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Subj: [PR:1198] Our Credibility Problem
Date: 03/04/2001 7:49:14 PM Pacific Standard Time

Greetings All:

What follows is an abject lesson in how NOT to promote ham radio -- and a lesson in why ham radio is largely ignored by the mainstream media.

As some on this list know, I am both a ham, a former ranking officer of NYC ARES/RACES and an active volunteer in both the RACES and SKYWARN programs in Rockland County, NY. I am also the former three-term president of the Broadcast Employees Amateur Radio Society at ABC TV & Radio in NYC. And I earn my living as the chief night assignment editor for WABC-TV Eyewitness News in NYC.

That's all by way of saying that I've been on both sides of the amateur radio PR issue.

For about a year now, WABC-TV has had in place something we call the SKYWARN WeatherWatcher program -- a cooperative venture with the National Weather Service in Upton, LI through which we solicit severe weather observations from SKYWARN volunteers. The program was our idea...and is vigorously supported by NWS.

Sadly, it has received almost no support from local hams -- some of the same local hams who whine that the media never give them their due, and who wring their hands over the declining interest in ham radio vis-a-vis other new communications modalities, like the Internet.

Tonight...for example...the greater NYC area is under a winter storm warning and coastal flood warning for a storm some have predicted would be among the worst in 50 years. SKYWARN was activated region-wide early on, and we asked one of the local coordinators to remind his volunteers to forward their observations to us -- via e-mail, landline or cellphone -- AFTER they had reported in to NWS.

Here's the response we got:

"In the paper WABC provided at the coordinator's meeting, it states: 'Remember, as a Skywarn volunteer, your first obligation is to report your observations to the nearest National Weather Service office or your local Skywarn coordinator. Then, call ABC/7 Eyewitness News. You'll be credited on the air, your observations will allow our weathercasters to present more accurate and current forecasts, and the Skywarn program will benefit from increased public awareness of its vital mission.'

"My personal opinion: It's your call. If you want the publicity, go ahead. Ch 7 is way down on my list of stations to watch for weather. And I do believe the motives are only for ratings which all stations compete. Again, this is my personal opinion, I would not do it. You may do as you wish. Each county may make policy if you wish. At Skywarn/Upton we will not relay any report to ABC/7. But enough said on my opinions.

Bottom line: All reports should be sent to NWS Upton first and foremost. As volunteers we "work" for NWS.... This is the reason for Skywarn, let us not forget that. If not for NWS there would be no Skywarn program. If any Skywarn "volunteer" wishes to call a report in to WABC please do it secondary to NWS. We are NOT employees of Disney/ABC."

Well, now.

Let's make a few points crystal clear here:

(1)WABC-TV approached NWS with its SKYWARN proposal, primarily because an employee/ham saw an opportunity to improve the station's ability to gather real-time weather info from places where automated weather surveillance gear doesn't exist -- AND promote ham radio's critical public service role.

(2) At every turn, we reminded SKYWARN vols that their participation was voluntary; that it was sanctioned and endorsed by the NWS; and that under any cirumstances they should inform NWS FIRST of their observations, and then call us.

(3) We never asked anyone to violate Part 97 rules and use amateur spectrum to contact us. We don't routinely monitor amateur radio communications in the newsroom. We asked specifically that observers contact us via a tollfree phone # or via a special e-mail address we established expressly for the use of SKYWARN vols.

(4) This has nothing to do with ratings. WABC-TV regularly ranks as the most-watched station for weather coverage of any in NYC. Has been thus for decades. SKYWARN didn't get us there...and won't single-handedly keep us there. And wall-to-wall coverage like this is not a costs us tens of thousands of dollars in outright expenses and blown-out commercial inventory.

(5) We charge tens -- and sometimes -- hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote things on our air. Our program offered free publicity for SKYWARN that would have helped the local NWS office get more funding for its program...and free publicity for a hobby that is struggling to attract new blood and develop high-caliber operators.

(6) The average person out there doesn't know the difference between ham radio and a ham sandwich -- unless of course, they are looking to blame the weirdo with the big tower next door for disruption his TV picture, his wireless phone call -- or opening his garage door spontaneously. Methinks it's high time we came down off our high horse of self-importance.

(7) There is no place for personal opinion in an official communication about an program officially sanctioned by a ham-served client agency. The coordinator had no business injecting his biases for or against this program -- or his factually-inaccurate cynicism -- in a mass-message to his troops.

So...the next time you want to know why our collective plea for more and better press falls so often on deaf ears in the mass media, remember this quote:

"The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves."

Howard Price/KA2QPJ
Chief Night Assignment Editor
WABC-TV Eyewitness News/NYC

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