Ever since the age of pirate radio, human beings have turned to broadcasts for social connection, insights, news, and entertainment.
When everything else in the world seems to shut down, radio continues to thrive, delivering the kind of support that we need to get through difficult times.
At the time of writing for this article, we’re facing one of the biggest global disturbances that the world has ever seen.
The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has sent countless countries into lockdown, forcing people to work from home, or simply wait anxiously until they can return to the office.
While this experience has been an overwhelming and upsetting one for many of us, it has also acted as an incredible opportunity for radio stations to once again prove their resiliency.
The figures for radio listening during COVID-19 are stronger than they’ve been in years, and even in a time where customers have access to endless online podcasts and streaming, consumers are turning on their radio sets.
Radio listening statistics in the age of COVID-19
You just need to look at the stats to see how strong radio is right now.
According to Global, the company responsible for channels like Capital FM and LBC, online listening rose by at least 15% in the last week of March.
Elsewhere, data from analytics companies throughout the United States found that the use of radio streaming services like Spotify has dropped by 8%.
The analytics provider, Alpha Data said that streaming services have begun to lose attention in the last few weeks as customers search for more authentic human connections. Album and song sales have taken a significant hit.
However, today’s consumers don’t want to be stuck in silence when they’re confined to their homes.
Instead, we’re all looking for friendly and familiar voices to guide us through this difficult time.
Just as we turned to radio in decades past, waiting for updates on wars and political issues, we’re returning to our roots during this pandemic.
According to Radio and Education director for the BBC, James Purnell, people have always had a place in their heart for radio during significant events. We know that the radio is a trustworthy source of news, but we also use it as a place for fun and companionship.
Why radio listening is more popular than streaming
Experts believe that the surge in people listening to news radio and entertainment channels right now is driven by a few primary factors.
First, fewer people are commuting to work or going to the gym on a regular basis. That means that the Spotify playlists we used to listen to are losing their appeal.
People who stream music in offices and retail stores have also been hit by the pandemic. They’re switching off their streaming services and heading home to wait for the pandemic to blow over.
However, we don’t want to simply bury our heads in the sand during this terrifying time.
Instead, we’re relying on our radio stations to give us the perfect blend of crucial news, entertainment, and comfort in this trying time. After all, commercial radio is no stranger to idea of community spirit.
Everywhere you look, from Capital Radio, to Radio 4, you’ll find people providing useful tips on how to cope with things like quarantine and social distancing.
On Heart radio, Jamie Theakston and Amanda Holden have been sharing heart-warning stories and giving away large amounts of cash in their competitions to keep spirits high.
Heart even recently brought a doctor into their sessions to answer questions that listeners might have.
What’s more, unlike pre-recorded podcasts and songs on your Spotify playlist, radio stations are filled with people who can empathise with us. These are human beings with families and concerns just like the rest of us.
Even big-name celebrities have shared their concern over the airwaves, talking about family that they haven’t seen for a while, or friends that they miss.
Glossy and up-beat shows are being replaced with the soundtrack of a new era. Every channel has a tone of empathy to it, interspersed with moments of joy and levity to prevent us from falling too deeply into a state of panic.
Serving the world in a time of crisis
Today’s radio stations aren’t just there for your daily dose of rock music, or reporting on the COVID-19 crisis.
Increasingly, we’re seeing radio stations throwing prescribed tracks and playlists out of the window in favour of something more authentic and genuine.
Presenters are discussing the topics that matter to us right now, and playing songs designed to throw us out of our daily funk.
Eclectic presenters have always played an important part in the success of radio channels, but they’re showing their value more than ever today. Radio 2’s Sara Cox has offered a fun and lighthearted experience for listeners over the last few years.
However, now, the show has taken a new stance, interspersing fun and bouncy 90s songs with messages thanking the NHS and other crucial workers for all the things they’re doing to keep the world turning.
Elsewhere, Virgin Radio’s Chris Evans replicated the history of pirate radio by broadcasting from a boat in his back garden. Listeners are tuning into incredible stories about elephants that get drunk on corn whisky and break into family farms.
It’s not all fun and games, however. There are important announcements in there too, crucial stories about what’s happening in the world, and useful insights into how the world is changing.
Radio delivers a sense of togetherness and reassurance that is impossible to access anywhere else.
Although there are some excellent podcasts out there that provide a similar sense of community, they’re not as accessible or consistent as radio.
People are so committed to using radio to stay informed and entertained, that we’re even seeing an upsurge in the use of local stations too. London’s friendly radio stations have been turned up to 11 over the last few months.
Reliable local DJs and talk-show hosts are working double-time to steer us through these uncertain times. What’s more, everything’s available on the internet, just in case you want to binge-listen to something later.
Radio listening during COVID-19
Keeping informed during the Coronavirus pandemic is just one of the things that we’re using radio for right now. Sure, radio acts as a source of reliable information in a sea of rumours, but it also delivers other essential services too.
For instance, radio is a fantastic tool to give your day structure if you’re now stuck at home without a job to go to.
With the government paying furlough wages to a huge portion of the country in the UK, and employees elsewhere struggling to work from home, many of us have lost a semblance of routine.
We don’t have the morning commute and the lunch hour to think about each day anymore. Instead, we’re left floating in a sea of confusion, wondering what to do to keep the anxiety at bay.
Radio, with scheduled shows and regular updates, gives us a timeline to set our days too. We can keep track of the progress we’re making by assigning tasks to ourselves based on when our next favorite show is on.
We’re learning how to cope in this new environment with radio as our guide.
The most important thing that radio is doing right now is providing a lifeline for all of us to stay connected.
In a time where social distancing means that we can’t connect with the people we love; radio is how we ensure that we are not left isolated and out in the cold.
If the radio listening statistics show us anything, it’s that we’re all holding on to any sense of community we have left.
Radio listening during COVID-19 reminds us that we really are all in this together.
Radio Fidelity: For the love of radio.