by Paulo Dias (@therealptp) While we’re still in the early days, what could the radio listening landscape look like over these three weeks of coronavirus lockdown in South Africa?

Every international radio site, blog and newsletter I go to for information has carried headlines such as “Radio in a time of crises”, “Radio hunkers down”,” Radio booms while streaming stalls”, “Radio is Soul Food” and “You’ve got a friend in me” — eliciting visions of speaking toys, which I’m sure, will come on Day 12 of all of this. Back in SA, more than a few people have said to me that they assume radio will suffer during this lockdown as people won’t be in their cars and therefore won’t be listening to radio.


The first myth to bust is around in-car listening. There’s a misconception that radio’s consumed primarily in cars, but this has never been the case in SA. Time after time, RAMS show that almost 90% of radio listening happens at home.

So, a lockdown is nothing to fear for radio stations over this period. The stations I spoke to last week* told us that listeners surveyed will listen more to radio during covid-19 and that phone calls and WhatsApp messages to the shows, as well as web traffic and streaming, are already up between 25% and 35%.

In programming terms, there’s been a widespread change in tone towards one of belonging and community; at the time of writing, stations are playing the national anthem in unity at the same time and more initiatives like this will be common over the next few weeks.

Stations are changing lineups to fit into the dramatic changes to listeners’ lives. Presenters are being moved around; breakfast shows are starting later; and sports and traffic are naturally being dropped to either accommodate specialised covid-19 bulletins or to fit in more music.

Challenge met

The challenge to balance entertainment and information has been met.

sacoronavirus WhatsApp support graphicListeners need news they can trust and they need it regularly. Radio stations understand their job is to curate the news and eliminate the fake… something listeners can’t get on social or WhatsApp. They will increasingly turn to radio for information — KFM told me that the biggest request it got on messaging lines the previous weekend was for the Department of Health’s WhatsApp number! [0600 123456 and now adopted by WHO for worldwide use— ed-at-large]

South African radio behaviour is following trends that have emerged in the UK, France and Spain. Global, Europe’s largest radio company and home to the UK’s biggest radio stations, reported that daily radio reach is up 15%, hours listened to is up by 9% and, interestingly, news podcast consumption is also up by 10%.

Save lives

I highlight time and again in this column that radio matters when it makes a difference and it thrives during disaster. At the risk of being trite, it’s not unthinkable that radio could save lives over this period.

We don’t know what waits on the other side — but along the way we’ll use radio to touch people like never before. To lift your spirits, I’d like you to take a listen to the best moment of Clap for NHS — an initiative in England that saw the country stop to applaud the efforts of the health workers on Thursday 26 March. Skip through if you want but there are so many goosebump moments and I hope we can create our own moment like this on SA radio.

And, to close off, I put on my other hat as a massive George Michael and Wham! fan with the advice, “It doesn’t matter how appealing George Michael makes it sound, let’s not go outside.”

*Thank you to my contacts at Mediamark and Primedia who shared their data with me.

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Paulo DiasPaulo Dias (@therealptp) is the head of creative integration at Ultimate Media. He works closely with the programming teams at leading radio stations to help implement commercial messaging into their existing formats. He contributes the regular column, “Dear Radio”, looking at the changing radio landscape in South Africa, to

This MarkLives #CoronavirusSA special section contains coverage of how the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and its resultant disease, covid-19, is affecting the advertising, marketing and related industries in South Africa and other parts of Africa, and how we are responding. Updates may be sent to us via our contact form or the email address published on our Contact Us page. Opinion pieces/guest columns must be exclusive.

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