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Community Broadcaster: How Stations Fight the Virus

Report sheds light on community radio’s pandemic service

The author is executive director of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. NFCB commentaries are featured regularly at

The National Federation of Community Broadcasters has issued a white paper on the state of community broadcasting during the pandemic. It is notable for many reasons; among them how important radio remains today.

More than 100 broadcasters shared data from this new study. NFCB asked about how stations are responding to community information needs during the pandemic, how often they are airing COVID-19 public service announcements and their sourcing, and the capacity that stations have to deliver their services.

The results, posted here, may surprise you.

[Read: Community Broadcaster: Vaccines and Impact]

Stations are showing up as rarely seen in local broadcasting on the news and public affairs fronts. Twenty-seven percent of broadcasters are devoting 20–50% of their news programming to covering the pandemic. Another 20% cover the coronavirus in 50% or more of news coverage. Talk/public affairs programming is similarly strongly focused on the virus.

Public service announcements to help residents understand how to protect themselves has also seen a spike. Ninety-one percent for community radio stations air coronavirus PSAs. Among those, 73% of stations are airing daily PSAs, while 17% of community broadcasters are airing spots at least weekly.

Most notably, rather than simply recycling what’s being posted online, 69% of stations are taking ownership of the area voice and creating PSAs locally. Another 17% of community radio stations are collaborating with area and state agencies to deliver PSAs to their listeners.

Community broadcasters are also creating a range of content. From newsletters to virtual concert series, broadcasting games into elderly care facilities, and lots of daily local news, the white paper paints a clear picture of what these radio stations are doing. Where there is a need, community radio is seeking to fill it — in rural communities, tribal lands, and many more cities across the United States.

coronavirus mask
Getty Images/Yaroslav Mikheev

What is most astonishing is the diversity and depth of the work happening, all with limited staffing. Sixty-four percent of these broadcasters are able to accomplish this level of public safety content with one employee or less doing the work.

It has been said in many places, including this column: radio is often counted down and out. It’s been on the losing end of everything since television was invented, if you look back far enough in a land of hot takes. Its slayers — satellite radio, Spotify, YouTube, Pandora, cassettes and other long-gone tech of the moment — haven’t delivered. That’s in part because, in times like a pandemic, radio remains critical to communities. Its service is unrivaled in its stability. The bond of trust it has with communities is rare. This white paper now gives you a glimpse into the creative ways local broadcasters are serving audiences.