Aretha Franklin Dies—How Did Radio Respond?

I was in my car listening to CNN on XM when they announced Aretha had finally passed. Yes, I am one of the few public radio folks with Sirius/XM in their cars and The Queen of Soul’s death is an example of why I have it.

I began scanning the FM dial looking for the expected musical tribute to one of the most important musical forces in American History.  What I found was a bit disappointing.  In addition to Baltimore stations, I can pick up about half of the DC stations.

WEAA immediately announced and started doing call ins to memorize this icon.  WXPN via their Eastern Shore repeater was the only station I could find playing Aretha.

Let that sink in for a moment.  The only station between these two major markets playing a tribute to Aretha Franklin music the moment she died was from Philadelphia.

Her death was anticipated, even promoted.  With this long lead time, stations had more than enough time to figure out what to do when the time came.

It was a full 20 minutes before another local station began playing her hits.

So upon arriving at my office I started checking in with the other stations around the country that I listen to for music. Very few were into Aretha hits before a half hour had passed.

Here’s why it matters.  I have a Smart Speaker at home.  All I had to do to create my own Aretha tribute was to say: “Alexa, play songs by Aretha Franklin.”   That’s all….six little words and I didn’t need to tune into my local or even many national stations I look to for community when these major events happen.

Speed matters these days.  When you know something is going to happen we should all be prepared to provide that sense of community our listeners look to us for immediately… no waiting or Alexa will do it for you.

PS: I scanned live shows on NPR…..Kudos to 1A for honoring her and acknowledging her death at the next available break with her music.  Fresh Air was ready with a tribute interview and stations had the promo to read asap.

PPS:  Very few of the station’s websites that I went to had any online content about her life and passing.  This is content that could have been prewritten and posted when the time came.  WXPN had a great tribute up right away. EDIT AT 11:03 AM ET–KEXP had a great tribute just posted to their site-MPR News had a short piece too.

I write this because I listen as a listener these days.  And I listen to multiple platforms more than I ever thought I would.  How would I have handled this event?  While I don’t know what I would have ultimately wanted to see happen… I do know I would have advocated to be ready on a moment’s notice.





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