Five Coronavirus Strategies for Radio

Once upon a time, your radio show or podcast talked about something other than the COVID-19 pandemic. Today your listeners are more interested in that topic than in anything else.

Ratings are way up for TV news and news radio. Health-related podcasts like NPR’s Coronavirus Daily and CNN’s Coronavirus Fact or Fiction are tops on the most-listened-to charts.

How do you shift your show from lighter topics and fun to the pandemic while staying true to your personality brand?

At The Randy Lane Company, we hear that question from hosts across the US and Canada a lot lately. Here are five tactics to consider as you plan content in the months ahead.

  1. Tell your first-person stories. Focus on stories, not stuff. A virus is a thing, but you are a trusted friend to listeners. Tell the audience what you did, how you felt, and what challenges you have  faced from the pandemic.

Some challenges make for funny stories, and others are more dramatic. Tara Jean Stevens of Kiss Radio in Vancouver shared her real-life experience:

“I was driving to work this morning; 5 AM, dark, stormy. Suddenly, I saw a partially-naked teenage girl on the highway. Sixteen, maybe. All she had on were a thin pair of bottoms. She was clearly in distress, trying to run, but she kept collapsing.

I got her into my car, got her wrapped in a blanket from my trunk. She was delirious and incoherent. Then I heard her mumble the word ‘fever’…she’d been tested for COVID-19 “last night.” The ER nurse said I should have called 911 and stayed back. Hindsight….”

Now Tara Jean is quarantined, hosting her morning show from a spare bedroom, quarantined from her husband and children for the next two weeks.

  1. Tell first-person stories of others. The most memorable media presenters share the spectrum of emotions, from happy to sad. Your listener’s day-to-day experiences range from hilarious to embarrassing to heartbreaking to grateful.

Light topics we’ve heard include “Strange Things You’ve Seen on Zoom Chat,” and “What’s Your Coronavirus Side-Hustle (Job).”

There are moving first-person stories from other media too. CBS 60 Minutes interviewed Dr. Mangala Narasimhan at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, who saw a man walk into the hospital, talking, and “12 hours later they’re on a ventilator fighting for their life.

  1. “Good news” stories and games. Listeners have already been craving escape from contentiousness and negativity in the last few years, and coronavirus makes them appreciate positive vibes even more.

Newspapers and TV stations get big web traffic on stories like a local restaurant delivering steaks and toilet paper to hospital workers from ABC 13 in Houston.

Or this story about an engaged couple who had a social-distance wedding where the bride surprised the groom with his favorite trombone player’s rendition of “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You.”

And look at prime time TV, and you will see lots of interactive games. Almost any game that listeners can play along with is a winner. The KVJ Show at WRMF West Palm Beach created a pandemic game called, Coronavirus Fact or Fiction. One question was, “True or False: You can catch coronavirus from someone’s farts?” Answer: (True)

Also: clips from late-night TV monologues are a great way of addressing a serious topic with levity and laughs.

  1. Brief headlines, updated frequently. Listeners are very interested in the latest bulletins. We recommend that drive time radio shows do half-hour updates, keeping each story to a couple sentences.

Syndicated show The Playhouse with Kat and JJ does about sixty seconds of information in their COVID-19 Update, with headlines like these.

        • Nintendo Switch is sold out as people shelter in place at home
        • Southwest Airlines is canceling flights
        • A California man arrested for claiming a bogus coronavirus cure
        • Lowe’s is hiring
        • A group of senior citizens broke into song at their convalescent home (include audio)
        • The Indianapolis 500 is postponed
        • New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees donating $5 million for virus relief

  1. Go back in history. If you thought closing restaurants and ordering people to stay home was a new thing. Oregon Public Broadcasting found a parallel story from the 1918 flu epidemic in Portland, including efforts back then to flatten the curve and social distance.

Finally, if you have the opportunity to correct lies, hoaxes and misinformation, please do. There is a lot of BS out there. No news organization is perfect, but if you check a couple of the sources below to verify information before broadcasting it could help save your reputation.