Level 2

Reaching Out to Radio and Television

There are many ways to get your story out to your local community. For stream monitoring, radio and television are two options your group should consider. With all the media choices available today, radio still reaches a broad audience, broader than you may initially think, and longer lasting. In addition to listening to live radio in cars, at the office and at home, many people are listening to the radio online. Many stations keep archives or podcasts of their programs so listeners can choose the time that is best for them to hear a program or listen to one again.

Talk radio programs provide an opportunity for your organization to reach many people in a personal way. Since these programs last for a significant time period, listeners have time to process the issues you bring to the table and to potentially get immediate answers if it is a call-in show. With decreases in newspaper readership, radio is more important than ever.

While there are some unique approaches to working with radio and television, many of the tips in Developing Effective News Articles in Your Community apply to all media. We recommend you review that section of the website for additional information about building relationships with media, creating your message and writing press releases.

Be Prepared

Just like with newspaper staff, you will be more successful with radio if you build a relationship with the station before you have a breaking story. If they know you, your group and your issues, and trust and respect you, you are more likely to get air time when you contact them about a news story. Over time, you could also become a source for them. When a relevant story breaks, they will know you will have reliable information to share.

What is News?
Many times our idea of what is news is not the same as how reporters see the news. If you have tried to contact a reporter in the past and your calls have not been returned, this may be why. Be sure you are pitching stories that are newsworthy. The exception is when the media outlet is willing to do a general informational piece about your organization. However, it is still important for you to consider a current issue or action that will catch people's attention. Bill Walker, formerly of the Environmental Working Group, shared his thoughts about what is news during a media training:

"News is a story about an unexpected person or group doing an unexpected thing in an unexpected way (or any combination of elements) (i.e., Man bites dog.); News is not the same old folks doing the same old thing in the same old way (i.e., Dog bites man.).

News is a simplistically drawn story of conflict: One side wants one specific thing and the other side wants something else. Who's going to win, or more importantly, who deserves to win? News is not a thoughtful, nuanced discussion of the agenda of ideologues who want everything - or worse - don't know what they want.

News is what the news-consuming public talks about at the water cooler, with the bottom lines being the effects on their pocketbooks, families and lifestyles. News is not what your and your movement believe people should be talking or thinking about.

News is less and less often about what happened yesterday. News is more and more about what will happen tomorrow."

As with any news story, you should be able to provide:

  • A press release with a straight forward summary of the main details
  • Contact information for your group and the main person they should talk to about the story. Including a cell phone number and e-mail address are important in case there is a last minute question.
  • Contact information for experts or other contacts who can fill in the details about the story.

Know the Station
It is very important to know the station, its programs, format, and staff before you contact them. Have some ideas about which program style(s) and specific station programs (e.g., the Green Report that airs daily on the local pop radio station) are best suited for your group/issue.

Let's start with an overview of program styles. Example program styles and water quality monitoring related stories include:

Program Style

Length of Time

Type of Story

WQM Example

Morning or afternoon news brief

15-30 second clip

Breaking news, something that needs immediate attention

Local water quality monitors discover a manure spill.

Morning or afternoon news story

2-4 minute pre-recorded interview

Breaking news, something that needs immediate attention and requires a little background information to understand the issue

Long-term water quality monitoring shows the health of the Pike River is poor. A public meeting will take place to share the findings and discuss solutions.

Community Profile

30-45 minutes, in studio interview with a reporter

General information about your group and its programs, should include at least one action item

Explain your group, the importance of your WQM program, and how citizens can get involved in WQ monitoring. An action item could be a clean up day or a restoration volunteer work day.

Call-in show

30-45 minutes, in studio interview will questions from the public

Focus is on a specific issue, along with an introduction to your group

Could tie to the breaking news stories (above). Explain how the spill was discovered, its source, and what can be done about it - or - how the Pike River's water quality was determined to be poor and how citizens can get involved in improving the river.

Commercial vs. Public Radio Formats and Approaching Staff
There are two main radio station formats, commercial and public. There are a few differences in how you should approach these stations.

At your local commercial radio station, start with the general manager. Ask for five minutes of the manager's time (and mean it) to give them your "elevator pitch." Your elevator pitch should explain what your group would like to accomplish by having air time on their station. Then ask the General Manager what he/she thinks is the best way for your group to be successful on their station. Then wait for their response and listen carefully to their recommendations.

Once you know which reporter(s) are best matched to your issues, get to know them. Give them a tour of your river, show them your issue(s), take them monitoring - all before there is a pressing story. Remember to be enthusiastic; you are "selling" your group and your story.

Follow up with the reporter when you have a story for them to cover.

Public Radio
Wisconsin Public Radio has seven regional studios. Each studio has its own manager and staff.You should introduce your group to them via e-mail or mail and then follow up with a phone call. You should find out their planning style and share with them any upcoming events so they can put you in their schedules.Also find out the best way to reach them with a breaking news story. Because of their limited staff, it may be difficult to get an in-person meeting.

Community Radio
Community radio stations are similar to public radio stations; however they usually have many individual programs. This will require you to get to know all of the program staff that may have an interest in your work. WORT, based in Madison, has a great page on their website, Get on the Air that explains how non-profit organizations can get the word out about their organization on WORT. These tips will apply to most community stations.

Finding Your Local Stations
If you are not sure which stations serve your watershed you can look them up on the website On the Radio.net. You can find your regional Wisconsin Public Radio station online as well.

The Interview
Once you have an interview secured, you need to be prepared. We have included two resources that share some helpful hints about participating in a radio interview:

Radio Tips and Tactics (86 KB pdf file) from Fenton Communications, shares tips for preparing for the interview, conducting an in-studio or phone interview, having a clear message and speaking on the radio.

The Power of Radio- Tips for Great Radio Interviews, provides a top ten list for a successful interview. Be sure to check out tips three and four about choosing words that are memorable on the radio.

Always send a thank you note to the station or reporter after the interview and remember to continue to keep them informed about your work so you stay on their radar screen.

What About TV?

Coverage on your local television station can raise your group's profile and credibility instantly. Many stations like to feature "feel-good" stories. A story about your group and your water quality monitoring could be the positive local story they are looking for.

As always, start by building a relationship with the station and reporters. You should initially contact the newsroom assignment editor. Send your materials and call to introduce your group before you have a story for them to cover. Just like with newspapers and radio, learn about the station, its programs and reporters so you know which ones are most likely to be interested in your issues.

If you are fortunate enough to get your story covered, review TV Tips & Tactics (93 KB pdf file) from Fenton Communications for tips to be prepared for a TV interview.

To find your local television station, visit this website.


Case Study: Friends of Black River on WEAU News Program Our Town

In September 2009, WEAU featured the Friends of the Black River in their series, "Our Town: Black River Falls." This opportunity came about because Friends of the Black River are members of their local Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber contacted its members about the opportunity to be on Our Town: BRF. Our Town BRF is a feature WEAU runs a few times a year spotlighting various small town organizations in the area. After they were selected, a small group brainstormed ideas to discuss on the program and two members were selected to tell the Friends of the Black River story. The video link is no longer available, but the transcript of the interview is available. View transcript >>

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