Some local radio stations plan to weather the widespread shelter-in-place order by enabling DJs and reporters to broadcast remotely — the on-air version of working from home.
BFF.fm is a Mission-based Internet radio station dedicated to “new underground music,” with a studio on Capp Street. It’s been closed since Monday. Founder and station manager Amanda Guest estimated 20 to 30 people a day usually work in the studio, out of about 115 DJs total.
But using a variety of USB-enabled microphones, which allow broadcast-quality sound, a couple dozen DJs have begun recording at home over the last few weeks. As for the others, Guest said, after announcing the studio closure, “I got flooded with emails asking about USB mics.”
For the moment, most will pre-record their shows. “Like a podcast,” Guest said, “to go out over the air at their usual timeslot.” Soon, however, some could go live remotely. “There’s software for that we’re trying to get. We were looking into it as a next step anyway,” she said. “And now it’s here!”
The station’s team has become remarkably supportive of one another, Guest said. “I put a call out to all the DJs for a mutual aid fund, and just in the past 48 hours the DJs who have more money have helped their fellow DJs to pay rent and pay bills.” The larger community has also responded with support, she said. “BFF is funded entirely by our listeners, and our donations are down a little, but not too much.”
— KALW (@KALW) March 19, 2020
News director Ben Trefny at public radio station KALW 91.7 FM reports the station’s Visitacion Valley studio within Burton High School is open, since media workers are considered essential. “We’re exempt,” he said, explaining that while he himself is continuing to work in the studio, overall there is a reduced onsite staff. “We could move around, but we recognize the importance of the shutdown.”
The station has pivoted to produce far more breaking news than it has in the past, Trefny said. “We’ve added additional reporters, and all the support staff changed direction on what they’re doing.” Most of those reporters are working remotely, and the station is planning to invest some $8,000 in two Comrex machines, specialized gadgets Trefny will use so he can provide broadcast-quality audio updates from home. “We also put safeguards in place so we don’t spread the virus around accidentally. We disinfect microphones in between each interview.”
KALW’s on-air offerings will continue to feature more news, while some of the music programs may be bumped temporarily.
“There are two things people need right now: Good information, and a feeling of community,” Trefny said. “Those are things KALW does every day of the year, so I hope people tune in and find what they need here.”
— ethan toven-lindsey (@Ethan_Lindsey) March 19, 2020
A team of science and news reporters with venerable public radio station KQED 88.5 FM explained on a Reddit “AMA,” or “ask me anything” session Wednesday morning they’re using every tool at their disposal to maintain essential functions as media providers, yet also respect the need to be physically separate.
Asked how exactly they were practicing social distancing during interviews, reporter and producer Michelle Wiley wrote “We’re using a variety of techniques, including interviewing folks over the phone, over Skype, etc. For example: I recently did an interview with a couple in Vallejo over FaceTime, and it worked WAY better than I anticipated! Right now, most of us are working from home to comply with the shelter-in-place order. And our bosses have ordered protective equipment — including 6 foot microphone extensions — for us if we do need to go out in the field.”
The station employs some 400 people, the vast majority of whom are now working from home; only technical workers required to broadcast the station’s radio and television signals and cleaning staff remain on-site. Ethan Toven-Lindsey, the station’s executive editor of news, says it’s likely to stay that way.
“The majority of our news and content operations are working remotely, and we imagine we’ll continue working like this for the foreseeable future,” he said Wednesday. “But regardless, in this critical moment, we want to make sure people know we believe in our public service mission to deliver new science and other coverage, the things that people are looking for answers about.”
All these institutions stand in contrast with other media, some of which have been hit hard enough to fall — especially the endangered alt-weeklies. The Sacramento News & Review posted a bulletin Tuesday, saying it would likely shutter. “Starting next week, we will have to suspend publishing and lay off nearly all of our amazing and talented staff” due to coronavirus-related shutdowns, wrote the president of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno, Jeff vonKaenel.