WDEL Blog: Allan Loudell

Oklahoma tornado beyond words...

What can be said about that devastating Oklahoma tornado - now confirmed as an EF5 - that underscored the fragility of life and temporarily made most of America's political battles and scandals look so utterly trite in comparison?

(Indeed, one expects the Oklahoma disaster coverage to dominate over-the-air & cable news for at least a couple of news cycles.)

This Oklahoma disaster does prompt this discussion topic: Did you ever turn down a job in a different part of the country - or resist moving somewhere - for fear of a disproportionate risk for natural disasters?

Of course, living almost ANYWHERE exposes us to SOME risk: Here in Delmarva, of course, hurricanes (and occasional small tornadoes) plus flooding of low-lying areas. But whether it be the likelihood of ferocious storms in the so-called "Tornado Alley" - that wide swath extending from the Texas panhandle to Midwest - or earthquakes, wildfires, mudslides, etc., in certain portions of California; and nearly yearly hurricanes in eastern North Carolina; or hurricanes, disproportionate lightning fatalities, and sinkholes in Florida, it does seem certain portions of the country are extraordinarily susceptible to such natural disasters.

Continuing coverage of this disaster is available from The OKLAHOMAN's website...


And coverage from The NEW YORK TIMES...


By mid-afternoon, the National Weather Service confirmed the killer twister was an F5. (EF5 these days!)
(not that this distinction matters very much to the victims!)

But I recall this scene from the movie, "Twister", where the character played by Jamie Gertz (now of ABC's "The Neighbors") - "Melissa Reeves" in the movie - asks the tornado spotters around her what an F5 tornado would be like...


Posted at 6:43am on May 21, 2013 by Allan Loudell

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Comments on this post:

Tue, May 21, 2013 8:11am
I wonder what Westboro Baptist will say this tornado is god's punishment for? Not a lot of gays in Oklahoma City. Heck, Anita Bryant lives there.

Tue, May 21, 2013 8:27am

Tue, May 21, 2013 8:56am

The Oklahoma storms is another illustration of what I call news burnout.

In the wake of a big story such as the Boston bombings, the news media go way overboard in saturating the airwaves and internet with the same story over and over for a week and a half. It's the same handful of facts regurgitated over and over on every show from 5 am until midnight and it continues for several weeks. News burnout makes it very hard to watch TV or read the internet because of the inundation of the same facts over and over again.

I propose the media reports it once, when the story first breaks, and then returns to other topics in the news.

Tue, May 21, 2013 9:39am
teatime: Agreed. But finding THE BIG STORY and then obsessing about it is the only way they can get people to watch and keep people watching. Otherwise, they go back to talk shows.

It's funny that they can only handle one obsession at a time. If the plant explosion hadn't happened in the same week as the Boston Marathon, they would have obsessed about that, too.

Notice how the right-wing media avoid the obvious: More violent weather (and more frequent violent weather) is a result of climate change.

Allan Loudell
Tue, May 21, 2013 9:58am

Didn't you at one time indicate on this very blog that you invested in stocks - including even Clear Channel?

Then you have an inherent interest in broadcasters RETAINING audiences, and staying with the big story is how they do it. Mr. Smith is correct. Except I'd add some women viewers and listeners go not back to talk-shows (at least not political talk shows) but back to the entertainment on daytime TV or music radio!

That said, I will not be wall-to-wall Oklahoma City during my news blocks today. (Although talk of storms, climate change, etc., is dominating Al Mascitti's program this A.M.)
Neither will public radio nor the PBS "News Hour".

But gang, I'd love to return to my original question posted above: Have you ever NOT moved somewhere - even for a decent job opportunity or a change of pace - because you feared that particular place was extraordinarily prone to disaster?

Allan Loudell

Tue, May 21, 2013 10:56am
My fear of Indonesian-spawned tsunamis would preclude me from setting up camp in the Maldives....

Tue, May 21, 2013 11:19am
"Neither will public radio nor the PBS "News Hour"."

Morning Edition had five separate storm-related pieces this morning plus references to it going into other stories (more storm coverage coming but first...). When they don't talk about THE BIG STORY, it's almost like they apologize for not talking about it.

teatime: If you bought Clear Channel, I'm sorry for your loss. That one sank like a rock in a pond.

No, I have never not moved someplace because it seemed disaster prone. The Midwest has always been tornado alley but storms like this one and Joplin seem a more recent phenomenon (global warming at work). That said, I don't understand those people who live in flood plains, get flooded out on a regular basis, and keep moving back -- with the media treating them as heroes (not idiots) when they vow to rebuild. Of course, the taxpayers foot the bill each time.

Eurasia has a number of archeological sites where cities used to be located. Often the reason is those sites were disaster-prone and people moved away. In the Americas, we still have cities in disaster-prone spots and an over-abundance of hubris that keeps people from moving some place safe. New Orleans will flood again. San Francisco will have another earthquake. Sea levels will rise and New York will flood again. The Delmarva peninsula will become an archipelago but people won't learn and won't move.

Tue, May 21, 2013 3:21pm
When I made my comment about getting and keeping viewers, I was thinking of the cable news channels, and specifically of CNN (which historically sees huge drops in audience when nothing big is happening).

The over-the-air networks are not primarily news networks and have other means of getting and keeping viewers. Yet, they are rushing to join the obsession.

"Oklahoma tornado news specials to air during primetime Tuesday night on ABC, NBC and CBS

ABC will expand "World News Tonight" to an hour and devote 'Nightline' to the story; NBC News plans a one-hour special, 8-9 p.m.; CBS will expand "The CBS Evening News" to 90 minutes."
Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/tv-movies/oklahoma-tornado-specials-air-primetime-nets-article-1.1350627#ixzz2TxLzsfid

I am sick of the over-the-air networks cancelling regular shows or changing schedules on a whim, and at the last minute. I find it especially annoying when I go to watch a show a few days later (I almost never watch live TV) and find it was preempted. It's especially annoying when they move a show out of its normal time slot and then run it instead of another show. Can't these over-paid suits make a schedule and stick to it?

PS: To my earlier post: I suspect the main reason people decide not to move someplace is fear of crime, not fear of natural disasters. However, both fears are largely manufactured by cynical media hype.

Tue, May 21, 2013 4:06pm
Regurgitating the same story over and over again doesn't retain viewers but drives them away. I know: I turn the channel.

Tue, May 21, 2013 6:19pm
teatime: Me, too. Before cable we were stuck. All the channels were running the same thing. Now we have cable, on demand, DVD, recorded DVR shows, but the networks still act like they can force people to watch. I remember reading NBC's policy for beating CBS was to stay on the air 30 minutes longer. Talk abut warped thinking.

Allan Loudell
Tue, May 21, 2013 7:00pm
But none of us are - by the nature of our discussions here - average viewers and listeners.

You're forgetting about the importance of CUME in ratings... CUME, defined as the number of different persons who listen or watch a station during a specific period, otherwise known as unduplicated audience, reach or circulation.

Consider: The mass audience becomes aware of a big, big story. It tunes into one of the cable news channels. If that channel is doing a story OTHER than the big story, it's likely many members of that audience will check out the next cable news channel. (Of course, people who are really into it may switch between news channels during commercial breaks!)

Sure, the coverage becomes repetitive and duplicative - even fatiguing - but the news channels realize most folks won't stay with them for hours at a time. However, they may come back after watching an entertainment show. Furthermore, even though the time spent viewing or listening may suffer from the repetition, the theory is the cume - the number of different individuals viewing or listening - will shoot so high as to make-up for the tune-outs.

People tune in and tune out.

It's the nature of the media platform. The very same news channels which are offering nearly 24-7 coverage (I agree, obsessive) because of the tune-in/tune-out phenomenon can afford to do something different with their websites. Yes, the Oklahoma tornado story will dominate, but because the news organizations realize people on their sites can CHOOSE content, in that case, offering more variety has the effect of keeping folks on their sites longer. But frequent updates of the big story can build cume as well. So it's the best of both worlds with a website. See what I'm saying?

I don't think the over-the-air networks want to completely forfeit their news imaging, so they go for the extended network 'casts on big events. Remember, they're doing more than one evening newscast anyway - for the different time-zones - so it's no particular skin off their backs.

Plus, the 7--8 p.m. time period goes to the local stations - that's why you have syndicated game shows, etc., during that period - so it's not as though they're pre-empting a network show.

Of course, if news breaks later in the night -- i.e., that Friday evening when police were moving in on the Boston Marathon bomber -- all bets are off.

As one who has a few favorite entertainment shows on TV, I share Mr. Smith's distress over cancelling regular shows - or changing schedules - seemingly at the drop of a hat.

Allan Loudell

Tue, May 21, 2013 7:29pm
Allan Loudell: All you say may be true but I think there's an additional factor, no less significant. You people like doing news play by play. It gets you all jazzed. We can hear it in your voices (and see it on TV in body language). Like firemen and alarms, and cops and sirens.

Tue, May 21, 2013 10:09pm
My condolences and prayers to the victims of the Oklahoma tornado.

Allan Loudell
Wed, May 22, 2013 5:54am
Mr. Smith---

I both agree and disagree.

I purposely didn't go into television news, in part, because I didn't want to chase 'blood 'n guts' and tabloid-type news.

That trend in TV news - especially local TV news - was even evident in the late 1960's and early '70's.

I grew up listening to Chicago's WBBM Newsradio, which had a political editor, City Hall beat reporter, Springfield Capitol reporters (although some came from the two statewide news networks at the time), etc.

I distinctly remember visiting my first two radio stations in 1966 - WCVS and WTAX - both in Springfield. I had visited the Illinois Capitol, and saw reporters preparing their stories. That turned me on to a career in broadcasting, and specifically, radio news.

Sure, with all-news coverage of a breaking story, the adrenalin flows, and reporters get into what they're doing.

That said, one of the reasons I didn't accept a job offer (out of college) from KFH Wichita - even though it was for more money than where I eventually landed - was, in part, because of my fear of being in "tornado alley", and having to cover those kinds of stories. (Not that Memphis was much better, and I didn't immediately realize at the time the potential perils of living in the New Madrid earthquake zone!)

Ironically, not long after Elvis died, I ended up covering the aftermath of a small twister which moved up along Elvis Presley Boulevard not far from Graceland.

By the way, I'm not sure young would-be broadcasters get very much experience in doing "news play-by-play", as you put it. Few classes, or college stations, or internships provide ANY opportunities in that regard.

Allan Loudell

Wed, May 22, 2013 10:08am
Allan Loudell: I guess they would get their experience doing actual sports play-by-play. I saw a documentary of the life of Walter Cronkite after he died, and he started doing football and baseball games - and those were games he didn't actually attend. They mentioned Ronald Reagan started out the same way. From what I've read, kids all want to do sports, but I guess some don't make the cut and end up in news.

I'm still trying to figure out what makes something THE BIG STORY and not others. Boston and Oklahoma City: Yes. West, Texas and Cleveland: No. Sandy: Not quite.

And it's all the adrenalin-fueled "breaking news" play-by-play with speculation and unchecked "facts" and excessive repetition that gets the media into trouble. They really do a better job with sports. Maybe because with sports they deal with something that IS happening. So-called "breaking news" coverage is about something that has already happened and they go on the air and try to figure it out on the air, instead of finding out and then going on the air. "Cume" trumps credibility.

Notice on TV shows and in movies that "journalists" are always dishonest, sleazy, opportunistic and indifferent to the damage they cause people? Even the media don't like the media.

Wed, May 22, 2013 12:34pm
Interesting map showing all killer tornadoes in the US since 1950.

Allan Loudell
Wed, May 22, 2013 2:25pm
Interesting map confirming that some killer twisters have actually occurred significantly further north from what we normally think of as Tornado Alley. Canada, too, has seen some killer tornadoes.

On the sports play-by-play issue: As you know, it was news that turned me on to broadcasting - not sports - and society's hyperfocus on sports repels me.

Honestly, I can think of a lot of people who worked with me in high school and college radio who did news or jocked and had no interest in doing sports play-by-play.

However, I created opportunities at my high school and college radio stations for young people to get experience at ad-libbing breaking news when I orchestrated wall-to-wall, all-news election coverage.

For the 1972 election, for example, I planned all-news election night coverage for all but one of the high school stations in the Chicago area. We had teens reporting from the various campaign headquarters in Chicago and the suburbs. Then Los Angeles Times reporter Jack Nelson wrote about our coverage - from the Robert F. Kennedy hearings on high school journalism - in his book, CAPTIVE VOICES: HIGH SCHOOL JOURNALISM in AMERICA (1974).

Allan Loudell

Wed, May 22, 2013 3:11pm
Allan Loudell: Not to take away from an early accomplishment, did your high school station do election night coverage because it's what you wanted to do or because it was what your fellow students wanted to listen to? I have long suspected that the kind of extended, over-the-top, cancel-regular-shows "coverage" happens not because the audience wants it, but because news types like to do it and like the adrenalin rush. Back in 1972, the news divisions could exercise a monopoly over TV and there would be nothing else on - like they wanted to force people to watch.

Allan Loudell
Wed, May 22, 2013 3:46pm
Fair question.

Yes, I spearheaded it and it was what I wanted to do.

I plead guilty to being a "news type". But I had absolutely no difficulty recruiting students for this enterprise -- at our high school -- or others.

Indeed, several students said later - on graduating - it was one of the most exciting things they had done as high school students. Some recalled election night in my yearbook.

Within literally this past year, I heard from a student who credited me with igniting in him a lifelong interest in politics, which today finds him as a press secretary to the Illinois Governor.

By the way, since - in those days we signed off the air on weekdays at six or seven P.M., we hardly pre-empted any regular shows. (These days, my high school station is automated overnights!) All-news coverage gave us a chance to keep our station on-the-air until the early hours of the morning. (I arranged for parent chaperones past curfew!)

Some of the other high school stations didn't do news as consistently as we did (I even secured a first-ever high school radio station affiliation with - then - Group W, Westinghouse Broadcasting, at the time!), but I still managed to get other high school radio stations to sign on.

I hasten to add that it was students - not faculty - taking the initiative at many of these stations.

Did students listen? As a practical matter, I assume those deeply interested in politics probably watched the TV networks. Not us. Got some feedback from parents, though.

By the way, I will stick out my neck and argue, though, that during that time a higher proportion of young people - energized by Vietnam, civil rights, environmentalism, and even early gender equality - DID seriously follow politics to a greater extent than today. Just being in the Chicago area may have fostered that environment. Unlike in many metropolitan areas, people in the 'burbs actually talked about the first Mayor Daley. Maybe because Chicago sports teams were usually so dismal, some - or many of us - heard our parents talking about - and debating - politics...

Our high school paper - then and now - covered real news, whether it be the fallout from Vietnam, gay students (This was 1971 or '72... something Delaware high school papers - the few still existing - would be afraid or unable to touch, even today!), racial relations, biracial dating & the like, even the coming arrest of a student for the murder of another student (for which, in the pre-internet era, the Chicago TV stations sent couriers to pick up our paper, so they could show our papar on television, as a lead story!).

In the case of network TV, I think you know the real story: The networks - at least in the '50's through the early '70's - saw their news divisions as the pinnacle of their networks, compensating for crap programming!

Allan Loudell

Wed, May 22, 2013 6:32pm
Allan Loudell: What you say tells me that broadcast news has an internal focus and a focus on the competition - not on the customer or end user, whatever you call the audience. Maybe that explains, at least in part, the media's lack of credibility with said audience.

"In the case of network TV, I think you know the real story: The networks - at least in the '50's through the early '70's - saw their news divisions as the pinnacle of their networks, compensating for crap programming!"

I'm sorry. I must disagree here. As I understand it, the networks did news because they were required to. They did not expect to make money from it. Any "compensation" was because of government edit, not guilt. And I don't agree that programming was "crap." A number of shows from that era still entertain audiences, people whose parents were not yet born when those shows first aired. I Love Lucy. The Honeymooners. Andy Griffith. Even The Beverly Hillbillies, denounced then by critics and still getting laughs.

Others are fondly remembered and acknowledged by critics as true classics: Jack Benny. Burns and Allen. Naked City. The Fugitive. Maverick.

News people seem to have an "eat your vegetables" attitude; if people like it, it must be crap.

I looked up a quote from Paddy Chayefsky's "Network." Women responsible for "crap" speaking to head of the news division.

"I watched your 6 o'clock news today; it's straight tabloid. You had a minute and a half of that lady riding a bike naked in Central Park; on the other hand, you had less than a minute of hard national and international news. It was all sex, scandal, brutal crime, sports, children with incurable diseases, and lost puppies. So, I don't think I'll listen to any protestations of high standards of journalism when you're right down on the streets soliciting audiences like the rest of us. Look, all I'm saying is if you're going to hustle, at least do it right."

Allan Loudell
Wed, May 22, 2013 7:02pm
Mr. Smith...

Of course, there's a competitive element, but in the quest for audience, you're trying to focus on the audience, because that enhances your competitive position.

But I must not be that competitive, because I have locked horns with consultants over the years.

To your next point, yes, you had a news requirement, but I also remember reading several accounts that the early network pioneers shook their heads over some of the mass-common-denominator programming, and did take pride in their news divisions as being the very best of their networks. (Sorry, I can't recall specific titles in this case.) Yes, to some extent, it was elitist.

Actually, I'm a little surprised you disagree with my "crap" characterization; I put that in for you.

Yes, the networks gave us some classic shows, often derided by urban critics as too cornball & rural. And the legal & cop shows. And late night.

But, I must admit - by high school and college - I watched very little television entertainment, even when afforded the opportunity.

I've commented before about how at least some newspeople feel the need to balance tabloid stories with "hard news", so you may be onto something about the vegetables.

(Although I dislike that analogy since I often seek vegetarian or seafood & veggie meals not just for health but for taste; I just don't understand why so many Americans love greasy food in the morning, and consider a steak the ultimate!)

(I also sense a generational thing going on; my impression is many of the young people going into local TV news, in particular, feel no such internal conflict between the news that "matters" and tabloid news. They just want to be on TV.)

From the period of 1969 through about 1975 - when I first began attending broadcast news conventions - I recall several sessions where hardened journalists who had covered wars - or say, state government - clashed with some program directors or consultants who were telling them to lighten up.

Allan Loudell

Wed, May 22, 2013 8:40pm
Allan Loudell: Looking back to the turn of the 20th century and to the great newspaper circulation wars and the "yellow journalism" of Hearst, Pulitzer and others, it seems the news industry has returned to its roots.

I've read that the Daily Mail website is the most visited news site in the world, surpassing the New York Times.

Maybe the era of news respectability and objectivity was an anomaly.

There is a lot of "crap" in any form of endeavor. Crap books. Crap movies. Crap music. Crap plays. Crap restaurants (which are responsible for the growth of fast food chains which are at least predictable and consistent). I have done some traveling and there used to be a lot of bad news (at least Gannett, the newspaper equivalent of the fast food chain, maintains a minimum and predictable standard). And, yes, a lot of terrible radio, too. You may have cause personally to dislike Clear Channel and one-size-fits-all national talk radio but like McDonald's it offers an acceptable standard of quality and consistent performance. The antidote to crap creates problems of its own.

Not sure why you'd think I consider TV crap. My Tivo has Season Passes to 22 shows. Maybe a third have new episodes in a given week but still that's plenty I want to watch.

In 1972, when you were doing high school election returns, the TV networks aired: All In The Family, Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart, MASH, Carol Burnett, Room 222, The Odd Couple, Sonny and Cher, Flip Wilson, Adam 12, the original Hawaii Five-O, Gunsmoke, Columbo, all of which I'd watch again (some I do watch again on cable). And yes, some crap, too. Still, not a bad batting average.

Allan Loudell
Thu, May 23, 2013 5:56am
Actually, I did enjoy a lot of the shows you mention.

Admittedly, "crap" may be in the eyes of the beholder.

For example, my favorite current show is probably "Big Bang Theory". And although I have DVD's of all 12 seasons of the original "Hawaii Five O", I do enjoy the current version. Honestly, it may exceed the original series in terms of character development.

With its extensive treatment of the U.S. scene, and tons of photos, I'm not surprised about the DAILY MAIL's success on line.

Amazing how far we've wandered from the original topics...

Allan Loudell

Thu, May 23, 2013 9:44am
"Amazing how far we've wandered from the original topics..."

That's how conversation works.

"With its extensive treatment of the U.S. scene, and tons of photos, I'm not surprised about the DAILY MAIL's success on line."

Websites often know where you are when you visit. US visitors see the US version of the site. Click on "UK Home" on the Blue Banner across the top of the page to see what Brits see. The Guardian also shows a US version of the site but lets you see the UK version, too.

MikeFromDelaware: In this morning's Daily Mail...

"The embarrassing moment Wolf Blitzer asks mother if she thanked the Lord for surviving tornado... and she tells him she's an atheist

In a clip going viral on the internet, CNN's Blitzer asks survivor Rebecca Vitsmun: 'I guess you got to thank the Lord. Right?' After an uncomfortable pause, Vitsmun replies: 'I... I'm actually an atheist.' Clearly taken aback that anyone in the area could not believe in God, Blitzer scrambles to recover. 'You are. All right. But you made the right call,' he says

There is a not-so subtle Christian bias (or pandering) in the media when after any disaster they talk about prayers. Ditto politicians who make a point of saying their prayers are with people ... like any of these hypocrites really pray. And if they do, like they'd ever pray for anybody but themselves. ("Dear Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz...")

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