Nothing like this has ever happened before. So there’s no model. No template. What should radio stations do now in response to the fast-moving worldwide disaster that impacts every single person in the world? What should your radio station do now about COVID-19?
There’s a lot of advice out there, from well-meaning experts recommending every station add a newscast every half-hour. Or passing on information from reliable sources. Both may be the right thing for your station. But maybe not. There’s no way one set of rules applies to all stations.
I’ve published a new eBook Dealing With Tragedy and Emergencies with far more details. It’s available now for free to all stations. Download a copy here.
Get the book. Study it. Take inspiration from it. Apply the principles to your station tomorrow. It will help. But most programmers and air personalities probably are looking for immediate suggestions on how to respond immediately.
With that in mind, here are my recommendations to help your station find your own solutions for dealing with COVID-19.
How To Respond to COVID-19
Be Who You Are
We’ve never seen an emergency quite like COVID-19. And I know you’re already responding. But as the story develops, here are some things that might help.
If you’re a news station, be great in covering the story from all angles. But if news and information is not a reason for coming to your station or show, don’t suddenly try to be the news station. It’s not what you’re for. And the more you try to be a news station, the less relevant your station becomes. Listeners have a place to go for updates. However, that doesn’t mean to ignore the topic.
One thing is for sure: Every station should communicate with listeners based on their brand values. But that doesn’t mean every station should add a newscast. It doesn’t make sense for a lot of stations, especially music stations.
Whatever information you use, make sure it is accurate. Double-check the facts. The world is full of fake news and misinformation.
Refer to reliable, reputable sources of information only. Don’t go on the air with rumors spread on social media. For a list of resources that can be trusted, go here.
For most stations, a large part of the audience is coming to the show for relief from the stress and anxiety in their real life. This is an opportunity to do that with a Good News feature.
Good News content is highly popular anyway, but listeners can use it, especially now. This is the time to practice what Mr. Rogers called, “Looking for the helpers.”
Here’s a great example, courtesy CHFM/Calgary:
For more details on how to execute a Good News feature, go here.
You may not be the authority for breaking news, but you can tell local stories and relate how this is affecting your audience better than anyone. Find unique stories, then connect with stories.
Watch how the TV networks do it. CNBC focuses on the financial aspect. ESPN is locked in on how it affects sports and athletes. CNN is round-the-clock full coverage of breaking news.
Maybe your angle is simply finding positive stories and comforting listeners looking to get away from the anxiety and stress.
Plug into the local community and communicate the most topical and relevant issues that matter to listeners:
- What schools are closed? Churches? Gatherings of over 250 people?
- What businesses are closed or have instructed employees to work from home?
- How are doctors and hospitals dealing with new patients?
- Dig a little deeper to find stories of those most affected that we would not think of, such as vendors at public events or parking lot attendants. How about waiters and waitresses? Or people who can’t see their parents in the nursing home, leaving them lonely and isolated.
If you’re a fun, upbeat, positive air talent, be who you are. If you’re funny, be funny. Don’t joke about important, life-threatening facts. But find ways to show who you are.
The morning show on CHFM/Calgary is Mookie, Billie Jo, and Lori. Lori’s a comedian, and told me her approach is to “find humor at the end of the world because it helps us cope.”
You may need to back off some aspects of your personality profile and accent other traits.
Contests, Games & Promotions
Some stations have suspended contests and promotions, which is probably a good idea, at least for now. But don’t stop delivering the reasons listeners come to you. Play games and have fun with listeners. You don’t even need prizes. Have fun with listeners. Remember, the biggest reason most turn on the radio is to be put in a better mood!
Nobody wants to hear a hysterical, panicked broadcaster. There will be some emotional moments. Just be sure to collect yourself and avoid being emotional in the presentation.
Don’t Perform For Ratings
This is going to be a very difficult rating period unless you’re the news station in the market. I also believe Christian stations will do extremely well in this period.
But for everyone else, radio listening overall is likely to be lower since there will be fewer cars on the road, and most listening takes place in cars. And, with many folks working from home, TSL is going to suffer on stations specializing in at work listening.
The exception is news stations: Listening will be up. And with overall listening down, AQH share will skyrocket. There’s not much you can do about this reality. However, you can be authentic, be yourself and connect with fans in deeper ways.
This promotion concept is to find a movement or idea that is happening in the community and being a part of it. The same theory applies now. In fact, it’s time to double down on community involvement. Look for ways to make a difference in your city, community, and neighborhoods. And tell those stories to make a difference.
Don’t just stand there. Do something. Be proactive. Your exact course of action is your own. Nobody can tell you exactly what is right for your station in your market. This story changes quickly. Stay on top of it and reflect your audience.
If you’re not sure exactly what fits for your show or station, we’ve launched a special COVID-19 Show Prep site as part of my Personality Magnet Show Prep service. It’s packed with updates (daily), topics and ideas for all formats. Get a free one week trial here.
COVID-19 and the resulting public response is certainly bad. No doubt about that. But it won’t last forever. Hang in there, take a deep breath and stay focused on how to become more meaningful parts of the audience’s life.
Tracy Johnson is President and CEO of the Tracy Johnson Media Group, offering programming & promotion consultation, talent coaching & development and digital strategy consulting. Get more information at www.tjohnsonmediagroup.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.