When Moab’s community radio station closed its building in mid-March, the station first turned to an automated system, which it usually relies on for overnight programming.
After a week, KZMU volunteer DJs began taping their shows from home, complete with ambient sounds. Listeners heard familiar voices, and “you could hear the birds in the background, and you could hear the music, and it was a really, really awesome thing,” says Serah Mead, general manager.
“We want to make sure you’re OK. Call us up,” was the tone of the public service announcements DJs recorded and aired, while the news director launched a list of COVID resources on the station’s website.
During the earliest days of the lockdown, online listeners doubled with every show, Mead says, which translated to an even larger physical audience. Listeners told her the station was their lifeline. “Listening to you is my connection to the outside world,” they said.
Eventually, in June as the town opened up, the station’s building also reopened. Staff members set up microphones 6 feet apart and were able to have two people in the recording booth at the same time.
The station’s financial support remained strong during the lockdown, but Mead is concerned about ongoing fundraising as people everywhere experience “Covid fatigue.”
“So much of the value we bring is intangible,” says Mead of the indie station that was launched in 1992. “There’s only so many times I can try to convince listeners we’re a lifeline, essentially a free subscription to ever-changing music and daily news.”
When the virus struck, Mead says she tried to drop every task that wasn’t focused on meeting the needs of listeners. “We tried to put on the best programming we could,” she says, including special dance parties and collecting and airing tips for surviving quarantine. “Some of the best radio shows I had heard all year were the shows people had recorded at home, like long-form art.”
Even better was when announcers were able to return to the console.
The general manager adds: “How special KZMU is in a place like this. It is a unique gem.”
— Ellen Fagg Weist