Clear Channel inAction

Perhaps you think media consolidation does not affect our everyday lives. Please read the following story (from Democracy Now!) and try to explain that to the residents of Minot, ND.

Five years ago, a one-hundred-twelve car train derailed just outside Minot, North Dakota – the state’s fourth largest city. The accident occurred shortly before two in the morning on January 18, 2002. Minutes later, the train’s conductor called the local emergency dispatch.

Two hundred forty thousand gallons of anhydrous ammonia leaked out of the train producing a vapor plume that floated over the town. Limited exposure burns the eyes, the skin, and the lungs. Larger doses can shut down the human respiratory system.

The chemical leak in Minot ended up killing one person. Approximately 330 were treated for immediate health problems and more than 1,000 people needed medical care for recurring illnesses in the next month. But questions remain to this day over how the crisis was handled and the role played by media consolidation.

The radio giant Clear Channel owned all six commercial stations in Minot, North Dakota. None of them broke into regular programming to provide emergency information to the city’s residents. After the town’s Emergency Alert System failed, local officials tried to call the stations, but no one answered. The stations continued to play music piped in from out of state.

The independent media program ‘Democracy Now!‘ broadcast some of the emergency phone calls placed by Minot residents, which you can listen to here using Real Player.

I would like to repeat once again that radio airwaves are public property and should serve in the public interest.

4 Responses

  1. I’d like to know why no one answered the phone calls before condemning Clear Channel on this particular instance. was no one there, or did they knowingly ignore the calls? I hardly think that it serves their interests to ignore the calls. a protocol should be set up to avoid this in the future, but that requires collaboration w/ the town.

    I think more blame should be placed on the town. its emergency system failed, and it did not plan ahead for such contingencies (unless you consider ‘hey, i’ll call you if out system fails’ a backup plan).

  2. No one was there because all the stations were voice tracking from out-of-state.

  3. Contrary to the statements presented in the article, Clear Channel was not solely responsible for the communication failure that occurred during the train derailment in Minot. While Station KCJB (Clear Channel) was staffed 24/7 with an on-duty announcer, the local police attempted to notify the announcer via an outdated emergency response hotline rather than by utilizing the automated notification system the station had installed in 1997. This obsolete hotline called into the station’s switchboard, which was concurrently being inundated by phone calls from local residents seeking information.

    As word of the derailment spread, off-duty station personnel tried calling their police contacts for information regarding the accident, but the police phone lines were also being flooded with calls, which inhibited station personnel from making contact.

    Following the incident, the KCJB engineer discovered that Minot police had changed the emergency broadcast frequency which the department used without notifying the station, thus making the system incompatible, which further prevented effective communication of the derailment.

  4. very interesting, but I don’t agree with you

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