Monday, 2 February 2009

Snow Patrol

Us ‘Brits’ love a crisis. It gives us something to complain about... and we’re pretty good at complaining, and then usually finding someone to blame. If complaining were an Olympic sport for London 2012, we’d get ‘Gold’ for sure. We’re also pretty good in the media at creating a great sense of ‘national disaster’, particularly when it’s anything to do with the weather.

For my foreign friends, especially those of you in Europe, a little bit of snow for you is ‘par for the course’ and doesn’t exactly ‘put you off your stroke’. In fact, one Euro-PD friend of mine carries a spade in his boot just in case he needs to dig himself out of a snow drift... so he claims!!

So this morning’s snow across the UK has been greeted with a general sense of hysteria by the media. Now, I realise that we only get this amount of snow about once every 20 years, and it’s always more of a story if it effects London more, where all the national media are based! And yes, it causes a massive amount of disruption. (My flight was cancelled this morning, but at least I live pretty close to the airport so was able to pop home without too much trouble...)

But I think there’s a fine line between covering a story really well in news and programming... or pushing the “we’re all doomed” button.

Once I returned from my aborted trip to Heathrow Terminal 5, I whizzed across the radio dial in London to hear what was going on. Johnny Vaughan on Capital seemed to capture the tone really well. Obviously, it was the major talking point, but he spun some nice content from it by getting drivers of SUV’s / 4-Wheel-Drive cars who were feeling smug, to call in and say so!

“Everyone normally hates you. You pay over the odds for it all year long... but today you can feel rightly smug if you drive a 4 Wheel-Drive!”

Spot on. (He also did some nice 'Carry On' style jokes about leaving the house with 9 inches!) And the news and information blocks were spot on too. The weather and all its implications was the only story that ran on an extended 9am bulletin on Capital. (Extended so long that the 5 minute news bed ran out during the travel sequence!)

Meanwhile, over on LBC, they seemed to be going for it big time! Nick Ferrari at Breakfast renamed the station “97.Snow”... which... erm...doesn’t quite work really Nick. And he started claiming that LBC was your ‘Official snow station for the blizzard of 2009’! Haha! Do me a favour..!! Again, nothing wrong with keeping listeners utterly informed and making it the main talking point, but don’t turn yourself into ‘The Day Today’ in the process. Please.

Later on in the morning, one presenter had a ‘gritter’ on the line and implied that country grinding to a halt was practically all the fault of this poor chap! The problem will rolling-news and speech stations is that they need to keep feeding the beast and anything becomes a talking point, even the most dubious content. “What kind of brush is best to use to clear a path? Call us now...”

However, extremes of weather always seem to do ‘radio’ as a medium, a favour I believe. Despite many stations pushing the drama of the event to excess, radio still seems to act as a focal point for the pubic to get up to date information quickly and first, to share experiences, and then inevitably to complain and play the blame game. (Social Networking sites are great at the personal photos, but why don't radio stations get listener pics and galleries on the front page straight away? BBC News have already had 16,000 photos in at the time of writing)

I’d love to hear if you have any other examples of local stations going slightly hysterical with the snow. Meanwhile, I’m off to start my lovely 4-Wheel-Drive SUV and feel smug as I go to the shops to stock up on essential provisions to last me ‘till the spring.

I hear a blizzard is-a-coming...

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