Grand Reopening

With coronavirus cases starting to plateau in many areas, more states have begun to lift stay-at-home orders. As some radio staffers slowly return to work, when and how that happens is anything but a one-size-fits-all proposition. One thing companies have in common is putting the safety of their employees first when formulating reopening plans for offices and air studios.

Since late March, most of Townsquare Media’s off-air workforce has chosen to operate remotely, while most of its on air staff has been voluntarily broadcasting from station studios while following protocols for social distancing and deep cleaning between shows. “As we start the process of opening our offices in the states and counties which are beginning to lift restrictions, we have implemented numerous and prudent safety precautions,” Chief Operating Officer, Local Media Erik Hellum tells Inside Radio, adding that there is no official start date for reopening. With the safety of workers and their families the top priority, Townsquare says any employee returning to the office is doing so 100% voluntarily. “It is the employees’ option to return to the office and any team member who is not comfortable returning is working remotely from home,” he adds. “Market by market, our goal is to find the intersection of safety and productivity.”

Companies that have already begun allowing employees back into their facilities are doing so on a market-by-market situation. Hubbard Radio reopened its St. Louis facility on May 18 in what VP/Market manager John Kijowski described as “a safe and smart staggered approach” that has some employees continuing to work from home. “We have found them to be very efficient and productive,” he says. Each Hubbard cluster is making reopening decisions individually, based on the situation in their state and county.

On May 19, iHeartMedia said it will begin to gradually reopen offices in a phased, market-by-market approach beginning June 1. The plan takes into account local and state government regulations, guidance from health officials, compliance with its own internal reopening guidelines and feedback collected from a recent online survey of employees. Reopened facilities will be subject to social distancing measures, have hand sanitizer and masks available and establish office cleaning and sanitizing procedures, the company said.

Radio One Atlanta is firming up a tiered return-to-work plan, according to Regional VP and General Manager Tim Davies. All staff except essential personnel, such as engineers, producers and board ops, will continue to work remotely until at least the beginning of June. The company has “learned so much” during the past two months, especially from its growing stable of syndicated talent, which has “bonded remotely” as teams collaborated more closely. Before the crisis, having talent scattered across studios in different cities “could be a little disjointed,” Davies says. “Now, it is great radio.”

Since mid-March, Bonneville’s Denver cluster has had “a small contingent” of on-air staff in the building, says Senior VP and Market Manager Bob Call. Team shows are split up with one member at home and one in the studio. Tech department employees are rotated so one is in the building each day. On May 4 Colorado began allowing commercial businesses to reopen with up to 50% of employees working in-person. Call says his cluster has targeted early June to bring some additional employees into the building. “We are taking a very slow, measured approach to bringing more staff back into our building. We are doing a great job with our remote capability so there is no rush to bring people back,” he says. “We will be cautious, with the health and safety of our staff being the number one priority once the process begins.”

On May 11, Beasley Media Group became the first radio group to announce a reopening plan, starting with a gradual first phase in states that have reopened for business. In that phase, no more than 25% of each cluster’s individual workforce will be in the workplace at any given time. In Tampa, where Florida’s stay-at-home order expired April 30, VP and Market Manager Steve Triplett says employees are back in the building “but we are currently limiting it to 50% or less of our workforce at any given time.”

And at Adams Radio Group, stations are transitioning back to company offices and studios after working remotely for more than two months. CEO Ron Stone said he expects all stations to be fully staffed by July 15.

But while some companies are slowly – and cautiously – having employees return to offices and studios, others aren’t quite ready to make that leap. Entercom has extended its work-from-home operating model until at least Sept. 1 since business is getting done that way and “our team’s health and safety remain our top priority,” Entercom COO Susan Larkin said in a May 15 companywide email. Entercom will continue to monitor conditions and could end up revising the date if conditions warrant, Larkin said. It’s also giving itself some wiggle room in certain cases where returning to work would “considerably improve an employee’s ability to perform their duties.” Those requests are being decided on a case-by-case basis by the company’s COVID-19 Task Force.

And an Alpha Media spokesperson says its work from home policy has been so successful that it has been extended indefinitely. “We have amazing employees who have really exceeded our expectations while working remotely,” President and CEO Bob Proffitt told Inside Radio. “We absolutely want to get back just as soon as we can, but the safety and well-being of our team is our number one priority.” In the meantime, the company has given market managers reopening plans, checklists and guidelines, based on CDC recommendations to help them make “slow and deliberate transitions.”