Adjusting the radio waves

By Asier Herrero

The coronavirus has forced radio hosts, collaborators and guests to be evicted from the radio studio to keep the safety distance. Radio stations have been reinventing themselves to look for new ways to return. But how does this work in reality?


Xabier Gonzalez is sitting in his desk chair in the middle of the small newsroom of radio studio Bizkaia Irratia. Behind him, a clock marks that it’s 17:45. There are 15 minutes left before the start of his radio show. Usually in these last 15 minutes, stressed people are running through the newsroom to try and give the show the ultimate touch. However, the only who is stressed now is this 24-year-old Basque journalist. “Before the coronavirus, we would be running around to fix the final things, now I just run to pick up the phone and ask collaborators if they’ll be ready when the program starts”, he says. 


Xabier hasn’t seen his co-workers in the past two months. The coronavirus forced radio stations to make all their employees work from home and only let essential people work from the studio. “I’m the host of the program. I know how to control the technique of the studio, so the radio station decided that I would be the only one from the team who doesn’t have to work from home”, he says. Xabier was also in charge of giving his colleagues the material they needed to work from their homes. He gave most of his colleagues a microphone and a Quantum, a digital transmitter that connects to the Wi-Fi router to improve sound quality. “The Quantum makes it possible for us to continue doing the program with high quality, otherwise the program would’ve been a disaster, more than it already is”, he says and laughs.


Before the corona restrictions, Xabier was one of those radio hosts who liked to have someone next to him in the studio in case something went wrong; for instance when he had a cough or a laugh attack, or in case the music didn’t go well and he had to improvise something. Now, he has to try to manage it on his own when something happens. “Being alone makes me even more nervous than usual. Being in silence on the radio is forbidden. but if I’m alone and something happens to me, I have no backup. During these last days there have been many minutes of silence because the communication with collaborators didn’t work well”, he says. 


Jabier Onaindia is the owner of the radio station where Xabier works. He has been in charge of preparing the protocol that the radio station has followed to adjust to the corona restrictions and continue broadcasting. “From the first moment that the government announced the rules we had to follow, we decided that as few people as possible could work in the radio studio. It has been hard to prepare the whole protocol since we are a small radio station with insufficient resources for everyone. We have had to reinvent ourselves”, he says.


“The radio station has around 50 employees, so we didn’t have enough Quantums for everyone. 30 of our employees have had to use their phone to make programs.” Jabier says that he has tried to keep most of the radio shows running, but in some cases, it has been impossible. “Normally, we broadcasted a radio magazine in the afternoons that lasted for hours from Monday to Friday. A radio magazine is a type of program in which information and opinion are combined with entertainment and music”, Jabier says. “It has been impossible to continue broadcasting it. To do the program, we need a lot of people and to coordinate so many people within the same program is too hard right now.”  


Mikel Zumarraga is one of the radio makers that has to work from home. He’s been adapting to the teleworking but he experiences this as very difficult. “This crisis has made me realise that it is necessary to be in the radio studio to make the program. Even though it sounds strange, the collaborators and the host have to see each other while we are on air. During the live shows, we make gestures to know how much time we have left or who is the next to speak… And we can’t do that now, so often we create uncomfortable silences or interrupt each other without realising it”, Mikel explains.


Looking ahead, Xabier intends to continue with the current model of teleworking. “Making radio is giving me a very satisfying experience, although it is uncomfortable and very hard right now”, he says. The great effort of all the professionals of the radio has made it possible to adapt the radio making to the new reality, even though it doesn’t always work well. There are still a few weeks left before the radio studios can decide whether the employees continue working from home or can return to their natural habitat, the radio studio.