What Does The Coronavirus Mean For Radio?

The BPR Team

As the reality of the spread Coronavirus impacts on the ordinary lives of people around the world we at BPR are seeing signs that radio listening is increasing.

This does seem like a logical step as people look for more information – both from Public Health updates and official government announcements. Radio’s job as a provider of local information has never been more important.

For most people life is now a modified form of normal as self-isolation and working from home becomes more every day, we have compiled some thoughts and tips on what radio could do for its listeners…  the big question is – are you doing enough at your station?

Radio occupies a unique space in the media landscape, especially during a crisis. No other medium builds the same familiarity with presenters and with their local community in the way that radio can. A regional, rather than national focus offers unique opportunities for all stations to engage with listeners and help contribute to tackling the Coronavirus epidemic.

Even at this very early stage there are already some pronounced social and attitudinal impacts emerging:

  • Why is “listening” on the increase; radio is the least fatiguing of all media consumption.  The effect is that as life becomes more complex and stressful people gravitate from high fatigue activities to low fatigue.  Listening is the most “multitask friendly” media of all. Content should be simply and clearly presented.
  • Stations should develop structured, clear Coronavirus information updates in addition to regular news bulletins. News can be easy to drown out in the current environment, but clear updates especially in breakfast and drive periods with a regular medical expert, can help cut through and provide vital information on how the current local situation is developing. Reports at set times each day, topics such as what do if feeling ill and where to get assistance or testing.
    • 1-2 times per week a segment on “Corona Myth-Busting”. There is a lot of misinformation and rumours from a range of sources. Radio and key presenters may be trusted and familiar figures in the market.
    • Radio’s advantage is ability to cut through some of the noise and deliver the public accurate intel into what’s actually happening.
    • Deliver this as a question and answer session, with listeners calling up with their own questions and utilizing medical professionals (possibly) news staff to help answer queries.
    • All segments should be easily cut out of the show and delivered as podcasts and online material uploaded to social media. As people seek information, the more easily accessible this becomes the better. Podcasts aimed at helping people cope with being isolated, particularly with the kids will be popular. Consider podcast partnerships with bloggers aiming at this market.

  • All stations may have resources that will be under-used in the coming weeks. Get creative on these – for example redeploying promotions, outside broadcast & street teams to  help supply the elderly and those forced to isolate with needed groceries and supplies.
  • Businesses that are struggling in the local community could be given airtime to promote their brands or create donation campaigns. Any of these initiatives would cement a stations relationship with its listener community.
  • If advertisers become increasingly gun shy, use unfilled ad schedules for additional Public Service Announcements, either government created or produced in-house. If these are provided as charitable donations this becomes a win-win.
  • As people are willingly or forced into maintaining more social distance, the need for people to be social does not change. The need to feel part of something increases as people feel more isolated.  Radio’s local one to one nature can help supplement face to face interaction.  Use your station’s social media platform which should focus on local issues and reinforce the relationship between someone they know and trust and lives where they live.
  • Working from home may sound like a great idea, particularly for single people or couples without children however parents with young children are going to endure significant stress having to work from home and be productive while keeping the kids entertained.  Getting grandparents to look after the kids not an option in most cases as the elderly are most at risk. 
  • Content that reflects an empathy with these changes and pressures will be welcomed.  Promotions and content which provides respite, empathy, ideas and solutions for home-bound parents battling to balance home isolation/work/home kindergarten/schooling will be powerful.
  • With people confined to home there will be greater demand on Netflix, TV, Books, Movies and other entertainment. A weekly segment recommending new shows/movies/books/games would help those looking for anything to stave off boredom.
  • This could also be a Facebook group or separate podcast featuring the stations key personalities allowing development of a ‘book-club’ discussion around what people have been watching or reading.

This is an evolving situation, what is clear is that media companies which keep on top of this developing social situation will be in a stronger position in the longer term. The biggest risk that radio faces at this moment is a reduction for in-car listening as commuting to and from work reduces.  Radio should now focus on leveraging in-home listening. Ideally the loss of one would offset the other. This needs to be actively planned.

There are potential opportunities for sales in all of this. 

  • Focus on improving the home environment – what surrounds you becomes increasingly more important, the more time you spend in it. 
  • Home delivery is growing, people want things home delivered more than ever. 
  • Home office equipment. Expect growing demand for better broadband, home exercise equipment and online gyms.
  • Treats, people still want to treat themselves. If they can’t go to the movies, treats will be replaced with other forms – expect chocolate sales to spike.
  • Online retailing, Drive through retailing/services.  People want to get out of the house but not to congregate.  We could even see a return of people going for a “Sunday drive”… the list goes on.

Reporting the truth and confirming all information before it is passed on to the audience is critical. This applies not only to news programs but to everything that is said on our station. Casual conversation between presenters or between presenters and listeners must adhere to strict standards. If something is said that is un-verified or speculative, our presenters have an obligation to qualify that information and caution the audience against assuming that it is valid. This applies not only to unconfirmed claims from shady media operatives but to reckless speculation from the highest levels of government.

As we struggle to come to terms with the pandemic, our first responsibility is to the facts. Yesterday, one of our consultants received a panicked call from someone they know well saying that Trump has the virus. The report turned out to be false and groundless. Radio’s first responsibility is to tell the truth and that rule has never been more important than it is today.


In this time of great uncertainty, it is important for stations to use the resources they have as best they can to inform and update their masses of listeners. As the pandemic grips the world people will look to radio and rely on it now, more than in recent times, for the truth and facts of what is happening around the globe, and how we can all help to see this through.

Other references:

The NAB has prepared various tools for broadcasters in the US which can be found at through the link below.

https://www.nab.org/coronavirus/

Some examples

  • Redefine clear editorial guidelines … use only trusted sources
  • Accessibility…. provide continually updated information across all station platforms or links to external official sources
  • Internal employee communications
  • Staffing issues – who needs to be in the office

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