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Radio's Adaption to the New Normal

An Article by Graham Dixon, Head of Radio, EBU

Article by Graham Dixon, Head of Radio, EBU

Since COVID-19 struck across Europe, creating challenges beyond the scope of most business continuity plans, the media world has been on a learning curve.  We probably agree that the radio industry will never be the same. Amid uncertainty regarding the ‘new normal’, radio organizations and people have developed in ways which strategic plans and training sessions could never have achieved.We have always delighted in the fundamental simplicity of radio - an intimate voice, engaging discussion, music exploration: aside from major events, this requires simple equipment and a small team. We have always boasted about the agility of the medium, now we have proved it.

First, there has been technological challenge of moving broadcasting from dedicated studio environments into homes, without months of preparation.   Sourcing extra equipment and ensuring reliable connectivity and bandwidth have posed considerable challenges. Looking around our Member websites, seeing bedroom studios, cushions and pillows for improving the acoustics, making sure that the dog does not interfere – yes, it’s an amazing technological leap. Getting there was easier for some organizations: for instance, Swedish Radio was passionate about covering stories live across the vast country; their smart technology was suited to broadcast from anywhere.

And second, what has really impressed me, is audience understanding, aligning with changing needs. Of course, populations need reliable information, and listening figures show this is appreciated. Radio stations address themselves to people, but they also give them space to express themselves - this has never been more valuable. Audiences have shared their fears and received professional insights about coping. But this daily audience contact has also charted the journey from news obsession, to rejecting the constant news agenda and seeking normality with humour and music.

At the EBU, we are pleased to have played our part, exchanging knowledge and bringing audiences together across Europe, notable in three contrasting music projects. The joint singing of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, initiated by our Dutch member, spread to 110 stations and many commercial. The BBC eight-hour long broadcast of Max Richter’s Sleep, heard on over 20 stations, captured the mood and memorably provided solace. And more upbeat, earlier this month we ran an international seven-hour marathon of dance music – Europe’s Biggest Dance Show, featuring top DJs.

Amid the crisis, last week the EBU published the latest media trust figures, showing that radio is the most trusted medium across Europe. More than ever, we need trusted sources to orientate our lives and actions.