WMMR social distancing

The third surge of the COVID-19 pandemic is hitting the U.S. after many radio groups began safely welcoming employees back to the office. Most companies surveyed by Inside Radio are moving ahead with a slow return to the office, but are allowing flexibility depending on individual markets.

“We have implemented a very safe, thoughtful, and agile back-to-work strategy across our markets,” says Beasley Media Group CEO Caroline Beasley. “Like other responsible businesses, we have put plans in place that were developed using the most up-to-date local, state and CDC safety guidelines.”

iHeartMedia is also moving forward with CEO Bob Pittman telling investors during its recent third quarter results call that the company has “developed plans in accordance with the most up-to-date safety guidelines to open each of our markets when their individual local safety criteria are met.” Pittman said employees in half of the company’s 160 markets have returned to the office.

He says iHeartMedia expects to open more offices in the coming months. “It's encouraging to see that on average, in Q3, markets whose offices are open are performing about 600 basis points [6%] better than markets that are not,” he said during the call.

At Hubbard Radio, where permitted by local or state guidance, “the majority of our teams are in office at least some part of every week,” CEO Ginny Morris says. When work-from-home mandates were previously in effect, very few Hubbard employees other than airstaff were in company offices.

In April Alpha Media closed its offices to all but essential employees and Director of Human Resources Susan Arville says the company has not relaxed its protocols. “However, with the recent surge, we have re-enforced it and reminded employees.”

Upon the onset of the pandemic, Beasley moved 85% of its employees to a remote-work situation. Now, where it is allowed, on-air talent and management staffs have returned, along with some of the sales staff. Adhering to state and CDC guidelines, “we continue to monitor and adapt as the situation evolves daily to ensure everyone remains safe,” Caroline Beasley explains.

Taking into account the complexities and variables from state to state and market to market, Morris says there’s no one size fits all solution, “except in the precautions and cleaning protocols we have implemented across the company.” She says some company locations have 90% or more of their teams back in the office.

On the other hand, Arville says approximately 80% of Alpha Media office personnel and sales are still working from home. “For programming, we have a larger percentage [back in the office] but we control how many employees are in the building at one time,” she explains. “Rarely do we have employees working a full day in the office.”

Rethinking How Business Gets Done

Despite the difficult circumstances, the executives all agree that there have been positives.

“The pandemic has forced all of us to rethink the way we do business,” Beasley points out. “From virtual concerts and events to advertiser webinars and new digital opportunities for our clients, 2020 has forced us to change the way we do business and challenged us with new ways to reinvent how we do it.” Arville says the pandemic “opened many new avenues for creativity and has opened our eyes to the fact that many of our jobs can be done remotely with great success.”

The ability to pivot quickly with remote broadcasting, virtual events and digital extensions proved that “we can adjust and accommodate a new operating model rather quickly,” Morris remarks. “We also were reminded of just how important radio is to the daily lives of so many. People count on us for news, information, entertainment and escape.”

iHeartMedia Executive VP/Chief Communications Officer Wendy Goldberg concurs. “Radio’s key strength has always been to provide companionship for its listeners, and that is more important than ever today,” she says. “For iHeart, our personalities serve as listeners’ trusted friends – especially in times of crisis or uncertainty – and we see our listeners turning to radio more than ever for both support and the most up to date information on the pandemic.” – Jay Gleason