Talk radio offers a sense of community during a time of social distancing.
Community radio stations around the world are offering a much-needed sense of togetherness during a time of social distancing, allowing listeners to get up-to-date news and entertainment while maintaining communication with others in the area. New stations are popping up everywhere to help with the cause.
Social Distance Assistance, a podcast centered on ways to help during the pandemic, is a great example of how talk radio has been effective. It was created by host Kelly Jones and her daughter, June. The pair set out on a mission to find creative problem solvers who are supporting those most affected by the virus. They also speak with experts who can answer pressing questions from listeners.
“It’s lovely knowing that there’s somebody down the road listening to the same thing as you. It brings back a sense of community in isolation,” says Gemma Mitchell, a 34-year-old mother from the UK. She listens to Bromyard FM, a local radio station that began broadcasting online in late March, after the onset of social distancing. It is run by two mobile DJs, Richie Palmer and Nikki Ivison.
“It feels like it’s co-run by the listeners. Being able to suggest songs, you feel part of it rather than listening on the periphery,” Mitchell said.
“I was tired of the endless cycle of bad news, so I tried to broadcast online using my gig software,” Palmer said. “Lots of listeners started tuning in through Facebook. The following morning, I contacted Nikki and we formed Bromyard FM.” He added, “I have been able to throw myself into something that I love. It’s also made me very happy to know that we are entertaining listeners and providing useful shows such as the Virtual School Disco and Kids’ Story Time. From Nikki’s perspective, she has suffered from depression, so this has lifted her spirits as well.”
Liz Scott, a special education caseworker who lives alone is particularly grateful. She said, “We are quite an isolated town with less than 5,000 residents and only one high school. We all have something in common. It’s easy to feel quite anonymous listening to BBC Midlands, which covers a huge area. And because requests are coming from people of all ages, I am listening to stuff I haven’t heard before. I rarely get bored.”
Dr Amanda Krause, a lecturer in psychology at James Cook University, explained, “Talk radio invites conversations – so you feel connected and involved even if you are apart. There’s also something about the human voice. People develop bonds with hosts, and this is a huge factor driving continued listening.”
The stations are helping with community mental health and organizing efforts to combat the crisis. “We reach people who aren’t getting important messages about anything from bin collections to befriending schemes,” says host Jimmy Andrex. “For example, we update listeners on what’s available in local supermarkets.”
“Internet broadcasting has a much wider reach,” says Chris Cook, a retired risk analyst who set up Potters Bar FM amid the coronavirus. “Someone in Potters Bar can make a request for someone else 500 miles away and vice versa. In fact, there’s no need to even have a local connection. All are welcome.”
Funding, however, will need to be sustained over the long term in order to keep the stations on air. Leona Fensome, operations and volunteer manager at Verulam FM in St Albans, said, “To make this sector more sustainable, we need a mixed economy – government funding, grants, advertiser revenue, sponsorship and local community partnerships. This will allow us to work with more people, training and certifying them to boost their employability. We’ll then have a better chance of meeting other important goals including social inclusion and widening media representation.”