I saw a piece from the BBC, that reported that since the spread of the Covid-19 virus that radio listenership in the UK and the US was up and that the automated music streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora were down a little bit.
This news does not surprise this old school broadcaster one bit, not even worth raising one eyebrow, much less both. And, although I have nothing but a couple of anecdotal data points to draw this from; the increase in listenership is outside of radio’s “prime times” the morning and afternoon drive time slots.
My take on why this is happening is that people are starved for a mix of information and entertainment. The fresher and more local the information is, the better. And the entertainment needs to be more upbeat to provide a respite from the seriousness of the news. Add to that a personal connection with a presenter who has his or her finger on the pulse of the community. What can do that better than live local radio!
Now, the typical corporate radio programmer might disagree about the drive time. My point is, that in this time of social distancing and shelter in place orders there are fewer people in their cars during the peak drive times of the day. More are listening from their homes and more are listening to online stations that tend to have more live shows than the terrestrial stations do these days with many local live shows being suspended in the name of public safety.
Again this is anecdotal data, but some stations that have provided capability for their DJs to do live shows from home are reporting stronger than normal numbers and stronger audience reaction than normal. The other big change is that instead of the studio phone line, the feedback is coming from social media, Twitter and Facebook.
Even stations that do not have the capability to provide live DJ interaction but have the capability to do voice tracking are doing better, as long as that voice tracking is done at the last minute instead of days earlier. This way, the information that is on the air is pretty much up to the minute.
One thing I believe is that the demeanor of the on air presenter is key to being successful during these times. Facebook and Twitter has been run amok with distressing news and angry reaction to it. More than a few of my FB friends have disappeared from the service because they have been overwhelmed by the bad news and vitriol. I’m not saying that we should ignore the gravity of the information but we need to balance it with good news. One thing that I am doing in my periodic updates from the data from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center is to include the number of people that have survived Covid-19. At the time of this writing - 11 am Eastern on March 29, 2020, 145,696 people have recovered, 2,612 in the US alone. I also scour my resources for “feel good” stories to go along with my “feel good” music.
I have no idea if this uptick in radio listening will continue after Covid-19 has run its course. I hope that it reverses the trend of fewer live presenters and more automation by corporate radio back to more live and local. If that happens, I’ll be a happy guy and I doubt that I will be alone in that sentiment.
There is a significant positive personal side effect to this approach for me. Although tomorrow will be the third week in a row that I’ll not be broadcasting my oldies show on WUSC-FM due to the station suspending live shows, I’ve found that I seem to me more at ease with the isolation than I probably would be otherwise. I truly miss the interaction with the student DJs there and my audience over the phone but I am not as stir crazy as I think I would be, knowing how social my nature is.
Among the factors in this are my online shows on multiple stations around the world, even though most of them are pre-recorded. My daily shows on Crusin’ KLYC 1260 out in Oregon helped out too. It will be interesting to see how I do next week now that we’ve brought on a new DJ out there and I am reverting to my weekend only shows there. But honestly, I could not have sustained that much time on the air there more than a week or so longer without giving up some of my other on air activity.
I’ve been asked many times why can’t I broadcast on WUSC-FM from my home studio like I do my other shows. One of WUSC-FM’s main guiding principles is to provide an in studio platform for the student DJs, to educate the DJ as well as the audience. So providing a way for a DJ to do a show remotely is correctly not in their list of priorities. Besides, I think I’m the only DJ currently on the air there that has a home studio capable of doing such a broadcast. Providing that capability is much more complicated than just throwing a switch; it is not fair to ask them to provide the effort and expense for just one show a week.
But there is one thing that I can do for the folks who listen to the Backbeat show there every Monday. For the duration of the social distancing event, I will continue to broadcast my WUSC-FM show on http://ourgenerationradio.com 10AM until noon Eastern time and as usual I’ll be taking requests but instead of over the phone I’ll be taking them via my Facebook page; https://www.facebook.com/rick.wrigley Oh MY!