From the General Manager

When weather coverage and primetime collide

Posted October 28, 2010 3:38 p.m. EDT

Many of your have written to us regarding our weather coverage and pre-empting regularly scheduled programming. Some of you give us praise. Many have not.

There is no one right answer that will satisfy everyone when life threatening weather and popular TV collide. We have a responsibility to provide life saving information to the 23 county viewing area we serve and it is our policy to be on the air during tornado warnings.

So how do we try to make everyone happy?

The Dilemma

CBS rules, based on union agreements in Hollywood, allow each station to air a program ONCE. We cannot change that fact. Believe us, we've tried. So when we have weather coverage on a collision course with our programming, here are the choices:

1) If we start the program on WRAL and then it is interrupted, only the portion that is preempted can air at another time such as overnight.

2) Similarly, if we are in weather coverage at the beginning of the program and it ends in the middle of the program, only the unseen portion can be delayed to another time.

3) If the entire show is preempted, then the full episode can be played overnight.

When we are experiencing a series of tornado warnings, and it is clear that we will be on for more than an hour, we can seriously consider the third alternative. However, if the warning looks as if it may expire soon, or it begins inside the program, we are faced with alternatives 1 or 2.

Airing programs at alternate times or channels is less than ideal for all viewers. Overnight has obvious issues. You either have to stay up into the middle of the night or have the resources to record the program. That assumes that other factors such as more weather break-ins in late night do not delay the start of the playback. The positive is that ALL viewers have a chance to see or record it.

We can move it to our second channel, WRAL2, and air it in the time period it is scheduled to air...when viewers want to see it. However, less than half of the households have access to the channel either via cable (channel 106) or off an antenna. The satellite companies have yet to agree to carry local broadcasters' second channels anywhere in the country.

CBS controls which shows they make available for viewing on the Internet.

So you make the call. It's five minutes before the start of a network program. A tornado warning is posted in the area. What do you do? Start the program on WRAL2 and the join it as soon as possible on WRAL? Play the first portion of the program in the middle of the night and join the show on WRAL when possible? Or commit to filling the entire hour, even if the warning expires sooner, so you can tell viewers to record it in the middle of the night?

It's a no-win situation. Again, we have an FCC (Federal Communications Commission) responsibility to provide life saving information to the people of the 23 counties we serve. A life in a small town isn't worth less than one in the more populated cities. We do the best we can to do the most good.

Our policy is when lives are in danger, we go on and stay on with detailed, up-to-the-second information to help those people stay safe. We know it's hard for those miles away from the heart of the storm, but someday it maybe in your neighborhood.

Thank you for watching WRAL-TV.