TV And Severe Weather: Stations Save Lives

Raycom Media’s head of research, Billy McDowell, conducted a survey of the viewers in its Southern stations in the wake of this April’s devastating tornadoes. He learned that 71% of adults living in those affected areas first learned about the approaching storms through TV. At a focus group recently, one of the participants said of a local meteorologist: "He saved my life." Says McDowell on the value of TV stations’ service to their communities: “No other endorsement is needed.”

Chances are you know someone who has been affected by the floods, fires, tornadoes, earthquakes or hurricanes this past year. You may have even been impacted yourself. In Alabama, on April 27, a series of tornadoes destroyed more than 13,000 homes and killed 246 people in a matter of a few hours. The storms hit very close to home — physically and emotionally — with our Montgomery, Birmingham and Huntsville stations directly affected.

It was impressive to see the stations spring into action with life-saving information for our communities as the storms approached and then with wall-to-wall coverage of the aftermath.

In an effort to fully understand our viewer’s needs in the wake of the storms, the senior management at Raycom Media commissioned me to do a survey in our three affected DMAs as well as Tuscaloosa, the area with the most damage.

We learned that 71% of adults living in these affected areas first learned about the approaching storms through TV. Schools and businesses were closed early in an effort to get people off the roads and 75% of residents were at home when the storms hit. Seventy-nine percent were tracking the storms on TV as they impacted their communities.

It is probably not surprising that viewers relied on their local stations more than any other medium for information on the storms. This was true for every age group, including 18-24 year-olds, and was particularly true in African-American households, which relied on television at a higher rate than the population in general.

We received many comments putting emotion behind these numbers. Many said that next time, they would “stay tuned to the weather reports” and “keep a close eye on the news” in order to stay safe. Some went so far to say they would “make sure I have a battery-powered TV.” I conducted a focus group recently and when the conversation turned to one local meteorologist, one of the participants said: “He saved my life.” No other endorsement is needed.


Power was an issue, especially in Huntsville. Many in that area reported they could not watch TV because of power outages. So they turned to radio, which ranked as the second-highest medium during the crisis. Because TV stations have partnered with radio stations during breaking weather and news events, radio listeners were actually able to get the same information as TV viewers were.

Although only a few (5%) of respondents reported going to the Internet for information tracking the storms, half of those were going to a station websites. Additionally, 5% were receiving information on mobile sites. Stations were active in distributing information via their own broadcasts, on the radio, on the Internet and even on mobile to keep their communities safe.

People all over the country look to TV stations in a crisis. Consider the earthquake that shook up the East Coast of the United States. Nielsen reported afternoon ratings in Washington, Richmond, Norfolk and Baltimore doubled or tripled for the major affiliates on the day of the quake. The local TV website traffic in Washington jumped as much as 261% from the previous day.

Hurricane Irene provides another example. In the 12 East Coast markets in the path of the hurricane, from Myrtle Beach to Boston, ratings were 59% to 78% higher than normal from Friday through Sunday, according to Rentrak.

I have lived through enough disasters to know how important the information reported by local TV can be in times of crisis. The preparation and planning by our stations enable them to function when many other services are shut off. They are able to provide real-time intelligence on the tracking of storms, instructions on how to survive and deal with the crisis, as well as guide the efforts for cleaning up and putting the communities back together.

The real reason local TV is able to do that so effectively is because they are serving their communities on a daily basis and earning the trust of viewers.

The data from our surveys simply prove once again what we already know to be fact — local TV is the most desired medium for getting the information we need. That is my plan for weathering the next storm.


Billy McDowell is VP of research for Raycom Media, which owns 36 full-power and two low-power stations in 36 markets.


To read other Sales Office columns, click here.

Comments (0)

Leave a Reply