“Talkers New York 2013″ wrapped up with a tremendously poignant closing keynote titled “Reflection on a Tragedy” from Entercom, Boston vice president of programming Jason Wolfe, a Sharon resident.
Marathon Monday (April 15) began much like any other normal day. First reports that something terrible had happened though came in at 2:50 pm.
“Twitter posts were from everyday people who were in the area,” said Wolfe, who oversees sports powerhouse WEEI AM/FM and talk WRKO. “They told of horrific things. Body parts were flying all over the street and blood covered the sidewalk. We did not have a lot to go on with our on-air reports.”
Then the calls began pouring into the stations.
“Information is critical in crisis situations, but what needs to be reported is the correct information,” Wolfe cautioned. “Many media outlets could not have been more irresponsible in the initial hours of this tragedy, especially in regard to arrests that were never made. One of the hardest parts in covering this tragedy was that we needed to be correct in the information we reported. We could not trust television or social media.”
Admitting that neither of his stations had adequate resources on the street to cover such a massive story as “breaking news,” Wolfe decided to have WEEI and WRKO become the outlet for the audience.
“We wanted to make our [core] listeners comfortable calling us,” he said.
Many reached out to say they were angry and emotional about what had happened.
“We made them feel it was OK to feel that way,” Wolfe commented. “The initial aftermath made it difficult to monitor what was happening.”
With police fearful that cell phones could detonate additional devices that were found at the scene, cell phone service was interrupted.
“People were calling us and they wanted to connect,” Wolfe said. “We needed to be there for them.”
It has been approximately two months since that devastating day in Boston. Wolfe, a Massachusetts native, could have easily been one of the victims had he done what he normally does, which is take part in station events near the finish line.
“Patriots Day has always had a special meaning to me,” he pointed out. “I have had that 4 a.m. wakeup call many times so I could hustle to the reenactment of the battle on Lexington Green and then to Fenway Park at 11 a.m. for the Red Sox game.”
As soon as the Red Sox contest is over, fans generally walk to Boylston Street and the Marathon’s finish line.
“I have stood at the spot at least 100 times in my life,” Wolfe said. “I’ve seen the best of the best blazing through downtown Boston. I have seen friends and co-workers achieve something they have trained for over weeks and months.”
It is a uniquely special Massachusetts and New England holiday that brings people together. Fifty of Wolfe’s co-workers were in the area of the finish line this year and he noted that, “All of them were immediately accounted for – none suffered any injuries. Hundreds of others were not so lucky.”
A veteran of nearly two-dozen years of Boston radio, Wolfe has never had to cover such a “significant, heartbreaking, personal” story.
“As broadcasters, we have the responsibility to provide the public with information and the opportunity to react and share their feelings with us,” he stressed. “That is what makes talk radio so special. We have the ability to provide a service that no other medium can – even in the wake of unspeakable evil. We connect on a very personal level with our audience and help assuage their emotions and fears. Each host on every Boston station found a way to be the outlet their fans needed.”
Boston-area stations featured tribute songs, musical montages, countless calls from listeners.
“An overwhelming display of support. I don’t know if we could have done anything different to cover this tragedy, but I do know the important role that radio played," Wolfe said. "As a programmer, I have never been prouder of [our employees] and my colleagues at other stations. They put together such an incredible effort that provided comfort and healing to a city that really needed it.”
You can hear the speech here.