If you had asked me in January if ‘work from home’ was a reality for our business or told me that revenues would be obliterated by June, I would have laughed.
I also would not have believed that you can change up your line up, reposition your station, adjust your playlist, and create the type of content only a talk station does on a music station and have it yield results in less than a week.
When lockdown was announced, we knew changes needed to be made – quickly. We started with research to get a better sense of what our listeners’ lives looked like. And commissioned a Covid-19 Facebook Survey targeted to our core audience; 8 739 listeners responded.
What did we learn?
- 93% of the responders stated that they were likely to listen to more radio than usual.
- News, information, and alerts around the Covid-19 lockdown was what they wanted to hear.
- Brands providing essential services became particularly relevant.
- We needed to design our content offering around our audience’s changing habits and to create meaningful opportunities for brands to reach them.
We created special branding that we ran for the lockdown period, including a tweak to our look and feel, and a change to our strapline from ‘KZN’s Number 1 Hit Music Station’ to ‘KZN’s Number 1 Covid-19 Companion’.
Because more radio was being consumed from 9am-12pm, we ran our Breakfast show from 7-10am. We introduced twice daily coronavirus updates on the Breakfast and Drive shows, with a special coronavirus tab on our website for immediate updates. Guests and experts shared meaningful information.
A special feature co-created with the KZN Department of Health ran on the Breakfast show. We launched audio lectures for Grade 12 students in partnership with the KZN Department of Education. We broadcast all the President’s speeches live. All content was broadcast on air, curated as podcasts online, and shared on social media.
As a result of the hard lockdown, there were limited cars on our roads, and as such we canceled our Traffic updates. There were also no Sport reports during this time. All our reporters, even though they were not working, were paid in full.
These changes were implemented within days of the lockdown being announced and were built on the insights from the survey conducted. This demonstrates how the station is designed around our listeners’ lives and proves the agility of radio and of East Coast Radio, in particular.
As lockdown levels were eased, so we reduced the amount of Covid-19 content, and while it is still covered mainly in News and specific on-air features, it’s not a part of our programming in Level 1. Fatigue around coronavirus content is real, not only for the audience, which we can see through engagement with content on our website, podcasts and social media, but also for the on-air team.
I was curious as to how it went at other radio brands and chatted to a few of my programming colleagues about how the different stages of the lockdown affected their on-air and online content rollout.
The focus for many stations in the beginning was to provide useful, credible, and newsworthy updates, but as coronavirus content fatigue set in, listeners sought information of a different kind.
How important has coronavirus content been for your listeners on air and online?
Stephen Werner, Station Manager at Primedia’s Kfm 94.5, says living up to their brand as a trusted friend has been important during the COVID-19 pandemic – especially when it came to what type of content they provided for listeners.
With many shows broadcasting from home during level 4 and 5, Jacaranda’s on-air talent was able to strengthen their relationships with listeners.
“Lockdown, especially while the shows were broadcasting from home, invited audiences into the homes of our on-air talent. This brought the audiences closer and made the content mix even more authentic. I think that this has been a definite shift that will continue, as the response has been phenomenal with the audience,” says Jacaranda FM’s Programme Manager, Hennie Myburgh.
Baydu Adams, programme manager at Algoa FM, says during the early stages of the lockdown, radio’s role was to dispense credible information about the pandemic. Algoa FM also saw an increase in engagement during the early stages of the lockdown, but Covid-19 interest died down a bit as restrictions eased.
OFM focused on countering the effects of uncertainty during Level 5 through positive and repetitive education, says programme manager Tim Thabethe. OFM’s social media platforms, website, as well as traffic on the station’s desktop and mobile apps, saw an increase in engagement of between 10% and 14% during the period March to April 2020.
Naveen Singh, programming manager at Smile 90.4FM, took a different content approach during the early stages, as Cape Town had one of the highest infection rates in the country. Smile FM also saw massive online interaction when the lockdown kicked in, but fatigue started to set in by Level 3.
According to Power 98.7’s head of programming, Mzo Jojwana, Power 98.7’s website saw significant growth in audience before and during lockdown Level 5. Website users grew by 437.5%, while page views grew by 273.6%.
Did coronavirus and the Lockdown force you to make programming changes?
“There were no traffic reports during lockdown, nor was there sport, so we had to drop those two until at least the international sport made a comeback, and travelling rules were relaxed. We created fun features and a few listener interactions and choices played out on air. Lockdown Pick Me Up was a song chosen by our listeners dedicated to someone or all Algoa FM’s listeners,” says Adams. The station also upped their lifestyle content to accommodate audience interest.
“We shifted certain daytime time-channels in response to our data around audience lifestyle changes: For example, during Level 5, ‘The Kfm Mornings’ show moved to 7-10am and workday programming shifted to a 10am start. The Flash Drive with Carl Wastie remained in the 3-7pm slot,” says Werner.
OFM’s on-air team revaluated the presentation of its music and content offering to best meet the needs of the audience.
Jacaranda FM introduced a dedicated coronavirus news bulletin in the Drive show.
Smile FM changed its news to coronavirus updates at the top and bottom of each hour. Like many stations, it too removed sport and traffic updates during the early stages of the lockdown.
While Power FM also had to adjust to the “new normal”, Jojwana says the station held the view from the beginning of the lockdown to keep programming as normal as is possible.
“Many of our shows came from our presenters’ and contributors’ homes. Content Producers were working on rotational split shifts. We also had to create content segments for appointment listening around covid-19 developments,” he says.
Normally stations go into downtime and holiday mode from mid-December to mid-January. How do you see this playing out this year?
“To be honest, I am unsure. It all depends on where the psyche of the audience is at. Cape Town is a holiday destination and our festive period is one of enjoyment, friends, family, and fun. We will do our best to maintain that integrity of the city and surrounds,” says Singh.
Jacaranda FM believes holiday content will be like previous years during the December-January period.
“I think that a holiday mode would still be relevant to our audiences, as they would be looking at this time to take a break. It is also necessary for on-air talent to take some time off where they can recharge creatively and reflect on the year. I think that it may be delayed by a week or so, but certainly the time between Christmas and New Year would be similar compared to previous years,” says Myburgh.
At East Coast Radio, we are hard at work planning for a summer of fun, family and feeling good. Our latest insights show that after the year we have had, everyone needs a summer to unwind. We plan to make that happen!
Zane Derbyshire is currently the head of all things content at East Coast Radio. He loves working with creative teams, and is very results driven. Passionate about developing people in the media and content space in South Africa.
Want to continue this conversation on The Media Online platforms? Comment on Twitter @MediaTMO or on our Facebook page. Send us your suggestions, comments, contributions or tip-offs via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.