Breaking news…what goes on behind the scenes


Usually, my newsletter comes out on Tuesday, but given this past Tuesday’s special coverage of the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial, we decided to wait until today.

You might be wondering what goes into airing special coverage on WBHM. The short answer? A lot more than you might think.

When special coverage is about to happen, we usually start getting alerts through text or email. Depending on the specific breaking news and the time of day, my first priority is staffing the station to get the initial coverage on the air. WBHM is automated during certain hours of the day, and sometimes special coverage means driving to the station very quickly, albeit safely, to get things started.

Immediately after that, I’m in contact with my colleagues to get the word out on social media that we’ll break our regular format for special coverage. Our digital team ramps up to update our website and monitor social media. And depending on the story, our news team gathers to plan coverage, sometimes working in cooperation with NPR. Engineering is also on standby for any technical issues.

From the programming side, I have to determine how long the coverage will last and what programs will be preempted. NPR also has a “squawk channel,” a real person at NPR who communicates information in real time to member stations. It’s like a disembodied voice that comes into the studio from seemingly nowhere. While it may be a little bit startling, this service is essential when we’re in a cycle of ongoing breaking news.

And programming is not limited to the radio either. Increasingly, we offer live video and fact-checking at our website.

All this to say, no two situations are ever alike and special coverage is an “all hands on deck” situation. And while it’s often a mad scramble on our end, the WBHM team goes above and beyond to make sure special coverage sounds smooth and seamless for you.

(Through “Programming Notes,” we hope to keep you connected to what is happening at WBHM both internally and on-air. Have feedback you’d like to share? Or a programming question? Let me know!)


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