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Lessons From The Pandemic

Tomorrow is the fourth anniversary of the day the world shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I remember where I was as I am sure most do, too. In my case, I flew from Atlanta where I was working returning to my home state on March 13.

The plan was to fly to Chicago on March 17 to visit client stations. On the 15th,the Operations Manager called me to say someone at the station had tested positive for COVID and asked, “Can we reschedule your visit for a couple weeks from now?”

It was two years before I made it to that cluster.

The world has seen so many changes since the day global shutdown in early 2020. The lockdown accelerated the proliferation of many technologies. Streaming audio and video exploded as Work From Home became an acronym. Flex hours are now a “thing.” Families caught up on missed video series as binging programs got us through the isolation that many faced.

The family became more important in many ways. Younger generations formed beliefs where helping others became much more important than in the past. 

Smart speakers were purchased. Apps were downloaded. Podcasting took off. Streaming services saw subscriptions increase. Radio’s AQH was already experiencing erosion and it picked up speed due to this increased level of competition in combination with the elimination of drive time in-auto listening. Listening levels have been inching back toward 2019 levels, but the value of AQH has not yet rebounded post-pandemic. 

Air talent moved to closets at home to use as makeshift studios. Some moved to other cities where they had roots, family, or safety that came with being in different regions of the country. Offices sat empty. Sellers worked remotely. We were introduced to Zoom and a variety of video conferencing meetings. The pandemic turned us into a world that can work from anywhere anytime.

Brick-and-mortar studios and offices were rendered unnecessary. The money saved by the reduction of onsite locations was significant. Along with the downsizing of promotion teams and the elimination of receptionists, “non-essential” employees were furloughed for long periods – many to never return.

What we learned from the pandemic can be evaluated as good and bad. More talent are performing from locations outside of the market they serve. That enables companies to hire talent they couldn’t otherwise employ, but it eliminates being seen in a community and experiencing it firsthand. Admin, traffic staff, sellers, and promotion team members vary which days they WFH with when they work from the workplace. Corporate HQ for the largest of broadcast groups is more an address than a location. 

Market Managers oversee multiple markets. Some are geographically located, and others are separated by time zones. The same goes for Directors of Sales. New jobs have been created in the way of Digital Management and Digital Sales. Social Media is another area of expertise where companies are investing money. Talent are blogging, hosting podcasts, promoting multiple platforms where they can be heard, and investing time to contribute content to their App.

This is a world that was unimaginable ten years ago, yet it is becoming the norm. These changes in many cases are advancements seen as progress. In some cases, it’s viewed as necessary for the medium to continue to generate cash flow. 

What we’ve learned is that we have to move deeply into digital. That radio is ubiquitous and must be available to be heard on many platforms. That the audience has a shorter attention span than in the past. That we cannot satisfy the music lover with music alone because of radio’s financial model. That personalities are important. That stations dependent on National and Network advertising saw greater losses than those that didn’t – making the focus on selling Local advertising equally important for broadcasters in all size markets. 

Since the pandemic ended we’ve seen workplace culture disappear. At best we see it as being less team-like than in the past. I’ve witnessed terminations where I’d be willing to bet that it was unknown the role or responsibilities of the terminated employee. Morale ebbs and flows. Communication is sometimes fractured or at worst non-existent. Success goes unacknowledged. Failure is magnified. Attention to detail is critical. The 30,000-foot manager is facing extinction. 

What we’ve learned is that we can work remotely, but it requires discipline. That morale is important, which means scheduling in-person contact in a regular cadence. Encouragement to meet on video and in person regularly. Increased communication. Leadership, Sales team, and Promotion meetings in person once a week. Air talent meetings in person monthly. Give serious consideration to a Department Heads offsite once a month. It doesn’t need to be overnight, but a 6-hour meeting at a nearby hotel ballroom on a Friday will allow you to share what’s happening within each department and it provides information for the leadership to take to their team. 

We’ve learned that it is important to celebrate our successes… because they are sometimes few and far between. When you win… own it. Celebrate it.

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