Coronavirus. COVID-19. SARS-CoV-2. Whatever you choose to call it, this pandemic has dramatically transformed life as we know it. Businesses are closed. People are being ordered to remain in their homes. Entire industries have been destroyed, seemingly overnight. Radio is not immune. In fact, radio may prove to be one of COVID-19’s biggest casualties.
Terrestrial radio was in trouble before the coronavirus. Large broadcasting conglomerates had endured several rounds of layoffs and terminations. AM radio in particular was on life support in many cases. Then came COVID-19. Sponsors immediately began cancelling or severely cutting back on their advertising. After all, if your store or restaurant is closed, there’s not much sense in spending money to promote it. Radio stations reacted by furloughing staff. Due to “shelter in place” orders, remaining air talent began broadcasting from home. This is likely to be a permanent trend, regardless of when the pandemic ends.
I expect many stations to go dark as a result of this sustained lack of incoming revenue. Those which were just barely making it pre-COVID will be first to turn off the lights. Standalone AMs with poor signals and tricky directional patterns are the most likely victims. These operations will be deemed to be no longer viable, unable to generate a profit. Licenses will be turned into the FCC and the frequency allocations deleted. FMs are not immune, either. Especially those which rely on automation for all or much of their programming.
As always, the survivors will be those stations who continue to serve their communities with live and local programming. Yes, that’s expensive, but it’s also a necessity now more than ever. These broadcasters are likely to be get the most support from their advertisers. Let’s suppose you own a car dealership in a smaller market with two competing radio groups. One provides a genuine service with live talent and coverage of local events. The other runs their stations off a computer, only going live when they absolutely have to during times of severe weather (or possibly not even then.) Previously, you had the budget to run ad campaigns with both groups. Due to the coronavirus, you now only have enough money to buy spots from one. Which will you choose?
The days ahead will prove both interesting and extremely challenging for those employed in radio. Hang in there and as always, good luck!
PS: I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Due to excessive amounts of spam, I’ve had to disable comments on the site and move them to our Facebook page.