Friday, February 17, 2017

Inside Snowflake

An entry on radio school cancellations prompted a few questions from readers, so today, a history lesson.

I started at WARM 590 in 1981, and for years, WARM was the king of cancellations.  Posters went up on school bulletin boards.  The audience took a huge jump on snowy mornings.  Extra advertisers came on board during storms, just so they could latch on to that big audience.

Cancellations on WARM had the catchy name of "Operation Snowflake."

Our morning man, the legendary Harry West really loved those snowy days.  I dare to say, millions over the years, learned whether or not they had school from Uncle Harry.

When I got to WARM, I was shocked at how simple the whole process was.

Each school had a code number, and it was in alphabetical order.  The a's had the low numbers.  The z's had the high numbers.   Each school had an index card in a huge file.  A superintendent would call in.  We'd put the information on a paper label, and stick it to the card.  That way, we didn't need a new card for every storm.  We'd just stick a new label, on the card, over the old label.  Alphabetizing was easy because each school's code number was on the upper right corner of the card.  Put the numbers in order, and you had an alphabetical list of closings and cancellations.  Blessedly simple.  Hugely effective.

Eventually, computers came in.  WARM added a sister station, WMGS.  The first computer system we used was bulky and balky and buggy.  We'd enter the information, then do a huge paper print out a few times an hour.  It took an eternity.  We used wide paper, and the printer was the original tractor feed type.  The system wasn't user friendly.  Even though I did the news on Harry's show during the last six months of my time at WARM, handling the cancellations went to others on the staff.   There was plenty of frustration, and I gladly watched it all from a distance.

It is with mixed feelings that I note how radio has abandoned doing school cancellations and delays.  Radio used to own the process, but times change.  TV, the internet and direct messaging now do a better and more efficient job.  It was fun while it lasted.