When I first heard broadcasters describing
themselves as first informers I was uneasy. While acknowledging the truth of
that phrase, I felt we were taking a term, “first responders,” that is highly
valued in our society and trying to catch some of its reflected gloss. I
worried about how law enforcement and other authorities, who are such important
partners to radio and TV, would view broadcasting’s use of those words.
Over the years I’ve come to see how suitable the phrase is for radio and
TV stations that take their public service roles seriously. Now a news item out
of Illinois is a reminder that as long as broadcasters handle this correctly,
there’s little cause for concern.
Broadcasters Association reports that a “First Informer
Broadcasters Act” passed the legislature unanimously and was headed to the
governor’s desk. The bill ensures that broadcasters and
cable operators will have emergency credentials to gain access to their
operations; it also recognizes that
broadcasters need access to deliver fuel for emergency generators in time of
As Radio World readers know, this is not the
first such effort.
Dennis Lyle, president/CEO of the IBA, told me that
then-Chairman John Chadwick pushed for this because he knew about Wisconsin’s
credentialing program, coordinated by the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association,
and thought it important for Illinois to have a similar opportunity. IBA also
was following the Nevada Broadcasters Association, which lobbied not only for a
credentialing program but to have it codified into state law. That happened in
“Once [Chadwick] learned of Nevada’s successful effort
in securing legislation
of a recognized emergency credentialing program for broadcasters, the decision
was made to pursue a credentialing program through the legislative process here
in Illinois,” Lyle said. Also playing a role were “the growing number of horror
stories of broadcast-related access issues during times of emergencies and
disasters of the past.”
To my knowledge, and assuming the governor signs it,
Illinois will thus be only the second state with “first informer” legislation.
What feedback from the law enforcement
community did the association hear? They were very supportive, Lyle said.
“In all honesty, the only real
concern was whether or not we [wanted to] pursue asking for emergency-type
lights to be placed on our station vehicles. The answer, of course, was ‘no.’
We simply want to make sure we have every opportunity to keep our stations on
As to terminology, “The subject came up ever so
briefly in early discussions, but we resolved any concerns of confusion quickly
by suggesting use of the term ‘first informers,’ a term already penned months
earlier by the NAB in their many published documented stories of broadcasters’
critical role in past disasters and emergencies,” Lyle said.
“Nobody can argue that, whether a ‘first responder’ or
‘first informer.’ History shows both play a significant
role in saving lives.”
noted that the legislation faced no objection from the Illinois Emergency
Management Agency, the Illinois Sheriff’s Association, the Illinois State
Police or the City of Chicago. The lack of a single “no” vote in the
legislature suggests that law enforcement raised no meaningful concerns, because
when cops talk, lawmakers usually listen. It’s evident that IBA, like any effective
state association, is adept at working with its interest groups and in
anticipating concerns before they reach the public eye.
Now the state association will work with the Illinois Emergency
Management Agency in designing a training curriculum that broadcast and cable
personnel must complete before earning emergency credentials.
This is a legislative win for the IBA and another
model for state associations to follow. It further is a topic of direct concern
for Radio World readers, many of whom are the ones who get the call that the
transmitter is down or the generator has konked out, and who might be
confronted with a police officer in a wind-blown intersection who says, “Sorry, I can’t let
I’m interested in hearing from
readers who have had experiences, good or bad, with such credentialing
programs, and what others can learn from the experience. Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(One engineer told the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association
about an instance in which he responded to a transmitter problem late one
evening and ended up being detained at gunpoint by police who believed he was
the one who’d been stealing copper recently. It didn’t help that they found him
with a screwdriver and a piece of equipment in his hands. A couple of phone
calls to the station made things right but the engineer said he was “really
glad” he had that emergency credential card. “It made them put the guns away.”)
The Illinois experience also highlights the good work that state
broadcast associations can do and further demonstrates how associations can reinforce
one other. Lyle said he’s grateful for the work of the National Alliance of
State Broadcasters Associations for helping keep “our close family of state
broadcasters association executives” informed and involved.
In hailing passage of the bill, he emphasized that local broadcasters
have proved many times to be the firstmeans for first responders to disseminate emergency information to
the public. For him, this bill was all about “allowing us to do what we do best
during emergency situations: keeping the public informed.”