We have already talked about the role played by community radio stations during the pandemic, in involving the population in rural areas and explaining the safety measures needed to prevent infection. The biggest problem is language barriers, such as those that Radio Naköj, a Guatemalan radio station that since 2013 has been speaking to the Kaqchikels, one of the indigenous Mayan peoples of the highlands, has been able to overcome with ease. The station, which broadcasts on 99.1 MHz from Santo Domingo Xenacoj, a municipality in the department of Sacatepéquez, aired stories with educational messages on how to prevent contagion. Explaining with grace and imagination how to use a mask correctly, the importance of washing hands or even bartering strategies to deal with the economic crisis.
A battle against discrimination
An extensive article can be readin the periodical Lado B, which, in addition to the radio station’s activities, talks about the discrimination against indigenous peoples. Although they are not a minority, they represent 43.8% of the inhabitants out of a total of 16.6 million: of these, more than a million are Maya Kaqchikel. Yet, the state does not inform them in their own language and allocates only a third of its spending (compared to mestizos and Latinos) for health services, education and social protection.
Schools started distance learning in Mexico, one of the countries that has been hardest hit by the pandemic (in fourth place for the number of contagions). Since August 24th, 2020, 30 million pupils are able to follow programmes on air from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on 16 channels transmitted by four TV broadcasters: Televisa, TV Azteca, Grupo Imagen and Grupo Multimedios. All those who do not have access to television will be able to follow the lessons on the radio and study from books. Over 4,550 TV programmes (640 in indigenous languages) will be transmitted. The programmes do not include entertainment , but follow the school syllabus and pupils will be tested on the contents. Educational programmes do not have advertising. Here is the article with details from the daily newspaper, El Universal.
Due to the Covid-19 crisis the Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media of the Russian Federation offered radio and television broadcasters the opportunity to reduce the power of their transmitters and to turn them off at night (from 24.00 to 6.00) in order to save energy. This measure is in place from 24th April to 31st December, 2020. However, very few radio stations have taken this up. They are afraid that reducing power and coverage area could cause a drop in the numbers of listeners and commercials. Advertising is already going very badly. Advertising spots have dropped by 70% and 80% in many areas of the country and the ministry believes that broadcasters’ budgets will be more than halved this year (their revenues will be down by about 8 billion rubles)
Subsidies and cuts to rent and royalties
In order to compensate for financial losses, radio stations are asking for funding as well as a lowering of RTRS fees (Russian Television and Radio Broadcasting Network, the company that manages transmitters), which are considered two or three times higher than those of private companies. They would also appreciate a respite with a lowering of royalties for music rights. The Deputy Minister of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media of the Russian Federation, Alexey Volin, declared that their request for subsidies was unrealistic and stated that the measures currently in place were sufficient. However, he was more open on the subject of lowering royalties which he declared was a more reasonable request.
The coronavirus pandemic has thrown the largest Christian group of radio stations in the United States into crisis.
The Salem Media Group had a business model that protected them from the highs and lows of the advertising market. In 2019 they made US$79 million by selling pastors time on their transmissions to deliver their sermons. However, they certainly did not forgo both local and national commercials that brought in $68 million. Nevertheless, the Covid-19 pandemic caused their shares to plummet to 80 cents (they were at US$8 in 2018 and US$30 in 2004). Moody’s, an American credit rating agency, has classified investments in the company as high risk.
The Salem Media Group has a network of 3,100 radio stations (100 of which they own) with a guaranteed 298 million listeners per week. The board of directors have announced a dividend block, a reduction of 10% in managers’ salaries and they are now considering personnel cuts (a total of over 1,400 employees). In this article the magazine Christianity Today outlines the situation in-depth.
Cuts for five major broadcasters in Europe are on their way. While in Italy some radio stations are asking their listeners for help.
Austria: ORF is cutting outgoings
The director general of ORF, Alexander Wrabetz, has announced cuts of € 75 million are to be made by the end of 2021. These will be implemented in all areas in the company, from equipment to the cost of personnel. This year the broadcasting station is predicting losses that go from a minimum of € 28.6 million to up to € 54 million, should the worst scenario play out. The budgets allocated for major events will not be touched (€ 40 million for the rights of the European Football Championship and the Olympics). This is also the case for other investments which include digitalisation. Click here for more details from the article on Horizont.
France: Cost cutting plans for the public radio causes controversy
Cuts in the budget had already been decided on in 2018, in a period long before the present crisis. The Government had demanded a reduction of € 190 million in funds to public broadcasters (by 2022). € 20 million of spending cuts were destined for Radio France and in 2019 the CEO Sibyle Veil had prepared a plan that involved cutting 250 jobs. This provoked the longest strike in the history of public radio. The strike lasted 63 days (in total) during the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020. The trade unions consider the cuts unjustified and after a period of truce due to the Covid-19 crisis, the unrest could restart.
Germany: NDR raises the crossbar by € 60 million
The German broadcasting company Norddeutscher Rundfunk, NDR, wants to cut € 60 million more than the € 240 million that had been already decided on for the next four years. The director, Joachim Knuth, is not going to reduce personnel but will not be employing new staff for 200 vacant positions. Furthermore, programmes and a series of events will be cancelled. Among those to go are crime series, entertainment and game shows on TV. Click here for more details from the article on Der Spiegel.
Italy: Onda d’Urto is banking on subscriptions
Radio Onda d’Urto in Brescia has launched a campaign for subscriptions to compensate for the missing revenues caused by the probable cancellation of the Festival of Radio Onda. The event, that is to be held in August, is the main source of finance for the broadcaster and even if it is not cancelled, it will be much smaller.
United Kingdom: £ 125 million have gone ‘missing’ at the BBC
The coffers of the public broadcasting station, BBC, aredown £ 75 million due to a delay: Listeners over seventy five were due to pay TV fees from June 1st, 2020, but this has been postponed to August 1st, 2020. This amount rises further because of losses caused by a drop in advertising and the postponement of a plan to reduce the workforce by cutting 450 jobs. According to the director general, Tony Hall, the cuts need to total £ 125 million. Upper management salaries will be frozen until August 2021 and a freeze will be put on all recruitment that is not indispensable. Other TV stations are not doing any better. ITV, free-to-air, has made a cut of £ 100 million to their budget and Channel 4 (a public broadcaster) has made a cut of £ 150 million. Further details can be found here.
Spain: SER cuts cost of personnel
Spains main network, Cadena SER, owned by the Prisa group (they own the daily newspaper El Pais and have business interests in 24 countries) is reducing the cost of labour. Of the personnel employed by the radio, 256 workers have been laid off until July 12th, 2020, (on unemployment benefit) while another 924 have a salary reduction of 10% until December 31st, 2020. Cadena Ser has 202 stations and the Prisa group also owns Cadena 100 and Los 40 Principales. Click here for details in the article of El Español.
Alfonso ‘Toto’ Arevalo, the President of ‘Asbora’ Bolivian Radio Broadcasting Association, interviewed by John Arandia for Capsula AM: The programme is aired by Radio Fides, transmitting on 101.5 FM from the capital, La Paz. Watch the interview here.
Having been brought to their knees because of the fall in advertising caused by Covid-19, a large number of Bolivian radio stations risk closure within a month. They are unable to pay salaries, the technicians, electricity and licensing fees. The association representing broadcasters (Asbora) has written an open letter to President Jeanine Anez Chavez asking her to launch new government advertising campaigns (and also pay the invoices for commercials that the public administration put on air last year). Asbora also asked for a discount of 50% on electricity bills and to postpone payment of licensing fees to next year. More details to be found here.
In order to give more information to the public during the Coronavirus pandemic, Ofcom, the UK’s independent communications regulator, has approved the opening of some new temporary radio stations. Licences have been awarded in areas that are not already served by community radio stations on the condition that arrangements have been made with local community leaders. In support of this venture, the Community Media Association, the organisation for British community broadcasting, has contacted the societies that manage music royalties to organise favourable conditions. PRS for Music is asking only £ 86 a month plus 20% VAT for 12 weeks.
Funding programme for entertaining those at home
The Audio Content Fund, a government funded scheme that finances original public radio, has allocated £ 200,000 (later increased to £ 400,000) to ideas, targeting listeners in lockdown during the pandemic. Among the approved projects, there is a 15-minute transmission made by people overtheir 70s for an audience over their 70s, and a ‘virtual’ version of Strawberry Fair in Cambridge, a music and arts festival that attracts up to 50,000 people to East Anglia.
Julian Clover, Editorial Lead, Cambridge 105 Radio said: ‘Strawberry Fair is one of the highlights of the year for our city and is one of our most popular outside broadcasts. While we won’t be able to make it to Midsummer Common we hope that our Virtual Strawberry Fair is able to give a taste of summer to Cambridge 105 Radio listeners.’
Four radio stations covering the festival
In addition to Cambridge 105 Radio (105.0 MHz), parts of the coverage will be heard on neighbouring stations: Star Radio (Star broadcasts on 107.9FM in Cambridge, 107.1FM across Ely and the Fens and now on 107.3FM in Saffron Walden), HCR104fm (Huntingdon Community Radio) and Future Radio (107.8FM from Norwich).
Several countries have allocated funds to support broadcasting stations suffering from the drop in advertising. However, some are reducing salaries or putting their personnel on holiday leave. The USA has allocated 75 million dollars to the American non-commercial radio and TV stations.
Included in the act, passed by the House of Representatives on March 27th, 2020 to support the American economy during the state of emergency, there are also 75 million dollars allocated to the public radio and TV stations. This is in addition to the annual 445 million dollars, managed by the CPB – Corporation for Public Broadcasting, an independent non-profit corporation that distributes the funding to about 1,500 radio and television stations. President Trump wanted to cancel the annual funds in 2017, even though, according to the President of CPB Patricia Harrisins, the cost to each American citizen was only 1.35 dollars a year.
Spain: 15 million for television, cuts for Cope
On March 31st, 2020, the Spanish government allocated 15 million euros in support of television stations provided that they guarantee identical territorial coverage for the next six months. The funding will take advertising income into account in order to give greater help to stations with lower revenues. A Spanish radio station is cost cutting: The President of Cadena Cope, Fernando Gimenez Barriocanal, has written to the staff suggesting a 20% cut in salaries. They are currently negotiating with the trade unions.
France: National networks economising
Aiming to limit the consequences of a considerable drop in business caused by the epidemic, the Lagardere group has decided to lay off journalists in Europe 1, RFM, and Virgin Radio. This went into effect for Europe 1 on April 1st, 2020. The group, in reply to President Macron’s appeal to not pay dividends to their shareholders, has set aside 5 million euros. The group is present in over 40 countries, employing more than 30,000 people and had a turnover in 2019 of 7,211 million euros. The Radio France management, according to the national trade union centre CGT, have encouraged their employees to take at least five days holiday by the middle of May.
UK: Sport news station ‘tightens the belt’
Due to pausing sports transmissions because of the pandemic, Love Sport Radio, broadcasting nationwide on DAB, has streamlined its programming schedules. Listeners were informed in a pre-recorded announcement by the owner, Kelvin MacKenzie, who had also furloughed a large number of staff.
In order to increase the number of hospital beds, the Government of Sri Lanka has converted the buildings left by the Voice of America in Iranawila, located on the western coast of the island, 70 km north of the capital Colombo. The VOA, the American international broadcaster, after having relocated their equipment to Kuwait and to Greenville (North Carolina), returned the land back to the Sri Lankan State in 2017. The original intention to develop the site as a tourist resort had been shelved due to protests by local residents. In the interim period before developing the area, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed the army commander to use the buildings for Covid-19 patients in March 2020. The new hospital can take in fifty patients and was completed at the beginning of April 2020.
25 years of propaganda
The ex relay station of the Voice of America spans an area of 1.6 km² and includes four large buildings with seven high power transmitters: four 500kW transmitters and three 250 kW transmitters, that currently broadcast programmes of Radio Free Asia. RFA was set up by the American Congress in Washington DC with the aim to transmit news and information to listeners in Asian countries ‘where complete news was not available, accurate or timely’. In 2014, RFA transmitted in 47 languages, including a large number of local dialects, to about 236.6 million listeners all over the world.
The slowdown or lockdown of businesses has led to a decrease in advertising on radio and television. The national broadcasters are increasing their programmes, but those not receiving state funding are suffering. Networks are cutting fixed costs and broadcasters are closing their less important frequencies. And if a transmitter breaks down … the risk is it’s not going to be fixed.
The BBC flexes its muscles
‘We need to pull together to get through this. That’s why the BBC will be using all of its resources – channels, stations and output – to help keep the nation informed, educated and entertained’ declared, Tony Hall, Director-General of the BBC. The many measures the BBCis implementing, include their commitment not to discontinue any of their most listened to programmes on Radio One, to bring listeners up-to-date information on the Coronavirus through 5 Live, and the launching of Make a Difference, that will see every local radio station joining up with volunteer groups to help, co-ordinate and support the elderly by informing them of what help is available in their area. Their full package of measures can be found here.
Those depending on advertising are suffering
The closure of businesses has led to a collapse in commercials and a rise in unpaid invoices. These are the complaints of some of the Italian radio producers we interviewed. Some, after terminating their agreements with freelance staff and asking for government aid for their employees, are only playing music on air. However, the electricity bills for their transmitters have to be paid. In order to cut the bills, a group of broadcasters in Puglia, Italy, unable to lower radiated power (in Italy the authorisation process takes considerable time), have remediated by turning off their smaller sites. Tower operators are also having a bad time (they get paid rent for providing antenna space on their towers). Some have already received requests by some radio networks for hefty discounts on the rent. At the same time, given that the power of the transmitters are in excess, it would only need the authorities to allow radio stations to halve it. It would be a reform at zero cost and nobody would be disadvantaged.
In a breakdown, spare parts at risk
The lockdown of businesses has also hit transmitter manufacturers like Elenos, the internationally renowned company located near Ferrara. Leonardo Busi, the Chief Executive Officer, stated in an interview on Radio Globo (Lazio, Italy) that they have had to stop production due to no longer receiving the components that are indispensable for assembling the structures. The supplies are down to the bone and a radio or TV station with a breakdown could have to stop their service.