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Radio During Lockdown

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By Alistair Smith (Station Manager)


As lockdown measures were introduced to stop the spread of the virus, our priority, of course, was the safety of the Heartland FM team. We had to balance this with continuing to broadcast and keep the vital tool of radio current, with a mix of information and entertainment. Along with our other communication platforms of social media, website, podcasts and on-demand listening, we have a very powerful box of communication tools.


We have seen significant increases in the number of people listening to Heartland FM on our online platforms. The number of listeners tripled during the early stages of lockdown and the number of hours listened went up 50% compared to the beginning of the year - confirming the importance of radio at this time.


So, “Radio From Home” became the norm. Wow, what a learning curve we had to travel, but we stepped up to the challenge. The amazing thing is, most of the technologies and systems were already there, and we increased our use of them and the internet is our friend in delivering them. Graham Howie, our Breakfast Presenter, continues to broadcast from the studio, but all other presenters were asked to stay at home. Using a system we had already tried and tested for outside broadcasts, Graham and I continue to link up live at the end of the breakfast show to have our usual chat and banter, then I take over broadcasting from home. I don’t have a specific home studio, but set up my laptops, microphone, mixing desk and headphones on my dining room table, along with a tartan travel rug opposite where is sit, to help absorb the sound bouncing back at me, in the absence of any professional acoustic treatment, and my “tartan den” was created, and broadcasting from home began. With the support of the development team from our broadcast software supplier, all this and more have been possible.


Other Heartland FM presenters quickly joined the team of broadcasting from home. Sam Ross, from the afternoon show, does it; Ian Moyes from the Vinyl Frontier was quick to join the broadcast from home team. Shows were delivered from the homes of Willie McIntrye, Mike Marwick, The Week In Holyrood from our Political Editor Charles Fletcher, Bill Black, Ian Lees Double Scotch and Melodies For You shows continued from home, and Shany Shaun’s Under The Radar and Ann-Marie’s Sunday Afternoon Show became other shows broadcast from home.


As we approached Easter, it was important for our religious broadcasting team to celebrate this time with you, so Howard Simpson and David Wilkie along with our Producer, Sam Ross, began working from home in three different locations and bringing together Heart and Soul on a Sunday morning from Palm Sunday. Since then, this has continued weekly and along with the Sounds Inspirational team David Barrie, Drew Scott and his family and Lins Honeyman have all recorded and sent in programmes from home, and we expanded our religious programmes with the online Sunday Service from Pitlochry Baptist Church being broadcast on a Sunday and 1 pm.


Other programmes broadcast archived editions, but now it's great to have Clive Bridge’s Country in the Country back from his home, where you can often hear the dogs bark or stories of the hens in the background. Eddie Rose has now joined in the broadcasting from home party, both Eddie and Clive have had to learn new techniques and technologies and have stepped up to the challenge and it does go to prove you really can teach an old dog new tricks - well-done gents! You can keep in touch with Clive and Eddie by emailing studio@heartlandfm.co.uk and I will pass the messages on to them.


Bringing the community together has been important to us, and we applaud the amazing work of all the voluntary groups in Highland Perthshire that sprung up very quickly to support each other. We used the same technology I am using to broadcast from home, to interview many of the groups from Kinloch Rannoch, Aberfeldy, Blair Atholl, Pitlochry and Dunkeld sharing these interviews on-air and as podcasts from our Social Media Channels and website. The quality has been very good, it's amazing what you can do with an internet connection and a smartphone. In fact, we were challenged as to how we were keeping to social distancing rules when inviting people into the studio, of course, no one was in the studio, we were linking up from my house to their house, again the internet is our friend.


With entertainment venues closed at this time, we have been catching up with actors across the country who would have been performing in Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s Summer Season and supporting #LightHopeJoy the Theatre’s online performances whilst the Theatre doors are closed. Our quest to get Highland Perthshire singing started, with weekly sessions from Dunkeld Soprano Colleen Nichol and pianist Andy Johnstone leading us in song weekly on a Thursday.


To ensure the running of the Heartland Media Hub continues smoothly, we have used video meetings to replace our weekly face to face management meetings, and these have continued, never missing a single week, and along with the early implementation of our COVID-19 Action Plan, this has meant we have continued to broadcast as planned. We have embraced new and current technologies, had to learn new ways of broadcasting and look to the future learning from these experiences. In fact, we have new programmes planned which will be announced as part of our Summer Schedule.


We are all experiencing challenging times, including ourselves, to finance what we do, as a registered charity we have been looking Grant Funding and have secured some funding, whilst revenue levels had fallen, which will allow us to continue during the current pandemic but have to look to the future to support both ourselves and the business in Highland Perthshire.


I hope we have achieved the correct balance of news, information, community spirit and entertainment at this time. I have to thank everyone for their contribution to the Heartland Media Hub whilst we have been learning, adapting and continuing to broadcast 24 hours a day. Please stay safe and well, and thanks for listening, watching and reading what we are up to at the Heartland Media Hub.


Best Wishes,

Alistair Smith

Station Manager

stationmanager@heartlandfm.co.uk


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