WEST SUSSEX, England — The world is awash in inaccurate and downright misleading information about Covid-19. Taking a stand against this confusion is the mission of Health Info Radio; a fact-based voice broadcaster on DAB and the internet.
Produced as a public service by Southdown Media in London, the station offers a mix of updates on COVID-19 symptoms, myths, and social isolation rules, plus interviews designed to help listeners through the shutdown and the pressure staying at home can put on their relationships.
“Health Info Radio is a nonprofit rolling information service broadcasting nationally from Sussex, England and is funded and technically supported by Southdown Media, which owns and operates two small scale digital radio stations here in the United Kingdom,” said Simon Hardwick, director of Southdown Media.
Its creation was spurred by the fact that Hardwick “Personally felt frustrated that the important science-based prevention messages that could save lives were being lost in the background noise of speculation, discussion and opinion of other broadcast media.”
FROM IDEA TO REALITY, FAST
Of course, seeing a need for a COVID-19 information station is one thing. Actually launching one is another.
“As an existing small-scale DAB station operator, I already knew the benefits of small-scale DAB, but wondered if a simple information station would be possible,” Hardwick admitted.
“Thanks to the incredible generosity of radio industry colleagues and suppliers we’ve proved it is, and that the small-scale DAB platform here in the U.K. is flexible enough to launch a radio station on a number of multiplexes within two days of the original idea!” (Radio colleagues Duncan Barkes, Ash Elford and Dean Kavanagh helped Hardwick bring Health Info Radio into being in just 48 hours.)
When it comes to informing the public about COVID-19, Health Info Radio sticks to the facts.
“Our content is deliberately simple,” said Hardwick. “It’s a looped information sequence of the latest virus prevention and spread advice, alongside background information about the virus, and advice on how to cope with self isolation, both physically and mentally.”
But simple does not mean simple-minded: “Our information is based on the official government medical advice with supplementary information from various medical experts with scripts overseen by Dr. Dean Kavanagh of the Institute of Biomedical Research at the University of Birmingham.”
NO NONSENSE ALLOWED
Health Info Radio’s content is produced and voiced by a team of professional broadcasters. They collectively share responsibility for what goes to air, and update their spoken-word segments whenever new information becomes available.
As for production? “Southdown Media have provided the DAB encoding infrastructure using the Open Digital Radio platform,” replied Hardwick. “We’ve had online support from web hosting company Aiir and extra script coding by Togglebit, which allows us to work entirely remotely.”
That’s right: In keeping with the dictates of social isolation, all of Health Info Radio’s people are working from their homes; uploading content via the web and using WhatsApp to coordinate the station’s programming schedule.
“Playout for the station is managed by Playout One and the airtime has been kindly donated by UK DAB platform operators,” Hardwick said. “All contributors and companies have very kindly donated their time and skills for free as they share our desire to get important, potentially life-saving messages out there to as wide an audience as possible.”
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Since launching on March 16, Health Info Radio has been catching on with U.K. listeners hungry for accurate COVID-19 information. “We’re not actively soliciting responses but we’ve had a considerable response from people saying they had learnt something from the station which makes it worthwhile, alongside an overwhelming number of help offers from the general public,” said Hardwick.
Health Info Radio is also eager for content providers around the world to copy its format and information to keep their own listeners safe.
“If other broadcasters and platform operators want to take our information and programming as syndicated content or to rebroadcast our live stream, we’d be happy for them to do so,” said Simon Hardwick. “They can get in touch with us via our website.”
To help radio broadcasters provide up-to-date COVID-19 news to their listeners, mobile app technology provider RadioMax is offering to supply them with free mobile apps.
“As more and more people stay at home, not spending as much time in their cars over the next several weeks, we want to give stations and their listeners an additional way to stay connected and informed via a mobile app,” said RadioMax CEO John Wanzung.
“The current situation is an opportunity for all of radio to rise to the occasion to inform and support our communities.”