Though President Bush's 48-hour deadline for Saddam Hussein ends today, the even longer buildup to this moment has given Southland radio stations ample time to prepare for covering a war in Iraq.
Radio programmers plan to take advantage of radios' portability by focusing on the immediacy of breaking news, starting with live coverage when the conflict starts. And whenever that might be, area stations with network news affiliations plan to carry those national feeds wall-to-wall, at least for the first hours and days of the conflict. All-news station KNX-AM (1070) will offer reports from CBS News, for example.
"Once the war starts, we'll be in continuous coverage for an indeterminate amount of time," KNX news director Ed Pyle said. "Once we settle into, if you will, the routine of war over there, we'll be doing significant packages," looking at the war's effect on the economy, political ramifications and other fallout.
But don't expect all war, all the time on all -- or even most -- stations. The big station groups tentatively plan to continue regular programming on music stations, directing listeners who are interested in news to other stations on the network.
For example, Viacom's Infinity Radio subsidiary plans to cover the war extensively on KNX and its sister all-news outlet, KFWB-AM (980), leaving the company's other five L.A. stations, such as alternative rocker KROQ-FM (106.7), oldies KRTH-FM (101.1) and soft jazz KTWV-FM (94.7) to stay with their music programs.
"The other Infinity stations are running promos pointing to KFWB and KNX for war coverage," rather than simply carrying feeds from the news stations, as many non-news stations did after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Pyle said.
"It was out of the blue, so there was no plan in place. Because of the nature of it and the enormity of it," he said, even non-news stations had to fill the hunger for information. "This is a lot different. This has been in the works for a long time."
And Pyle said he's even prepared his staff for the possibility of covering another terrorist attack, should that happen as backlash for a U.S. invasion of Iraq.
"If it was a significant local event, we might not even be employing the network to cover the story," Pyle said.
Erik Braverman, program director at KABC-AM (790), said his station will carry ABC News coverage of the war, as well as commentary from its regular lineup of talk hosts, including Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Larry Elder.
"Not only will we be bringing the listeners news, we'll have live reaction," he said. "As a talk station I think our responsibility is the follow-up reaction from the community.
"There are so many little stories from the big story that splinter off," he said. For example, his producers will talk to people in the local Iraqi, Iranian and Israeli communities, to see how the war affects them, "how their lives become a little tougher at a time like this."
Paul Glickman, news director at National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM (89.3), said he plans to offer blanket coverage as well.
"Our intention is to go wall-to-wall once the war starts, along with the network, with NPR," Glickman said. Then, after a few days, "we'll ease up on the accelerator a little bit."
But Glickman said his station is almost all Iraq, all the time anyway, with KPCC's local programs "Air Talk" and "Talk of the City" handling war themes. "From this point on, everything we talk about on these shows is about this," he said.
He added that he'll have his news staff working on local issues such as the antiwar movement, and homeland security. And two or three days into the war, KPCC's Larry Mantle will be co-host of a statewide call-in show about the conflict with Michael Krasny, on public station KQED-FM in San Francisco, and Tom Fudge from KPBS-FM in San Diego. The two-hour show will air from 9 to 11 a.m., on a day to be determined.
KABC's Braverman was at rival talk station KFI-AM (640) during the Gulf War, and said he's learned from the things he wished they could have done differently then. But all that planning can still be nullified by something unexpected.
"You can plan, you can strategize, but when breaking news begins to unfold," he said, "that really is what will dictate how things take shape."