Music vs. COVID Content: Striking the Balance

Even those of us expert at working from home are finding it hard to remember what “outside” and “hanging out with people we’re not related to” felt like after a month plus. As former radio programmers, the three of us collaborating on this piece (Mike O’Connor, PJ Kling and I) are all thinking about how much radio should cater to the pandemic’s stranglehold vs. providing an escape for listeners.

NuVoodoo has been asking questions concerning coronavirus since early last month, many of which we update at least once a day here. And we’re now asking how much COVID-19 info you should be relaying: Should you be free of coronavirus content? Should you drop the format and simulcast a sister news station?

A huge majority of the 1200 respondents we asked feel that music stations should remain music-focused, with occasional or hourly updates on local coronavirus information in your market.

Regardless of how much info you share, choosing what to share is paramount, so we’re including questions about that information in our on-going tracking. Another 3200 respondents put local data like new cases, local government restrictions, and businesses that can still serve their community at the top of the list, but there’s significant interest in lower-ranked concepts that can bring a sense of community to your programming and reinforce your station’s brand.

With the initial COVID-19 shock giving way to a type of new normal and key Spring rating periods under way, our clients have repurposed NuVoodoo’s data-driven playbook and adapted ratings-success practices in imaginative new ways for the “stay at home” world. Here’s what we’re seeing so far:

  • Local and national cash contests are slowly returning to the airwaves. With so many out of work, furloughed, and taking pay cuts, you have an opportunity to package your sweepstakes as an economic lifeline for your listeners. We detailed a “how to” approach for that in a recent post.
  • With advertising scaled back everywhere, smart programmers are recalling that promoting the times of commercial-free hours can move the meter. (It’s the silver lining if you are able “to drive a truck through the spot load” on your station.)
  • For those fortunate enough to have contesting, “commercial-free” and “cash” represent two of the three highest rated tune-in catalysts in study after study among PPM- and Diary-vulnerable audience segments.
  • This Spring, out-of-home campaigns on billboards, transit shelters and bus benches have evaporated in the face of reduced street traffic and high costs. Stations are substituting NuVoodoo-managed address-matched digital and social media display campaigns. Ad positions on desktops, laptops and especially mobile phones have become the new boards for radio.
  • Pre-, mid-, and post-roll video on YouTube, Social Media and connected TV’s have given the concept of radio station “TV buys” new life. While the momentum slowed dramatically over the past month, the year-over-year trend is unmistakable, and we expect these types of ad buys to take up more of our media trading department’s time once things normalize.
  • NuVoodoo’s workplace telemarketing campaigns are on hold for the time being, but we’re using an innovative Social Media Lead Generation ad unit that allows listeners to sign up for Name Game contests in just one click. For radio stations that do it right, Social Media profile data is yours with just one listener click to enter your contest. With the explosion of digital media usage while listeners shelter in place, we’ve seen an explosion in station data acquisition. (Incidentally, registering for Name Games is how listeners prefer to activate their participation in our contests. They’ll text too. But statistically speaking, the age of speed-dialing radio stations ended long, long ago.)

The most important facet of local radio will continue to be its community-connected content. Sharing memes with your audience, participating in stay-at-home challenges, jocks doing TikTok videos and everything else you can imagine are valuable, especially given the myriad of organic digital touchpoints though which stations can extend their audience relationships.

If you have an opportunity to get the word out about your ability to help people in financial need, we can put a decade of experience executing marketing campaigns for radio to work for you, from Social Media to direct mail, and everything in-between.

Stay safe!