Remote Talent Photo

Radio has always been there in times of crisis as Americans turn to local stations for important information. However, with a worldwide pandemic underway, “there” is not necessarily at the radio station.

Social distancing measures deemed necessary to flatten the curve of the spread of the novel coronavirus have more and more radio personalities broadcasting from home, which comes with its challenges and adjustments.

Results from an exclusive Inside Radio survey show that 58% of respondents indicate at least some of their air talent are working from a remote location, such as their home. Others indicated they are preparing for their full airstaff to work from home.

“There have been many cases where we have arranged for personalities to execute their shows from home,” Beasley Media Group Chief Content Officer Justin Chase tells Inside Radio. The simple reason why many radio groups are setting talent up with improvised home studios is that trusted voices need to be heard during these unprecedented times. “This is our opportunity to reestablish ourselves as the first choice for trusted companionship through the intimacy of audio,” Chase says.

Andre Gardner, afternoon talent at the company’s Philadelphia classic rocker WMGK (102.9), began his home broadcasts Monday, March 23. Gardner tells Inside Radio he had just about everything he needed to get the job done already, a mic, mixer and processing. “All that was missing was the ability to feed the audio in real time over the internet,” he says. “The station graciously loaned me a Comrex Bric-Link II to use, and now I'm ready to rock.”

As everyone who is adjusting to a work-from-home reality is realizing, being “at work” while you’re at home has its challenges. “Yes, you're at home, but your head needs to be in ‘work’ mode for your entire shift,” Gardner advises. The veteran air talent stays in his “studio” during music sweeps “to try to avoid roaming around the house so I can stay focused on the job at hand.” Meanwhile, Gardner says the situation itself has him in closer communication with station staff. “In some ways, it can be even more intense than being in the studio, because now I’m constantly getting calls, texts and emails from programming, traffic and engineering people during my show, many working remotely as well. I have to make sure to stay in the zone and let nothing slip through the cracks.”

Hard To Tell The Difference

Listening to Gardner’s afternoon show, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference from him being in the Beasley studios or from his home set-up. “That's a huge relief,” he says. “I spent a lot of time over the past weekend trying to match the mic sound/processing here with the studio mic at ‘MGK.” However, some things are out of his control as he adjusts to his new broadcast home. “On my first day, I’d left the studio door open a crack and, right while I was doing a live talk break, one of my cats came in and started meowing because she was hungry,” he shares. “I just mentioned it on the air as it happened, and I think that was relatable to our audience.”

The new normal for radio extends to just about every radio group in the country. Inside Radio has heard from broadcast groups large and small who have talent broadcasting from home, including the syndicated “Rover’s Morning Glory,” based at iHeartMedia rock WMMS Cleveland; iHeartMedia classic rock “Q104.3” WAXQ New York talent including, Shelli Sonstein, morning co-host, afternoon host Ken Dashow, with morning man Jim Kerr following suit later this week; members of the “Ordway, Merloni and Fauria” afternoon show at Entercom sports WEEI Boston; “The Howard Stern Show” on SiriusXM; and several members of the NRG Media Omaha staff. Cumulus Media Atlanta was one of the first clusters to implement radio’s new norm when the studios were quarantined on March 13 after a worker came in contact with someone being tested for COVID-19.

From a corporate view, the challenges are not only technical, but personal. “There have been two challenges that we’ve had to work through,” Chase explains. “First, when an individual on our staff is exposed to coronavirus, like one of our employees in Detroit, we lose a large number of people in a single day. Second, we needed to make sure that all of our employees that needed to work remotely had the right equipment to do so.” Beasley has purchased IP Codec units to provide to talent to broadcast from home and the company also has the ability to record shows from home using an iPad, in nearly real-time, in most of its markets, Chase says.

While challenging, it is also what radio does best: Adjusting to the needs of the community during an emergency. As the country battles a health crisis using social distancing and isolation, radio pivots to remain an ear’s length away, just in a new broadcast-from-home mode.

“Under any other circumstances, I'd say it's quite fun to do,” Gardner says. “I look at this now as a necessity, more than anything, but that hasn't stopped me from thinking just how cool technology is to make this possible. The radio geek in me still gets a little fired up about it.”– Jay Gleason