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Weathering the Storm – A Programming Perspective

April 17, 2020

Recently, Research Director, Inc. got perspectives from three sales managers on how they have adjusted their operations as COVID-19 has impacted every portion of our economy. Today, we publish perspectives from three leaders on the programming side, to hear how they are handling their operations and serving their listeners.

Keith Cunningham – Program Director, 95.5 KLOS

“Thankfully, before the CV19 crisis hit, we had the technology in place for just about everyone to work remotely, so we have been able to stay on track and execute at a high level. That said, we believe being live and local and interacting with the audience has never been more important; we’re not creating canned shows. Our DJs are doing live shows and talking to listeners each day.

Everyone around here takes our responsibility as broadcasters and entertainers very seriously and our core focus is on helping the community in every way we can. In some cases, it’s as simple as being a calm voice and answering the phone and playing a request, while in others it’s more significant, like airing the Mayor’s press conference or buying lunch for ER workers and first responders.

I’m very proud of our morning show – they have captured the spirit of Southern California. While they always support local businesses, the Frosty, Heidi and Frank Show created a website for the city that has taken on a life of its own, “Stay Open LA,” which has an interactive map showing which local businesses are still open – and they are getting countless new businesses registering on the website each day.

Some of the other things we’re doing are:
• Always providing necessary updates about the number of local cases and alerts from the city.
• We’ve started Marci’s Bootcamp, which is an hour of high-octane rock to help the listeners sweat each weekday at noon.
• Our weekends have been themed “The Show Must Go On,” which features customized playlists that have no ballads or bummers, just music to keep spirits up.
• We’ve set-up the Quarantine Venting Machine at 844-804-KLOS, where listeners can vent or say whatever they want, and we are playing those messages back on the air each day.
• Frosty, Heidi and Frank and the other jocks are doing online happy hours each Friday at 5pm on the KLOS Facebook page.
• We are going the extra mile to support our clients and sponsors who are still supporting us, during this trying time.”

Johnny Chiang – Director of Operations, Cox Media Group Houston

“Our world got turned upside down with this outbreak. However, here at CMG Houston we remain live and local. Some of our team is broadcasting at home while others are in studio. It is tricky to do a morning show remotely, with everyone in separate locations, so they are at the station.

Our on-air product is striking that delicate balance of every day COVID-19 information and entertainment. Our properties can’t go all 24 hour news, but our talent has been exceptional with local information. We talk about how the virus is affecting our local communities and businesses. We are still doing traffic, but that news is minimal. Our talent and traffic reporters are doing a great job coming up with relevant entertaining content even though there is no traffic. They now know what it is like being a weatherperson in Los Angeles!

We have not stopped any of our pre COVID-19 major benchmarks. That is who we are and we will not diminish our brand.

We have always done a good amount of social interaction with our listeners. Now, all of our talent has pushed out digital interaction to a new level. Now it is especially important to be touching the listeners as social distancing has become the norm. Our team is talking incessantly about smart speakers and social media to ensure our listeners know how to listen and interact with us in this brave new world.

I think the biggest impact COVID-19 has had on Houston and KKBQ is the cancellation of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. It is the biggest event in Houston every year with 2-3 million people attending. The day that was cancelled this COVID-19 issue became real for Houstonians. Our stations were prepared for it by carrying THE Houston Mayor’s announcement live on our music station. This is Texas and many in the community had a F-U attitude when Rodeo was cancelled. We mourned this cancellation with our listeners, but also used the event to inform the market that this is a real crisis, and they need to stay safe.

Personally, it is tough for me to work remotely as it is difficult to properly interact and brainstorm, with MY TEAMMATES. I am used to members of my team just walking in to my office to shoot me on new ideas, multiple times a day. So to replicate that, we are doing lots of impromptu video conferencing and I am adapting to getting the most out of my team without being in the same room.”

Scott Mahalick – Interim Market Manager, Hubbard Seattle

“Health and safety are first. That goes for our staff, our listeners, and the entire Seattle community.

As Seattle was the first major U.S. market impacted by this virus, we had to create the playbook. On-air, we needed to adjust the tone and timber of the station to bond with the audience. While the market was coming to us for entertainment, we shifted the focus from less show business and more community. We set up Fight Back Give Back where we donated $500,000 in on-air messages to local charities. We also donated 3,000 masks, which were originally set up for an event, to local medical centers.

We still need to be relevant but also make people smile. We had a toilet paper giveaway to our listeners, which brought a smile to everyone’s face. It showed the community that we care, but still can still entertain.

Seattle is a competitive radio market. However, we put our competitive juices aside and partnered with Bonneville who owns KIRO-FM, the all-news station, to get information out to the listeners.

On a staff basis, the key is to communicate. As interim Market Manager, I send a daily e-mail to the entire staff keeping them informed about all the occurrences, but also make them feel good about the job they are doing. With most working at-home we are encouraging more phone conversations and facetime than ever before. We create group events to keep the staff bonded together, and keep morale up.

Finally, we know that this will change business forever. Radio is incredible at adapting to changes in market conditions, and we will be a more efficient resource for our clients.”

These radio folks and countless others are rising to the occasion and doing great radio while helping their communities. Please share your ideas in the comment box below.

-Charlie Sislen, Partner