Rahini Shaibu, the host of both the agriculture and the health show on Radio 1.
At Radio 1, COVID-19 prevention is a goal they take very seriously.
Radio 1 is based in Bunso Junction, in the Eastern Region of Ghana. Its location between the two main population centres of Accra and Kumasi presents both opportunities and challenges.
While Radio 1’s audience extends across four regions, it also means that the area is especially vulnerable to COVID-19 as travelers from elsewhere pass through.
“If we don’t do anything, people making a stopover will spread the disease to us, or they will leave traces of the disease here before they continue,” says Emmanuel Asamoah,the programs manager for Radio 1.
That’s only one of the challenges the station has faced because of COVID-19.
Reacting to the threat of COVID-19
As lockdowns in the cities impacted the Eastern Region, Radio 1 faced a significant loss in ad revenue, even as demand for programming grew. That meant a lack of funds for all-important generators, as well as extra safety precautions like masks, disinfectant, and hand-washing stations. The need to perform interviews at a distance meant more internet and credit use. And, to protect his reporters, Emmanuel didn’t want them using public transport. Packed buses had too many people stuffed in close quarters. That meant finding and paying for safer transportation.
Still, the station didn’t let that stop them. The broadcasters took their obligation to their listeners seriously, reacting immediately when the pandemic started.
“We felt our reach was great and therefore we could communicate and engage our people and keep them informed with what we are experiencing at this time,” says Emmanuel.
Radio programming for COVID-19 prevention
The station broadcasts mainly in Twi, but also airs a blend of English programming. When the pandemic started, Radio 1 started broadcasting about COVID-19 safety measures immediately.
“Regardless of money, we felt this was corporate social responsibility,” says Emmanuel
His team created innovative ways to update the community on the dangers of COVID-19. One colleague wrote a music track about the virus and the station produced a video. Later, they used the same song as a signature tune across their network.
The station also shifted their existing health program, Mo ne wo appduen, or “The health of you and I,” to focus on pandemic prevention.
“From the programs point of view, I don’t want to create new programs,” he says. “Instead of talking normal health issues, we decided that the conversation on Me ne wo appduen would be COVID-19.”
Because that program is broadcast weekly, Radio 1 encouraged listeners to call in with their questions during the daily afternoon drive-time program. The host collected the questions, which were answered on Wednesday’s health show.
Because listeners didn’t have to wait to call in, it created buzz for the health show—callers anticipated hearing themselves on the air.
Mr. Asamoah also required staff to sign off with the station’s COVID-19 tagline and acronym: Avoid “MEN” but follow “WOMEN.” MEN stands for mouth, eyes, and nose—the facial features to avoid touching. WOMEN stands for washing your hands; obeying social distancing; masking up; eating well and exercising; and no unnecessary travel.
Dispelling COVID-19 myths
The station has been doing its best to dispel misinformation about the virus, explaining and exposing myths, but also addressing the individual needs of their listeners.
Mr. Asamoah says, “I recorded a woman who called crying that she had done everything, but her husband would not comply with COVID protocols.”
But radio proved harder to ignore.
“There was an opportunity to talk directly to the husband. Normally, he would turn off and say he doesn’t believe the information,” says Emmanuel.
Farm Radio International COVID-19 Support Fund
Radio 1 also received financial support from Farm Radio International’s COVID-19 support fund.
“The funding came at the right time to give support to the institution to help the workers feel safe and safer doing their jobs.”
Emmanuel says the station used the fund to purchase generator fuel, Wi-Fi, hand-washing stations, and masks with the funds.
Expanding their reach
They are also using the money to make their messages reach farther—even to people without radio sets.
Radio 1 also engaged community information centres to augment their reach. These centres are located in rural communities or around marketplaces or shops, and broadcast programs over a loudspeaker. By paying the info centres to broadcast the health show, and by creating a system where those at the centres could send in COVID-related questions, Radio 1 expanded its reach, and by extension, the number of people who heard their important pandemic messages.
“We needed to engage community information centres close to people who may not have radio sets in their homes,” he says.
According to Emmanuel, listenership has increased during the pandemic, reaching well over five million people:
“Because we reach so many communities, we do this to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.”
Farm Radio International’s COVID-19 Support Fund is part of our Scaling Her Voice on Air COVID-response project, funded by the Canadian Government through Global Affairs Canada. The Scaling Her Voice on Air project aims to bring improved interactive radio services to Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, and Senegal, reaching more than 7 million small-scale farmers to improve food security and gender equality. The Government of Canada, through Global Affairs Canada, is supporting the project with a grant of $5 million over the five years of the project. With additional funding from Canada, Farm Radio International will support broadcasters across sub-Saharan Africa who provide essential pandemic-related information to remote and rural communities.
This article originally appeared on Barza Wire, our newswire for broadcasters.