New Orleans is clean tonight. January 10, 2008. The trash left behind the LSU win over Ohio State on Monday is bagged and on the curb. At the same time they’ve been cleaning, city workers are prepping for Mardi Gras, set to begin in just a few weeks. The police barricades and parade seating staged and ready for the reveille.
If you flew into the airport, traveled to downtown New Orleans and checked into your hotel, there’s a good chance you wouldn’t see much of the remains of Hurricane Katrina. If I didn’t know from childhood experiences that the tall building adjacent to the interstate used to be Charity Hospital or from a visit last year that those white trailers parked in front yards are FEMA trailers, it could be that you could arrive, check in and begin enjoying the city without one thought of Hurricane Katrina.
But on this trip, I can’t get Hurricane Katrina off my mind. In fact it’s been on my mind since the fall of 2006 when I happened upon the story of the United Radio Broadcasters of New Orleans, an effort to bring radio back on the air quickly amid the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. I teach broadcasting at Elon University in North Carolina. I’ve been teaching broadcasting for about 20 years and with each year, I talk about broadcast radio less and less. The radio industry is working to stay meaningful amid a sea of competing digital music found on self programmed i-pods and the commercial-free efficiency of satellite radio. Every year I ask my students the same question, how many of you listen to local radio? Fewer each year raise their hand. So when I read about a vibrant, meaningful act by radio, specifically two radio groups Clear Channel and Entercom; I was excited. Radio was taking the lead, recognizing the role it serves as an industry—a role that includes significant investment in the communities it serves.
With me are 10 young Elon University students interested in careers in some shape or form that fall within the broadcast industry. They’ll be talking with radio leadership, public safety officials, engineers, disc jockeys and radio news broadcasters, learning as much as they can in the following days to support the reading and research they’ve been doing. The New Orleans radio industry has a story to tell, one every radio stakeholder in America’s cities can learn from and our goal is to capture that during our journey here.
The need for local media coverage is the one attribute I personally hope to explore while I’m here. We are a more transient society in every aspect. As a result, the role of media in providing local, national and international coverage is responding to that. The events of Hurricane Katrina demonstrated that while national news coverage of events can highlight and provide information, it can’t explain why. Only local coverage, local perspective can provide meaning, historical analysis and ultimately solutions to events in our communities.