COVID-19 has increased the loneliness signal in 2020 as millions of people are remaining inside their homes to ward off the virus. Fortunately, the flick of a dial is helping many of these people cope during isolation.
More than ever, radio is now allowing people to help their mental health as it offers a way to stay connected live with others while in coronavirus isolation. During these times of increased stress and anxiety, turning on the radio helps to engage the mind, remove the negativity and the silence, all while facilitating a much-needed social connection.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced millions of people to stay indoors, making the loneliness epidemic in America even more dire than it already was. An NPR survey in January had found that over three in five Americans are lonely. While many people are opting to stay inside more often to not catch the deadly coronavirus, research has also shown that loneliness can put people at higher risk of stroke, heart disease, and a slew of other health problems. For some this leaves the question: Which threat is more dangerous?
It comes with no surprise that in recent months, especially during the strict worldwide lockdowns in March, broadcast amateurs in the U.S. have been scrambling to get their Ham Radio licenses to connect with listeners. A Ham Radio license gives access to all Amateur Radio frequencies above 30 megahertz, allowing these licensees the ability to communicate locally and most often within North America.
Over 765,000 people in the United States already have their amateur radio licenses from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) but data has showed there has been a surge in the number since the outbreak of COVID-19 worldwide. The FCC revealed a 7.1% percent uptick in new amateur licensees in the first week of March in 2020 versus the same week in 2019.
HamRadioPrep.com, a website that teaches prospective Hams what they need to know to pass the FCC tests, has also seen a wave of new students this year. Comparing March 5th to the 13th of 2020 to 2019, the sign-ups for amateur radio license courses on the website has soared more than a staggering 700%.
While many are trying to get on the radio to be heard, there are far more who want to listen. A recent Nielsen survey has found that 28% of Americans are listening to radio more often due to COVID-19. The survey of 1,000 American adults found that 55% are listening to the same amount of radio and 28% of the population is spending more time tuning in than before the pandemic.
This is not only happening in America either. According to Radiocentre, the industry body for commercial radio in Britain, local and national stations reported increases in daily listeners of between 15% and 75% in the second half of March.
Steve Thomas, the general manager of The Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB) has also recently said that the organization has experienced a threefold increase in the number of people asking to sit radio licensing exams since social distancing rules came into place. There are currently about 75,000 licensed users in the UK.
Many new podcasts have also been hitting the scene since the pandemic helped make quarantine less lonely for people. Podcasts can be produced remotely with no crew, making them very convenient as strict social distancing measures are in still in place. Anyone can set up shop right from their couch to talk to the world. With the growing hunger for entertainment intensifying and answers about coronavirus in demand, the podcast space is thriving.
“Science Vs,” is a popular podcast hosted by Wendy Zukerman, an Australian science journalist, from her home in New York. This last season she has focused a lot on COVID-19 and has told the L.A. Times, “There were all of these science questions that people needed to know right now and wanted to know and there was so much misinformation online, sometimes from the highest levels. We felt the desperate urgency to get the science out there.”
Many people listen to podcasts while commuting, but coronavirus has changed the rules. “People are at home,” said Mark McCrery to the L.A. Times. McCrery is the chief executive of Podtrac Inc., a Washington D.C.-based firm that tracks the industry. “They are not commuting. They are staying inside.”
Data from two US analytics companies has suggested that the use of music-streaming apps such as Spotify had dipped by about 8% during the lockdowns. Music industry monitor BuzzAngle revealed that US music streaming between March 13th to March 19th fell by 8.8% compared with the previous week.
“These figures indicate that the public are turning to radio in times of crisis,” said a spokeswoman for Global, which owns Capital FM and talk station LB.