(By Jeff McHugh) Live radio is often at its best in times of crisis. Coronavirus may have more far-reaching and long-lasting repercussions for everyone. Radio managers, podcasters and on-air talent have been calling for advice on what to do.
The good news is that we are hearing excellent radio shows working hard to inform and reassure their audiences through this crisis, while still providing fun distraction from anxiety.
Here are our top tips to consider as you plan for broadcasting through the pandemic.
- Triple-check facts. Just like when reporting tornadoes and hurricanes, accurate information saves lives. Guard your reputation by always checking at least three reputable news sites before airing information. (See the list below)
- Avoid interviewing wackos. Your audience will appreciate a well-spoken expert who can educate them on keeping their family safe, but be on guard against the conspiracy theorists who will approach your show looking for an outlet for their crazy. We recommend recording and editing guest interviews.
- Tell stories. A fact is “there is a severe shortage of virus testing kits.” A story is where Steve Peoples from the Associated Press shared his real-life experience: “I’m presenting mild symptoms (headache, mild fever, mild cough) and want to get tested in north Jersey. Primary care tells me to go to ER. ER tells me to call city health dept. Health Department tells me to go to urgent care. Urgent care tells me to go to ER. Everyone says no tests.” Facts are important but stories connect emotionally with audiences.
- Own the smart speaker. Listeners working from home are bad news for traditional radio. Most listening happens in the car and at work. The good news is that AM/FM performs well on smart speakers. A couple of times every hour, repeat simple-to follow instructions on how people can hear your station on smart speakers like Alexa.
- Updates every half hour. News is happening so fast that listeners will be anxious to hear the latest. Focus on local stories: closings, health department statements and statistics, but keep them informed on what is happening in the US and worldwide too. What happens in Italy won’t stay in Italy.
- Be a local cheerleader. Local restaurants are going bankrupt, so encourage your listeners to buy gift cards that support their favorite pub or restaurant with cash now that can be used for a night out later. Instead of claiming your refund on cancelled events, consider donating that money to the local venue.
- Good News features. Heavy up on real-life stories featuring compassion, kindness or charity. That PPM-winning benchmark will be even more popular in this crisis.
- Interactive games. Listeners love playing along to forget about the crisis for a few minutes. This includes trivia games, secret sounds, and pop culture face-offs. Keep them simple and accessible. The prize does not matter – play without a prize if you don’t have one.
- Share your point of view. Express your emotions and share your personal stories, but keep any opinions you have brief, especially if it involves politics. Your authenticity is what bonds with the audience.
- Be specific rather than broad. Instead of blaming “the media” for pushing fake news and hysteria, point directly at any anchor that spreads misinformation and correct half-truths where appropriate.
Our #1 pandemic suggestion for on air talent: be ready for anything.
- Coronavirus information updates at Consumer Reports
- USA Today
- Associated Press
- The Washington Post
- NBC ABC and CBS
- The New York Times
- Right-leaning The National Review
- Left-leaning The Nation
Jeff McHugh is known for developing remarkable talent for both morning and afternoon drive. He brings an uncommon mix of positivity, creativity, and strategy to the shows that he coaches. He is a member of the team at the Randy Lane Company. He can be reached at [email protected]