NOAA Weather Radio Feedback for the
NWS-La Crosse

(conducted September 2000)

I. Introduction

In September of 2000, the National Weather Service (NWS) in La Crosse requested feedback from the listeners of its five active NOAA Weather Radio (NWR) transmitters. The two sites in Iowa were not in operation at the time of this request. The listeners could submit their opinions on the programming through an online form located on the NWS-La Crosse's website, or via the mail.

There were several objectives to this endeavor, with the top three being: 1) to ascertain the quality of the broadcasts and the products themselves, 2) how understandable the Console Replacement System's (CRS) computerized voice was, 3) and to acquire background information on who the main listeners of the broadcasts are. The listeners were asked to fill out an extensive form (attachment #1) which was broken up into 4 main sections: background information, routine programming, severe weather programming, and other (miscellaneous) questions.

The response was very good and far above what was initially anticipated. A total of 159 listeners responded. By transmitter it broke down thusly: WXK-41 Rochester: 64, WXJ-86 La Crosse: 53, WWF-40 Adams/Friendship: 31, WWG-86 Prairie du Chien and WWG-89 Richland Center: 11. The Richland Center transmitter slaves off (uses the same feed) as Prairie du Chien, and for this paper's purposes, their results will be combined.

II. Results

A. Background Information

It was felt some background information on our listeners would be useful, to get a better understanding of who our main users were.

A wide variety of listeners responded, with varying occupations and spread of ages. The ages centered in the 35-64 year old range (Table 1), while the most popular occupation isn't really an occupation; retired. The next most popular responses were farmers and engineers.

12-18 19-24 24-34 35-44 45-54 55-64 65-74 75-84 85 >
Percentage 3% 3% 9% 27% 19% 22% 13% 4% 0%

Table 1. Age of listeners.

As for their listening habits, the vast majority answered that they listened 1-3 times per day (Table 2). There was no clear cut time when they listened the most, but in general, during severe weather and, the 4-8 am/ 4-8 pm time slots were favored (Table 3).

0-1 1-3 3-6 6 or more
Percentage 8% 62% 17% 13%

Table 2. Times they listen per day.

4-8 am 8 am-noon noon-4 pm 4-8 pm 8 pm - midnight midnight - 4 am severe
Percentage 73% 26% 22% 47% 43% 9% 58%

Table 3. Most common listening times.

(Listeners could indicate more then one listening time, so percentages will not equal 100%)

B. Routine Programming

Overall, the NWS-La Crosse's listeners were very pleased with the overall content and quality of the weather radio broadcasts during "normal" ( non-severe) conditions. The program length is kept in the 3-5 minute range as often as possible (the time it takes to go through one entire cycle of programming), and that was thought to be "just right" in 86% of the responses.

The listeners indicated that much of the programming was relevant to them, with the climate summaries and daily river products the least used. One surprising result was the importance of the Hazardous Weather Outlook. This product is run only every half hour when thunderstorms are in the forecast, and was intended to benefit the area spotters and emergency managers. However, the listener response indicated that this is a widely used product by all the listeners (Table 4).

Products * 5=used always 4=used often 3=used sometimes 2=used rarely 1=never used Average "grade"
AWS 45% 24% 23% 7% 1% 4.1
LFP 79% 17% 3% 1% 0% 4.7
HRR 37% 26% 23% 12% 2% 3.8
CLI** 16% 19% 34% 23% 8% 3.1
NOW 61% 22% 12% 5% 0% 4.4
RVA*** 8% 8% 12% 45% 27% 2.3
RNS 39% 21% 22% 8% 10% 3.7
HWO 58% 21% 18% 2% 1% 4.3

Table 4. Usage of the routine products, graded on a 1-5 to scale.

* a listing of product abbreviations can be found in appendix A.

**WWF-40, WWG-86/WWG-89 transmitters did not broadcast climate products at the time of the feedback.

*** WXK-41, WWF-40 transmitters do not broadcast daily river information.

In reference to the actual quality of the various products, the listeners ranked most as very good to excellent. The one product that did not receive as favorable marks was the extended portion of the forecast. While its "grade" averaged out into the good category, it received many fair to even poor quality responses (Table 5).

Products * 5=excellent 4=very good 3=good 2=fair 1=poor Average "grade"
AWS 42% 46% 8% 3% 1% 4.2
CLI** 35% 45% 16% 3% 1% 4.0
RVA*** 29% 37% 24% 6% 4% 3.8
RNS 40% 39% 12% 4% 5% 4.1
LFP 31% 44% 23% 2% 0% 4.0
Extended 13% 32% 31% 18% 6% 3.3
NOW 40% 45% 11% 3% 1% 4.2
HWO 49% 31% 15% 5% 0% 4.2

Table 5. Quality of the routine products, graded on a 1-5 to scale.

a listing of product abbreviations can be found in appendix A.

**WWF-40, WWG-86/WWG-89 transmitters did not broadcast climate products at the time of the feedback.

*** WXK-41, WWF-40 transmitters do not broadcast daily river information.

A couple questions were asked about the short term forecasts (NOWcasts). The listeners indicated that this was a useful product for them, and the more information it could provide, the better.

C. Severe Weather Programming

The responses to the NWS-La Crosse's severe weather programming were very similar to those of the routine programming. Most respondents found the program length to be "just right" (91%), and 75% indicated that they were very satisfied with the severe weather programming.

As would be expected from feedback for weather radios, the majority of the listeners indicated that NWR was their main source for severe weather information (72%). The next two were local TV at 10% and cable TV at 9%.

The quality of the severe broadcasts were also thought to be very good to excellent by the listeners (Table 6), similar to their impressions of the normal programming.

Products * 5=excellent 4=very good 3=good 2=fair 1=poor Average "grade"
Warnings 56% 32% 10% 2% 0% 4.4
SVS 51% 35% 11% 3% 0% 4.3
NOW 38% 46% 12% 3% 1% 4.2
RNS 35% 40% 15% 6% 4% 4.0

Table 6. Quality of the severe weather products, graded on a 1-5 to scale.

* a listing of product abbreviations can be found in appendix A.

With the move to CRS over the last couple years, nearly all of the programming has been turned over to the CRS automated voice. While the overwhelming majority responded that they could understand the voice (96%), there was some concern as to how the listeners would react if the severe weather programming was automated. With this becoming a very real possibility, the listeners were asked to indicate their opinions on this. Out of the three choice provided, 59% responded that they liked a human voice better, but would still listen to the severe weather broadcasts. Coming in second at 34% were those that had no reaction either way. The last choice of switching to an alternative source for severe weather, while small at 7%, is still considered too large. In addition, there were many comments that the listeners liked the human voice more during severe weather, and wished that the office would continue to use this human interaction during these events.

D. Other/Miscellaneous Questions

Most of the questions in this section were focused on fact gathering; acquiring more information on how NWR is used. One question that did stand out was the query on how many listened to the live NWR shows. The shows have been conducted on and off for the last several years and last from a half to one full hour. They cover a variety of weather topics and listeners can call in with questions. While response has been good, it was never known how many people actually listened. According to the feedback, a little over half of those that responded to that question (53%) indicated that they have listened to the shows.

III. Comparison to a Previous Survey

In the fall of 1998 a survey was conducted of the NWR listeners. While that survey was not as extensive or detailed as the feedback this time, some comparisons can be made between the data acquired.

The number of times per day that NWR was used remained consistent, with NWR being the main source for severe weather. This last finding is not surprising since those responding to both endeavors are NOAA Weather Radio users, and the severe weather functions and capabilities are always emphasized and a selling point for NWR.

The most and least useful products were also similar when compared with the previous survey, with the forecasts being the most popular and the daily river products being the least.

The only difference that stands out, albeit small, is the listeners' ability to understand the synthetic voice. In the 1998 survey, 88% of the responders indicated they could understand the CRS voice. In the most recent polling, 96% of the listeners reported that they could understand the voice. While the difference may appear small, it is significant as this was originally the biggest drawback when converting to CRS and automation of the NWR programming. It was feared that many listeners would stop using NWR because of the voice, or at least change their listening habits. The NWS-La Crosse has put a lot of time and energy into the improvement of the voice and the sound of the program, and these efforts have paid off.

IV. Conclusions

The response to the request for feedback was excellent and provided the NWS-La Crosse with a lot of information that can be used to improve and enhance its current broadcasts. Without undertaking such a task, there is no way to properly gauge the quality and content of our broadcasts.

The diligent work put into improving the sound quality of the automated voice has already reaped rewards, as evidenced by the listeners. This will continue to be a focal point for continued improvement, however, in an effort to make the broadcast understandable for every listener. This is of special importance as broadcasts during severe weather may be automated in the near future.

According to the listeners, work needs to be done on the quality of our extended forecasts. While they graded out "good", there were too many that felt they were poor, or even useless at times. This was the most complained about product when referencing the quality, and efforts to provide better extended forecasts will be needed by the NWS-La Crosse staff.

Some additions will also be made to future broadcasts, based upon the responses received. The Hazardous Weather Outlooks will be broadcast more often, and for those sites that do not receive a climate summary currently, a climate product will be created for them.

The benefits and usefulness of the live weather radio shows were also discovered from this feedback. It is now known that many of our listeners not only take advantage of the shows, but enjoy their content and derive a benefit from them. The listeners also provided some topic suggestions and questions for further shows, which will aid in the direction and structure of future live radio shows.

Also, occasional the NWR operator would do live reports during severe weather events, spending about 5-10 minutes covering current radar images, warnings, the main severe weather threats, storm histories and potential, and storm tracks. These have been well received by the listener. Again, they value the human and personal interaction during these bouts with severe weather. The NWS-La Crosse will encourage all its NWR operators to continue to do these live "break-ins" during severe weather, and to expand upon it by including all different types of inclement weather.

V. Acknowledgments

The author would like to thank meteorologists Jared Guyer NWS-Hastings and Todd Shea NWS-La Crosse for their assistance and aid with this project. Also deserving thanks are Lynn Zintz, ASA of NWS-La Crosse, and the rest of the staff who helped in taking feedback form requests and mailing these forms out.

Appendix A

A listing of product names and their acronyms.

AWS: Area weather summary

CLI: Climate summary

HRR: Hourly weather roundup (a roundup of hourly temperatures and weather conditions)

HWO: Hazardous weather outlook (a discussion of the severe weather potential for the forecast area)

LFP: Local 2-day forecast, including a 3-5 extended forecast

NOW: Short term forecasts

RNS: Radar summaries (a NWR only product, recorded by the CRS operator when precipitation is in or close to the forecast area)

RVA: Daily river and forecast stages

SVS: Severe weather statements (updates conditions for warnings) is the U.S. government's official web portal to all federal, state and local government web resources and services.