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Radio in the Time of Crisis

There's no doubt radio, and companion television, have been severely impacted by the Covid-19 virus. The pandemic has inspired a sudden surge in listenership. It's as if humans require a mortal voice to share time and space with during isolation.

Working from home is nothing different for many of us who have adapted our lifestyles to fit work demands the past few decades. Still, for those commuting and returning to a barren residence, the emotional toll can be devastating. Loneliness, anxiety and depression are as deadly a killer as the disease. This, to me, is where Radio finds purpose.

Radio is that voice, that oversized crowd in the room, that lone occupant - a real person, a sense that words hanging about were there to engage the listener. Television is too impersonal. It speaks to a broad, mostly unattentive audience. Radio tells the small stories and leaves plenty of room for imagination.

I'm drawn to those vintage 40s' black and white photos of families hunkered around a finely carved wood cabinet sheltering a radio on a Friday and Saturday night, there to catch a favourite comedy special, music event or drama. I think of the many times I crossed North America during the 60s, 70s, and 80s and relied on a broken-down cassette player, and when it faltered, twisted the knob right to left and scanned for either a favourite track or plain talk. Oh, how the miles fade away when the spoken word addresses something of personal interest.

I recall this couple; the husband was our oil delivery man in the 80s' who entered every CHUM-FM daily contest. He'd stand at the side of our house covered in soot and oil, hands and body stained – and eagerly recite the quiz on that calendar day. The wife was at home dialling, dialling and dialling - both possessed and frequently winners. I was suspect of his devotion, and one day asked about his listening habits, and he quickly recited the top forty list. He then told of his wife's favourite plays. Damn, they were locked in!

Are we back there now? I have no idea, but I bounced the question to those most in the know - the pros – the radio folks. Enough with nostalgia - here's where they stand.

 

David Bray – President of Bray & Partners Communications

As with many sectors of our society, the Covid-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented effect on the radio industry. In my over 35 years working with Radio, I have never seen anything comparable to this crisis. We still have no idea of how long this experience will last or what the full cumulative impact will ultimately be. I will briefly outline a few of the areas of impact to date.

Stations have anecdotally reported up to an 80% decline in revenue. At the same time, it is important to note that most radio salespeople work on 100% commission. These salespeople are working from home, making it nearly impossible to work their client lists. Of course, with many retail businesses closed, there is little to advertise. Some of these sales reps have been laid off. At some of the major broadcast groups, salespeople are being given 75% of their regular commission levels.

This is scheduled to last only three months.

Aside from revenue, tuning levels are good, even while some on-air talents are broadcasting from home. Anyone coming into the station must keep their distance from fellow employees.

News/Talk stations are seeing significant increases in tuning.

From February 24 to March 30, at home, listening to AM/FM has increased by 29%.

Lastly, the streaming of AM/FM stations has amounted to 19% of tuning for A25-54, an increase of 72% over the January level of 11%.

Of course, things are changing every day. Apocalypse Now may be very different tomorrow.

Stay tuned.

Mike Boon - Toronto Mike'd Podcast

In times of crisis like this current Covid-19 pandemic, live and local news radio has a moment. There's something about live and local when you're seeking news and information.

With things changing so rapidly, it's entirely possible a podcast about the value of wearing a mask during a pandemic, for example, is dated and irrelevant 12 hours after publishing. Furthermore, a critical time for podcast listening is one's commute, and outside of essential workers, the commute has all but disappeared.

Having said all that, as this physical distancing order enters its second month, it's human nature to lower the news volume and raise the volume on on-demand entertainment, so I think it's vital podcasters continue producing good content. From the safety of their home studios, of course. Toronto Mike'd has introduced a couple of new pandemic-only series and continues to have long-form conversations with people like Steve Paikin, Dave Hodge, and Jody Vance.

Ross Davies – currently serves on CARAS MusiCounts Advisory Board and the Radio Connects Advisory Board.

Some thoughts about Canadian Radio as we all deal with the Coronavirus pandemic.

It was only yesterday when I was talking with a respected broadcast colleague about the impact of Radio during this current Covid-19 crisis and, in particular, how Radio is responding. It's times like this where the genuine importance and value of Radio comes through. And we are witnessing that every day with people across the country looking for information, comfort and companionship on a daily, make that hourly, basis.  This is and always has been Radio's strength.

I've been impressed with how local Radio in Toronto has stepped up and become "Covid Central" with its content regardless of its format.  And I'm sure this is taking place all across the country no matter how big or small the market. Music stations have introduced regular "Covid Updates," announcers are providing comfort and, at the same time, some critical entertainment "relief" from the day to day grind of everything Covid.  And, no surprise, News/Talk formats have come to the forefront with some outstanding content that is giving listeners the answers, the reassurance and again, the companionship that everyone needs at this time.  Well done, Radio!

At the same time, the financial impact the whole country is feeling is also affecting Radio.  Advertising revenues (understandably) are down, yet our radio operations are still soldering on.  However, it's worth noticing that recent ratings research conducted by Radio Connects points out some fascinating facts. Based on Numeris PPM data from January to the end of March, Radio has experienced less than a 5% drop in weekly reach with Adults 25-54. That is remarkable, particularly given the fact that a lot of radio tuning would have seen decreases in morning and afternoon drive periods because of the stay at home/work at home stipulations now in place across the country.  All one has to do is see how little automobile traffic there is on our roads these days during the regular commute periods.  Yet, at the same time, listening to AM/FM radio in the home has gone through the roof. Here's more directional information from Radio Connects:

  • As of the last week of March, Canadian AM/FM radio has retained 86% of typical weekly reach levels

  • Between February 24 - March 30, listening to AM/FM Radio at home increased by 29%

  • During the week of March 23, at home listening represented over half of Adults 25-54 average minute audience tuning

  • Adults 25-54 experienced less than a 4% dip in Average Minute Audience, while time spent listening has increased by 1.2%

  • Streaming AM/FM Radio represents 19% of tuning for Adults 25-54, which is an increase of 72%, up from 11% in January

  •   Not surprisingly, news/talk formats are seeing significant increases in tuning

If anyone ever needed evidence of how important local Radio is, you now have it. Radio has used its unique strength to reach out once again and connect to its local community. Radio plays a pivotal role in the "We're All In This Together" mantra that will see our country back on its feet once again.

 

Lori Russell - Managing Director of JAZZ.FM91

I wanted to take a moment to reach out and fill you in on how we are dealing with the effects of Covid-19. I also wanted to thank you for your continued support and commitment to JAZZ.FM91 and everything it stands for.

For everyone who donated to JAZZ.FM91 in the "pre-campaign" period and during the "campaign that wasn't," we extend our heartfelt thanks. It was a very challenging but important decision for the team at JAZZ.FM91 to come on the air last week and request your continued support. These are difficult times for everyone, including other charities in the arts and cultural sector and beyond, and particularly for musicians. I also know it is a difficult and uncertain time for many of you and your loved ones.

As a radio station and a registered charity, and at a time when we need the money more than ever, we are also charitable in our partnership with the Unison Benevolent Fund. Some of you have asked, "why only 10 percent?" Quite frankly, we need the money. But through this partnership, it is our intention to show our musicians and members of the music industry that we care. We are doing what we can. In truth, that 10% would go a long way to offset the losses we are experiencing with the cancellation of many of our International Jazz Safaris and other local events that we had planned for you.

We had a strong first half of fiscal 2020. We were moving in a much more positive direction with growth in our financials. Despite the negative impact Covid-19 has dealt us all, our team morale remains focused on delivering broadcasting excellence. Although we can't high-five one another for our excellent work, our group emails among staff filled with passion and gratitude for our respect for one another and the JAZZ.FM91 brand, and for you, our listeners and donors.

I want to assure you that our programming and the people who bring it to you will carry on. Our team is working harder every day (most at home, with a minimal number at the station) to bring more on-air and online programming to you. We can't see your faces, but we can feel your spirit.

I encourage you to keep visiting us online. Try out our word searches and crossword puzzles, check out our documentary recommendations and enjoy other great content to bring some distraction and entertainment to your days. And please keep telling us your stories by emailing info@jazz.fm or by reaching out to any of your favourite hosts directly. Let us share your voice with your fellow listeners and donors.

Ken Stowar – Station Manager CIUT-FM

CIUT-FM continues to roll out the vast majority of its scheduled programs on a day to day basis regardless that no one other than myself and our station engineer is allowed on our premises. I oversee Master Control each day from 8 am to 6 pm then we roll out pre-recorded programming from 6 pm through to 9 am the following morning. This takes the full cooperation of our volunteers who remain passionate and committed to their show and our overall audience. 

Volunteers host most of our shows, and they are recording and producing new programs from their respective home bases. Our listeners, including the new ones we have picked up over the past month, are extremely appreciative that we are that beacon of hope and deliver some of the most exciting radio in Toronto. No repetitive playlists, no hourly updates on the latest death toll due to Covid-19, although we do offer our daily coronavirus updates each day at 9 am and when important notices become available. We ensure that at all times, we provide a balanced combination of entertainment, enlightenment, and informative discussion and news. 

Listener response has been nothing short of being thrilled that CIUT-FM with its limited resources can continue to broadcast 24/7 and feed our community with hope, encouragement and more.  All kinds of new listeners coming to us from online sources, too. 

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