio Responds To Violent Protests


A 26-year-old man, Freddie Gray mysteriously died recently due to spinal cord injuries while handcuffed and in Baltimore police custody. After Gray's funeral Monday morning, protests, which had been peaceful for the past week, turned violent. Baltimore police say three of the city's gangs conspired together to take out law enforcement officials and cause damage. Police officers have been injured, cars and buildings have been set on fire and stores looted. Keeping Baltimore informed through it all has been its local radio stations.

Among the radio stations keeping listeners well-briefed is Hearst Radio's WBAL-AM. The station has been covering the violence non-stop since the trouble's start Monday afternoon. The radio station has partnered with its television sister-station, WBAL-TV/NBC 11 for the coverage. The two have been pooling their resources, including sharing the news copter, which has been flying above some of the worst areas of violence, delivering details from a safe distance.

During rare periods of calm, WBAL-AM was allowing its hosts to open up phone lines and let listeners voice their opinions, although as the fluid situation would worsen, the station went with wall-to-wall coverage.

WBAL-AM/WIYY-FM President and General Manager Cary Pahigian told Radio Ink: "Our goal is to keep the community up to the minute and provide an opportunity to discuss and analyze the situation with WBAL talk hosts in a responsible manner."

The station itself, located not far from the riots, was locked behind gates. Concerned staffers were allowed to go home if they chose to do so. Most others have been going above and beyond the call of duty to keep listeners aware of what is taking place in their city's streets.

Pahigian said that online streaming of the station was up over six times normal.

WBAL-AM's FM sister-station, WIYY/98 Rock had been breaking from its normal music programming to deliver frequent reports on the violence to its listeners. Pahigian had considered ending the music and flipping to a temporary simulcast of WBAL-AM, but a decision was made to stick with the music programming with the added news updates. WIYY's morning show with Justin Scott and Spiegel will forgo its usual laughs and become more of a serious news/talk format for Tuesday morning.

Along with its on-air coverage, WBAL continually updated its Twitter feed every few minutes with fresh information.

CBS Radio's Baltimore area news radio station WNEW-FM also kept listeners informed, up until the station had to switch to the broadcast of the Washington Nationals vs the Atlanta Braves night game. News updates were given between innings and via the radio station's Twitter feed.

WNEW reporter Steve Dorsey ventured a little too close to the violence on Monday and paid a price for it. Dorsey wrote on Twitter that he went near a burning car, but was then punched in the face by a rioter and had his iPhone stolen. He claims that bystanders shielded him from getting attacked worse, so he could leave.

iHeartMedia Baltimore's stations would provide frequent news updates for its listeners during the afternoon. iHeartMedia Washington/Baltimore President Dennis Lamme told Radio Ink: "Radio plays a critical role as a main source for news and information for our community.  We are gathering and distributing the latest facts and information providing 24/7 coverage to our listeners on air, online and via social across iHeartMedia stations WPOC, WZFT, WQSR and WCAO. Lee Michaels, host of WCAO-AM Heaven 600 is conducting interviews and working with local community leaders, ministers and other organizations to solicit important and pertinent information."

WYPR-FM, Baltimore's NPR affiliate featured news updates during its NPR programming, as well as frequently updating its Twitter feed.

Nearby WTOP/Washington, D.C. also covered the Baltimore situation carefully since it started Monday afternoon. Joel Oxley, SVP/GM of newsradio WTOP said "we are all over it."

The incredible reaction of listeners, tuning to their radio stations and streaming them online goes to show the power and importance of radio, especially in times of important news.

(4/28/2015 7:35:21 PM)
Teen age punks with their pants off their ass, their fingers in their nose, cellphone in their ear, filthy mouths, lazy, worthless scourge of the earth.
(4/28/2015 6:23:26 PM)
I've been listening to WBAL this afternoon on TuneIn. I think they are doing a great job covering the story.

The stream would sound better if they just ran a simulcast with their broadcast rather than inserting PSA's in place of commercials on the stream.

I find it hard to believe that stations still can't cover stop sets without pauses, psa's and overlapping audio.

Gary Burns

(4/28/2015 12:27:58 PM)
After EVERY "Breaking News" story radio rags always do a "RADIO RESPONDS", and it's always the same 'we opened up the phone lines'.... the fact is that every radio station watched this on TV or periscope yesterday and just reiterated what they saw! There wasn't one innovation yesterday among radio stations in Baltimore, all you heard was "Let's go LIVE downtown to XXXXX and get the latest".
(4/28/2015 11:30:27 AM)
What the police did to Freddie Gray is 100% wrong. However the looting and violence that took place Monday night shows you what the city would be like without the protection of the police. In a minority based police department and city government - let's not accuse and damn all police for the inexcusable behavior of a few.
(4/28/2015 9:27:27 AM)
Cassie - you've obviously never heard of breach of contract? Stations carrying those games are under some pretty hefty contracts to get broadcast rights. Turning it off isn't an option, short of something apocalyptic.

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