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Live from the living room: It’s your local radio station in the era of coronavirus

COVID-19 Idaho

You might be working from your kitchen counter. Or the couch. Or, your boss might consider you essential and you’re still at work.

One local business also moved most of its work to its employee’s homes. But more than some spreadsheets and email – this task involved moving seven entire radio stations from a Nampa office building to houses all over the area.

For Impact Radio, the groundwork for COVID-19 came out of another disruptive event: the pummeling snowstorms of 2016/2017.

“Our ability to broadcast from home started during snowmageddon,” Impact Radio Group CEO Darrell Calton told BoiseDev. “We found ourselves in a bad position where our whole company was shut down for weeks.”

This time around, when you hear Joey and Lauren on My 102.7 or Kevin and Brenda on 101.9 The Bull – they’re coming to you from their homes.

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“Within four days of us pulling the trigger, we were broadcasting from home,” Calton said.

Christmas, handwashing & more

The stations also tweaked what they presented. The space between songs is filled with COVID-19 information: social distancing, handwashing reminders, details on the stay at home order and more.

“Our programming folks have been more than just doom and gloom. We’ve been looking for those slice of life stories. What can you do to keep your kids busy? How can you watch the calories you’re ingesting?”

It took its series of outdoor electronic billboards and turned them into COVID-19 messages pointing folks to the State of Idaho’s information portal. They even flipped one of their stations to Christmas tunes for an entire day.

Calton said the company’s work to make its stations available on Alexa smart speakers is also paying off. With fewer folks in the car, radio listening has moved to the home.

“It’s hard to find a radio for your house, but we have 50,000 active Alexa units. We built these skills out four years ago, and we started pushing it again recently.”

Feeling the pinch

Like most ad dependent businesses, Impact has seen significant cancellations in the past several weeks.

“We’ve seen a massive amount of cancellations. I’m sure every media is seeing the same volume of cancellations. When there’s a general fear out there, the first thing you cut is advertising,” he said. “We are fine from a cash standpoint, our goal is to keep everybody (employed) and working.”

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He said the group is also working to prepare for the day when the quarantines end and life goes to a new normal.

“I think our community of radio stations – and I mean all the stations in the market – will come ouf of this better than they were before,” he said. “We’ll be more connected and more local and willing and able to take on these types of challenges that happen.”

Disclosure: I appear weekly on competing station Kissin 92.3, and periodically on Boise State Public Radio. Both appearances are unpaid and promotional in nature.

Don Day
Don is the founder and editor of BoiseDev. He is a National Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Stanford University John S. Knight Fellow.

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