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Tips for Planning 9/11 Anniversary

Vallie-Richards Consulting has offered its radio clients ideas for planning coverage of the anniversary of Sept. 11. The following is excerpted from the company's "Radio Focus" newsletter, with permission.

Vallie-Richards Consulting has offered its radio clients ideas for planning coverage of the anniversary of Sept. 11. The following is excerpted from the company’s “Radio Focus” newsletter, with permission.

Capture the Moment

The first anniversary of 9/11 is almost here. It will be a significant day. On that day everyone’s mind will be on the events of one year ago, what has happened since, where we are now, and what can happen next. Now is the time to begin preparing for how your station(s) will commemorate the day. This is the first anniversary of this type in our country, so there is no direct reference point for how to program to the moment.

We encourage you to plan now to determine how you commemorate this infamous day. As an industry we pride ourselves on being topical and relevant to the moment. On this day, “top of mind awareness” will be on Sept. 11, 2001. Consider scheduling a brainstorming session with the staff, then capture the moment. We have listed some thoughts to help you begin your brainstorming and planning.

* Send a listener to New York to be the correspondent for the morning show at the site of the World Trade Center. Get call-in reports that will be timely for the day and certainly moving. This could be done for all three attack sites: New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, all day long. If you can’t send a listener, send someone from the station. Talk to the people there; it will be compelling content.

* Do giveaways of FDNY material, along with materials from your local fire department to commemorate the heroes that were there, as well as local heroes. Observe a moment of silence or a moment of prayer at the time the first plane struck the towers. Be sure to tell listeners in advance so they can plan to participate.

* Take calls from listeners on where they were the morning of Sept. 11, how they responded and how it has affected their lives. Tape them all for playback, for promos and to archive for future Sept. 11s.

* Resurrect the patriotic songs and some of the relevant customized tribute songs that were put together last year. (These songs can be in rotation beginning the weekend before since the 11th is on Wednesday this year.)

* Research audio resources and archives for use for the morning show and all day. This gives you an excellent opportunity to prepare outstanding production elements that will make your station more interesting, compelling and relatable.

* Call on local high-school band directors and work with them in putting together a human “salute” to America in football game openings. Solicit hundreds/thousands to come out on the field prior to the game. Have the band leaders work with them to get lined up to spell USA holding red, white and blue cards while singing the National Anthem.

* Do the same as above, but have it set up as a fundraiser; have aerial photos taken of the scene.

* Give away American flags all day at easy access locations, with help from fire/police departments.

* Prepare to have memorial pins, fire department caps/hats, tee shirts, etc. that memorialize the day with “we won’t forget” or “9/11,” etc.

* Play the national anthem at the top of the hour all day long with a recorded open saluting those who died on that day and those who have died in the war on terrorism since Sept. 11.

* Encourage listeners to place signs in their yards and neighborhoods saying things like, “America, the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

* Arrange in advance to have sound bites and interviews with the mayor/police chief/fire department chief/governor talking about security and/or reflecting on 9/11.

* Have on-air salutes to those still involved in fighting the war on terrorism and those in your area that have returned from stints of duty.

* Have the GM, PD or news director in a recorded announcement with a non-hype and reverent delivery and copy saying how the station responded last time, and “will be here to respond the next time when terrorists strike again.”

* Customize your website to salute the anniversary, fly the flag on your site, include written patriotic quotes and sound bites, etc.

It will be difficult for some to realize this far in advance how the country will be consumed with this anniversary on that day. It will be in all newspapers, news networks, magazines, etc. and, most important, it will be the most top-of-mind subject with your listeners.

“Regular programming” should not be the norm for that day. Prepare now so that you will be as topical and relevant on that day as your listeners would expect you to be. It’s another opportunity for you and the industry to shine.

Be Ready

On Sept. 11, 2001, there was no precedent for how the nation or we, as the radio industry, should respond. In retrospect the response was impressive in our industry. The Jacobs media survey that followed the event indicated the majority of listeners said radio did a good to excellent job of covering the crisis.

This time we should be more prepared. Most expect the “other shoe to drop,” and Homeland Security has warned us that we can expect another attack. It’s just a matter of when and where and how. Whether it’s between now and Sept. 11, on Sept. 11, or afterwards, this time there is no excuse for not being prepared to respond.

Most likely the next terrorist attack will be different from the previous ones. This requires serious thought and consideration. We urge you to meet with staff and have a plan in place in order to be as prepared as possible. Some things to consider:

* Have a staff meeting now to let them know their responsibilities and what the station will expect from them in the next crisis.

* Address the overall attitude the station will need to reflect the emotional tone of the country.

* In the face of a possible attack and possible deaths, be sensitive … no song parodies, no un-educated/juvenile editorial comments. Have them know who to go to and how to get accurate information.

* Evaluate immediately any promotional campaign to make sure it doesn’t trivialize the situation.

* Make sure the morning show is focused on the event and eliminate the usual features and bits.

* Go back to news updates if the attack is as significant or more so than last time. Make staff aware of all arrangements with news sources.

* Make certain everyone knows how the Emergency Alert System works, particularly in the event of local terrorism.

* Have a news source. Arrange now to have network availability.

* Do an alliance now with the news station in town…radio or TV…and work together.

* Make sure your staff knows what to do any time of day or night under any circumstances, whether you have live talent on or voice tracking.

* Have experts lined up. This attack could be germ warfare, nuclear, etc., have experts available.

* Establish contact at a local or regional military base to call for updates and information.

* Have someone designated now that is your “go to” person on the staff to take ownership of getting as prepared as possible.

* Contact city and/or county state officials now to let them know of your preparation, that you want to know how to contact them at the necessary time and have them available.

There is a lot to address and consider that can’t be addressed here. These are thought-starters. The point is for you to be prepared. Advise your staff to use good judgment.

Vallie Richards Consulting specializes in all forms of adult-contemporary and top-40 radio. Its Web site is

RW Online welcomes other points of view.