The Role of Community Radio During The Pandemic

With the majority of the UK’s population stuck at home for an undetermined amount of time, the need for effective community media is more evident than ever.

Erin Snell
4 min readDec 9, 2020


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Since March 2020 the daily routinues of nearly every person across the country has been effected by the global coronavirus pandemic. For most of us this has included spending more time at home, loss of personal space and a struggle with feelings of isolation. A perhaps surprising tool that many have turned to is radio, especially community stations, which have preexisting commitments to serving their communities in a non-for-profit manner.

A study by RAJAR (Radio Joint Audience Limited)on listening habits over the first UK lockdown has shown a major uptick in the number of people listening to radio at home. This includes not only the amount of people listening but also how long people listen to the radio. During the week commencing March 16th (the first UK lockdown) radio reach increased by 1% and listening hours increased by 11%. Listening moved away from motorways and offices with 88% of listening occuring in the home. Listeners also began to favor stations that provided news, especially local news, with radio rated as second only to the government website for trusted news on Covid-19.

What Makes Community Radio Different?

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Arguably all media outlets have a responsibility to the public during times of national (and global) crisis. However, unlike commercial stations, community radio stations by nature are built on certain commitments to thier listenership. Community stations apply for a special license from Ofcom. A community station must: be non-for-profit, cater for either the local community or a certain area of interest, and integrate the community voice through training programs and local content.

This commitment means that it is community stations’ design to be in tune to their community’s needs during the pandemic, despite more limited resources.

Fighting Isolation

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One way the community radio has proved an essential tool during lockdown is in the fight against isolation. Community radio allows isolated listeners to have a friendly voice in their homes. A voice that they can trust to talk about what’s going on just around the corner, even if they can’t go there.

As Dr Amanda Krause, a lecturer in psychology at James Cook University, put it in a Positive.News article:

“Community radio creates communities… so you feel connected and involved even if you are apart. There’s also something about the human voice. People develop bonds with hosts and this is a huge factor driving continued listening”.

Radio also plays an important role as one of the few services that can cater to people who are not online. One of the most vulnerable (and isolated) populations during this pandemic has been the over 70s. This population is also more likly to live alone and to not regularly use the internet. Community radio provides the internet illiterate an opportunity to interact with others in their community, get the latest restriction updates and learn about local services that would otherwise be completely unavailable to them during lockdown.

Localized News vs Escapism

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Two of the most imortant things that radio comsumers have been looking for during the pandemic are trustworthy Covid-19 updates and escapism entertainment. News shows were favored among listeners durning the first periods of lockdown, then listeners began to move to more ‘escapist’ content such as music shows. For community stations that aim to fill the needs of the entire community, there’s a need to find the balance between these opposing audience desires.

As free, trusted, locally based media, community stations have been indispensable for distributing Covid-19 updates to there listenership. Though most stations didn’t have a dedicated news team before the pandemic, many have added special news features since the crisis began.

Some stations have attempt to combat ‘news fatigue’ through the use of soft news, features that present news in a more casual and entertainment focused manner. Some pandemic-era features reported by community radio practitioners include: interviews with community leaders on magazine style shows, a choice selection of ‘happy’ stories from the community, and virtual events guides.

Mostly the feedback for community stations handling of the global pandemic has been very postive. In the midst of complications caused by working restrictions, radio listeners have increased and stations have become an important source for localized news, entertainment, and a sense of community spirit. It remains to be seen what changes will remain in the industry after the end of the crisis, but it’s possible that the 21st audience may rediscover the value of local radio.



Erin Snell

American abroad. Book nerd. Avid podcast and radio listener. Former Broadcast Assistant at Future Radio. Twitter: @ErinESnell1 Facebook @esnellblog