Monday, March 3, 2008

Kudos to KBHB Radio

(Originally posted on July 8, 2007)

Extremely dry conditions in the southern Black Hills, coupled with hot temperatures and gusty winds, are hampering firefighters trying to subdue the “Alabaugh Fire” about five miles southwest of Hot Springs.

We’re saddened to learn that one person has been killed and two firefighters injured in incidents related to this fire. News reports say 27 homes have been destroyed by the wildfire, apparently started by lightning in Alabaugh Canyon.

We first learned of the fire Saturday night (July 7th) in Crawford, Nebraska, where we heard a public service radio dispatcher announce an appeal for assistance in fighting a wildfire in Fall River County South Dakota.

Sunday afternoon, as we drove north from Crawford, Nebraska to Spearfish, South Dakota, I listened up and down the radio dial seeking information about the fire.

I first tried the Hot Springs AM radio station at 580 on the dial. I heard nothing but country music. Switching to KOTA in Rapid City, I heard the CBS network news at both 2:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m., leading their newscasts with information about massive wilfires in the western states, including South Dakota. They reported the death related to the fire near Hot Springs, but there was little detail. We heard no local follow-up on KOTA following the network news. Admittedly, I was hop-scotching across the dial -- hoping to hear something, and I may well have missed coverage by stations. But I doubt it. I was trying all afternoon, but with little success.

At 4:00 p.m., an ABC network news report over KBHB Sturgis told about the evacuation of homes in the Hot Springs area, along with an excerpt from a fire official with a few details. Following the network news, KBHB’s Gary Matthews provided the only substantive local information we could find about the fire. It included more depth and greater detail than contained in the ABC network report. And it was the ONLY local radio report about the fire that we could locate on our car radio.

Our hats off to KBHB in Sturgis for providing these reports (we heard subsequent updates) and for caring enough to provide news and information that affect residents of the Black Hills region.

I know the story was picked up by the Associated Press, and KOTA-TV, the KELOland stations, and others have undoubtedly carried the story, since there is evidence on their web sites that their stations have broadcast the story.

But Sunday afternoon, some 18 hours after the fire was first reported, radio listeners in western South Dakota were hard pressed to find ANY information about the incident.

Alas, lots of radio stations are largely automated, especially on weekends, playing music fed to them via satellite. They provide little, if any, local and regional news reports. We know of at least one Black Hills radio station whose newscasts rely on newspaper clippings – often from yesterday’s edition!!

It is sad that so many radio stations offer so little original news reporting.

Kudos to KBHB and Gary Matthews for recognizing that local news and public affairs reporting is a key ingredient in providing real service to their listeners – not just canned music and network programs.

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