Monday, 21 January 2013


Typically, we get around 6,000 people per day coming onto the Free Radio website, to check out a contest say, or look for some local information. That number represents around 1% of our regular audience.

However, on Friday of last week we had 97,000 people check in, and on Sunday we had 137,000 unique users - getting on for 20% of our total audience. The site actually crashed for a short time on Friday, traffic was so intense (boffins have now injected more oomph into it I am told).

And of course its all due to the snow, and its effect on schools.

Most schools these days have their own snowlines you can dial into, can tweet and text parents, host their own on-line information, and councils are increasingly good at collating all this school data into their own sites....and yet, when snow strikes  and schools close, local radio still becomes one of the first ports of call for parents.

Why is this? I suspect a couple of reasons. firstly they know our web address (do you know your council's or your kid's school web address?) and they trust that we'll have the information on our front page. Also, because people are more easily connected these days (smartphones, tablets etc) there's no need to wait for a computer to warm up in the morning - folk can go directly to our website from their phones and see if we have up to date information. There's a bit of folk memory going on too for parents, from the days when they were at school and we were the only game in town!

And boy, do we try to have up to date info. As David Lloyd  my group  PD put it to me today, we suddenly have to become experian as well as a radio station, because so many people are whizzing bits of information at us. For a biggish patch like the West Midlands you are talking about literally thousands of schools, and quite complex logistical issues in sorting, collating and displaying all this data. We like to think we got most stuff right (and a thank you goes out to all the staff who helped out at our stations over the last few days - and their equivalents up and down the country) but it does put a bit of a strain on our resources. Most stations run lean, so dragging staff in at 5.30 in the morning does mean less essential stuff doesn't get done.

There's no way of course that we can ever get the full lists actually broadcast over the air - those days are long gone, and I suspect when we did attempt to do it many years ago it was the dullest radio going. Adding in lots of T&T must have made those breakfast shows back before the internet interminable for people without kids, especially if they weren't planning on going out anywhere! Now it's a nod in the right direction by doing one or two of the latest closures, and a big push to check out the website.

Certainly this approach seems to be effective. The Q1 rajar data release always seems to be a good one for us, and although the seasonal bad weather only normally lasts for a few days, it must help pull a few listeners across from the networks - for a while at least!

And the fact is that if our experience is repeated elsewhere, literally millions of people in the UK must have gone on-line to local radio station websites every day over the past few days - and that says something fundamentally reassuring about our place in society.

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