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Swine Flu and Your Radio Station

Radio Is a powerful communication medium. Put it to work on H1N1

I drove carpool today.

Any parent who has performed this function knows that within 10 minutes, the kids forget you’re in the car. I enjoy this invisibility as it allows me to eavesdrop on the humor, frustration and fears exhibited by teenagers.

For once, the fear I heard expressed this afternoon is completely legitimate and, so far, not consistently handled well by the media — radio included.

I listened with amazement as the kids discussed the spread and containment of the H1N1 virus, commonly known as swine flu.

One reported that this potentially life-threatening illness was all over the school and everyone was going to get it. Another laughed and said it was just two kids and there was nothing to worry about. Third kid said that the swine flu had nothing to do with H1N1.

The youngest kid just looked scared.

Current info

Even if you’re working at a music radio station, you are not excused from reading this article. In fact, it applies more to you than news and talk stations, which already thrive on information.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that influenza activity remained high in the United States as October turned into November. CDC said visits to doctors had increased sharply for four consecutive weeks, and although visits then decreased a bit they remained at much higher levels than what was expected for the time of year. Other data, including hospitalization rates and the proportion of deaths attributed to pneumonia and influenza, suggest the seriousness of the situation. Visit the site for the latest information:

We have enough info to know that we must build and execute a plan to reach our audience(s). Because radio remains the best mass communication medium in this country, we owe it to our listeners to offer frequent updates about the spread of swine flu and how to prevent infection.

Talking points

You can start by going to the CDC Web site. Of course, you’ll find many other resources online as well, but stick with credible, layman-friendly ones like NIH (National Institutes of Health) or the Mayo Clinic. Set up a “Google Alert” to send you stories about H1N1 once a day, so you don’t miss breaking news.

Here are some discussion points for music stations when building a plan to communicate this vital info:

  • • How are you going to make the information interesting, short and to the point? Do you have access to local celebrities or national stars who can act as spokespeople for your messaging? “Hi this is ________ for K-105’s Oink-Oink Report. Nobody says YOU have to get swine flu. Wash your hands with soap and water, or use alcohol-based hand rub. Do this at least every time you eat. Get more information on fighting swine flu at K-105 dot com, keyword H1N1.”
  • • Who’s going to update your site with the most current info from the CDC every day?
  • • Determine a “swine flu update” rotation for vignettes you’ll air. How many times per day are you going to broadcast these produced pieces?
  • • Should you run live copy?
  • • Can you locate a few local doctors who are infectious disease specialists? Can they give you updates on your morning show, or interviews for your Web site?
  • • Can you record interviews with people from your target audience who have had the shots or spray vaccination to convince others it’s safe and easy?
  • • Are you prepared to give updates about who is eligible for vaccination and where they can obtain the medicine?
  • • Should certain groups in your area be regularly wearing facemasks? Find out from the doctors you’ve consulted. If so, could your station be giving them out?

Finally, what have you told your own staff about coming to work when they have flu-like symptoms? Anyone who’s been on the air knows how easy it is to get sick by using the same microphones, computers and headphones as a sickie.

I lectured a staff about this recently and still had someone come in with what they said was a “bad cold.” Be tough! Send people home if they come in with symptoms. Likely your staff is small enough — you don’t want an entire department out just because someone wants to prove that they can work under any condition.

It appears that education about swine flu is the key to keeping us healthy and happy. Please spend a few minutes this week doing what you can for the greater good. Your station will look better, feel better and — most important — actually be making a difference.

The author is president, Lapidus Media. Reach him at[email protected].