I live in the heart of ski country in the Northeast, and lately we've really been dumped on with snow, with more predicted for the weekend.
It reminds me of a humorous solution to a problem that all snowbelt radio stations have: the cancellation boondoggle.
It seems so simple-people in charge of events or schools call the station, the station announces the information, and listeners know not to go.
However, human nature dictates that a vocal minority of listeners will ignore the logic of this process and call the station asking for cancellation information now.
There are a number of problems with this. Most of the stations do not have an office staff during the early morning, late evening, and weekends. This means that these calls, essentially individual requests for information, go straight to the studio line where a frazzled announcer is trying to collect, collate, and get the information out, all while trying to keep the show on the air.
The internet has undoubtedly helped, since folks can now go to the school website for info. Back 20 years ago, this did not exist.
The other problem with individual requests for cancellations is that if you tell someone at 6:25 that school is open, then inevitably a call from the superintendant's office comes in cancelling school that day. This person is now going to send their kids to a locked building.
One winter in the late 80's was especially brutal, with many schools getting cancelled. Calls would clog up the lines, in some cases preventing administrators from getting through.
People would become snotty if you told them to listen, instead of tying up the studio lines. "I don't own a radio...". Then how did you know to call the station?
After the second storm, a few obnoxious listeners wrote letters to the general manager complaining that I was unhelpful. One lady actually claimed that I had kept her on hold for 25 minutes, and then had repeatedly sworn at her before hanging up.
My boss suggested to just give them the info over the phone. I reluctantly agreed.
About three weeks later, a mother threatened to sue the station because she had gone to a closed school in a snowstorm after I told her the school was not cancelled at the time she had called. She subsequently had become stuck in a snowbank and had to be towed.
We were really at our wits end. We were a top-rated station with a ton of listeners, but these snow cancellations were making our life hell.
I then remembered that other stations had handled calls about certain situations by coming up with a short paragraph describing the "party line" and then posted the message at every phone. Keep in mind that these were stations in small to medium markets where a PR department didn't exist. Heck, we were the PR department for businesses and the communities we served!
I came up with a short statement and placed in my cancellations folder in the studio.
About a week later, we got hit with another huge storm. The lines began to light up. Steeling myself, I answered the first call.
"Radio Station WXYZ", I said. Note: this is not the stations real call letters.
"Hey, is school cancelled in..." the listener began.
In a robotic voice, I intoned my prepared message:
"THANK YOU FOR CALLING WXYZ. DUE TO THE LARGE NUMBER OF INCOMING CALLS, WE ARE UNABLE TO PROVIDE INDIVIDUAL CANCELLATION INFORMATION. KEEP LISTENING TO WXYZ FOR THE LATEST CANCELLATION INFORMATION FIVE TIMES AN HOUR, BROUGHT TO YOU BY (LOCAL SPONSOR)."
The caller waited a moment, then I heard him say, "It's just a answering machine. Tune in the radio, honey..." and hung up.
MY PLAN HAD WORKED!!
The first storm, I had to use the card about a dozen times. Soon, I had the spiel memorized. By the end of the winter storm season, calls requesting cancellations were practically nil.
My boss noted that there had been no recent complaints. I showed him the 3x5 with the message on it.
He laughed and took me out to lunch.
You gotta be smarter than the dumbest listener if you want to survive in radio!!
Dumber than a Catbox full of sh*t (01/16/2008) I never really knew/thought about how hectic it is to get these cancellations on in a timely fashion.
I do know what it is like to be a teacher and find out when you get to work that the school is closed. Or to be told by the head of the school system that the prior 3 days that you busted your ass getting to work that these are now "snow days" and those who did not show-up are not going to be docked any days or pay.
And I do know what it is like to have to go to work to watch other's children but can't find care for your own child--why? Because your kid's school is closed but yours is not:(
I guess that parents trying to find care for their children at the last minute brings on the nastiness--and that stinks for those (the radio and tv personnel) who are trying to get the info out there.
the confessor (01/19/2008) It's a mixed blessing. I've by fortune never been at a completely unsuccessful radio station. Yet, the very loyalty you inspire is personal and can lead to problems. Small or medium market stations don't provide a huge income or security staff, yet can cause tremedous issues if you're big. Rabid fans will literally chase you around for "stray backstage passes"...
the confessor (01/24/2008) Also, I suspect that some of the callers were just trying to be difficult. More than once, I asked callers where their child went to school, only to have them snap "just give me all of the cancellations". Sorry, lady, but I broadcast to thousands at a time, not one-by-one over the phone!!
avid reader (01/24/2008) By god, you're a genius!! Most excellent! Thanks for sharing. =)