Bringing listeners on-air, keeping staff out of harm’s way: How Radio Salaki is responding to COVID-19

Hand washing station at Radio Salaki

Grégoire Zongo, 39, has been working at Radio Salaki in Dedougou, Burkina Faso, for 10 years. In the face of COVID-19, Grégoire and his colleagues are adapting their programming and station policies—taking no chances when it comes to their health.

From 5 a.m. until midnight, Radio Salaki continues to broadcast one program per hour, as usual. Most news is related to COVID-19, and according to Grégoire, programming at Radio Salaki has not changed very much. Rather than orient everything towards COVID-19, the station is maintaining its programs on other topics that are important to their rural listeners.

For example, one recent program featured experts from the region’s agriculture department.

“The agricultural season is coming. We have to talk about it…. Now that the first rains have started to fall, it’s part of the news and we have to integrate it,” says Grégoire. “As far as COVID-19 is concerned, it’s really in the news right now. You can’t hide it, but … you can’t talk about COVID-19 all the time and forget about other aspects that are important to listeners.”

For this reason, Radio Salaki broadcasts only what staff consider to be key issues, updates, or reminders about COVID-19. Grégoire encourages other broadcasters to do the same by asking themselves one question: What are the aspects of COVID-19 that deserve to be shared—and more so, repeated?

To address these issues, Radio Salaki dedicates five minutes at the beginning of each program to COVID-19. Short bulletins talk about preventing transmission, symptoms, and other basic information about COVID-19.

“You can’t talk about COVID-19 all the time and forget about other aspects that are important to listeners.”

To address listeners’ questions, Radio Salaki invites a medical expert to “COVID info,” the only program that Radio Salaki dedicates entirely to COVID-19. Originally a program on general health, the station broadcasts “COVID info” for 30 minutes every Saturday in French, then rebroadcasts during the week in Mooré, Dioula, and Buamu.

During “COVID info,” listeners can call a WhatsApp number to ask their questions to an expert on-air. After calling, listeners are added to the Radio Salaki’s WhatsApp group where they are invited to continue the discussion.

Listeners who already belong to the group can send their questions using audio messages. During the program, these messages are played in addition to the phone calls and answered by the expert.

Before guests are welcomed inside Radio Salaki, they must follow Radio Salaki’s guidelines. At the entrance to the radio station, everyone must wash their hands and put on a face mask. In the studio, staff and guests sit at microphones at least one metre apart from each other.

For the moment, these measures are “indisputable,” says Grégoire.

They are just one in a long list of changes in place to protect station staff.

“Take care of yourself and protect yourself. If you’re sick, you won’t be able to broadcast information for listeners.”

Under normal circumstances, 12 journalists and four technicians work at Radio Salaki. Now, to maintain a distance of at least one metre between them, only three staff can enter the studio with a guest at any time—two journalists who host the program and a technician who broadcasts it.

“Necessary staff only,” says Grégoire.

When the programs are over, staff disinfect the microphones, table, chairs, and door handles with water and bleach.

For microphone, which is sensitive to water, staff take special care. Each night, the cloth cover is removed, washed in water and bleach, then left to dry overnight. When the cover is dry the next morning, it is put back in place. To prevent damage, water is never applied directly to the microphone.

Outside of the office, staff avoid unnecessary travel as much as possible by conducting interviews via telephone.

Before telephone calls, reporters preparing their questions and do their research. Because of this preparation, when it’s time for the call, it is simply a matter of recording.

When in-person interviews are unavoidable, journalists use a recorder attached to a metre-long pole. Everyone going to the field also wears a mask and gloves, and brings hand sanitizer.

Grégoire stresses that it is important for journalists to set a good example by following these measures to prevent transmission of COVID-19. Journalists must do what they tell listeners to do, he says.

“Take care of yourself and protect yourself. If you’re sick, you won’t be able to broadcast information for listeners.”

About the author
Hannah Tellier is a Radio Resources Assistant for Farm Radio International. A recent graduate of the University of Waterloo, Hannah believes the best classroom is the one we create while exchanging with others.

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