Tag Archives: 1918 Spanish Flu

Remodeling Communications

My church recently sent its Annual Report for 2020 to all its members. It reminded me that it was on March 13, 2020 that in-person worship service was suspended at our church, along with all other activities because of the highly infectious nature of COVID-19.

Pastor Martha Sims wrote, “In its 267-year history, this congregation has had its share of difficult times; fires and conflicts and even some changes that resulted from the virus of 1918.”

The 1918-1920 global pandemic, often referred to as the “Spanish Flu,” caused my church to end the use of a common cup for communion during services and begin using little individual glasses. While communicants had the option to either continue to drink wine from the common cup or use the new individual glasses, the record shows that people quickly adjusted to the new normal and both methods did not have to be offered beyond that first Sunday morning of the change.

Permanent Change

I share this story with you, because setting up those little individual glasses for the communion wine, and then collecting them, washing them and putting them back out again for the second Sunday morning service was something my wife and I participated in as part of our church service. But now I wonder what the future will hold regarding more changes in this and other areas of our church life after what COVID-19 has taught us.

We’ve dined out on only a few occasions, mainly due to traveling, and noticed that restaurants now give patrons a paper menu that is disposed of after orders are taken.

Hand sanitizer is found in every store you go into these days, often with signs asking people to use it upon entering. Might we find these changes remain, post-COVID?

Radio Personalities Broadcasting from Home

Broadcast programming consultant, Gary Berkowitz, hosted his first ZOOM call with radio programmers from throughout the United States and Canada talking about how they’re dealing with the global pandemic in their radio operations. What struck me most was that all of the radio stations had equipped their personalities with high quality microphones, processing, laptops and high-speed internet service to do their shows and/or voice track them from home.

Personalities in places like New York City and Philadelphia were broadcasting from their apartment or basement on some of America’s top radio stations.

One personality said he had to get special permission to go into the radio station to do a special Christmas broadcast, taking calls from youngsters who wanted to talk to Santa, because it wasn’t possible to execute this from his home studio.

A Canadian programmer said his radio group spent about $2,500 per personality to equip them with the best equipment to broadcast from home, and that it has worked out seamlessly with no disruption to any of their radio stations normal programming. Might this become permanent?

Bob Van Dillen

It’s not just radio personalities, but television personalities too. Bob Van Dillen is the meteorologist on HLN’s Morning Express with Robin Meade. Since the pandemic hit, Bob has been doing his weather forecasts from the safety of his home.

I also noticed that some of our local TV anchors and reporters on NBC4 out of Washington, DC are doing this too.

COVID-19 Disruptions

I’ve done a lot of reading about past global pandemics, with the intent of trying to learn how they made permanent changes to the world going forward. What I’ve learned is, there really is nothing to compare with what we’re going through, with those of the past.

The Internet

Probably the biggest reason this time is so different is the existence of the internet. Never before has the world been able to continue operating to such a large extent by being so instantly connected as we are today.

Almost everything we need, can now be obtained via this communications innovation.

Our last medical appointment with our doctor was done over a ZOOM-like connection. Our weekly church service is broadcast live on Facebook and on-demand recordings are available for later viewing on YouTube. Our church has already committed to continuing video church services even when in-person services can once again take place.

In my home, all of our television viewing is via streaming, using AppleTV, FireTV, Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu and YouTube.

I access the world of radio, via streaming as well these days by simply asking Alexa for the station or audio content I wish to hear.

Audio Tipping Point Crossed in 2020

While we were all consumed with trying not to contract COVID, the average time spent listening to traditional radio (AM/FM) was surpassed by listening to digital audio.

“ When we change the way we communicate, we change society.”
-Clay Shirky

The Future of Radio is to Meet the Listener Where They Are

Today’s audio consumer is more likely to be accessing audio content via digital streaming than through an AM/FM radio set and they are also more likely to want some visual content along with their audio. It will be critical for broadcasters to be offering programming – both audio & visual – that is engaging and delivers what people want.

Broadcasters will have to take into consideration the environment the media consumer is using their product in, and take full advantage of all the technology advances it offers, be it at home, at work or in the car.

In other words, it’s time for broadcast media to start making plans to remodel the way they communicate with their audience. The first question every broadcaster will need to be asking is:

How relevant are we to our media consumer in this environment?

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Radio’s Moment in Time

Fleming

Sir Alexander Fleming

Like it or not, we’re making history. 2020 will be a year studied by future generations when it comes to, what to do and what not to do, when faced with a global pandemic.

History only gives us two prior events that don’t even come close to what we’re going through today, the 1918-1919 flu pandemic and the 2008 financial crisis. COVID-19 is so much more than either one of those for a multitude of reasons.

1920 Commercial Radio is Born

Following the two-year 1918 flu pandemic, commercial radio would be born in November 1920 with the licensing of Westinghouse’s KDKA in Pittsburgh.

Beside radio, the list of inventions that would shape America in the 1920s were the automobile, the airplane, the washing machine, assembly lines, refrigerators, electric razors, instant cameras, jukeboxes and television.

TV wouldn’t really take hold until after the end of World War II.

Transistor Radio

In the 1950s when TV invaded American homes, and pushed the radio out of the living room, there were many who prophesied about radio’s demise. What would give radio new life was the invention of the transistor radio and the placement of radios in the dashboard of automobiles.

One of the songs of my youth was by Edwin Starr, a song called “War.”

War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it again, why’all

War, huh, good god
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing, listen to me

While I can’t say I disagree with the inhumanity of war, saying it was good for “absolutely nothing,” is to not acknowledge the volume of technology we enjoy today that was developed as a direct result or evolved from military conflict.

War accelerates technological developments on a global scale.

Penicillin

One of the most important inventions of the 1920s was the development of penicillin by Sir Alexander Fleming, a Professor of Bacteriology at St. Mary’s Hospital in London. Sir Fleming’s studies of bacteria led to the creation of an antibiotic that kills bacteria and prevents them from growing and multiplying.

Because Sir Fleming wished to get penicillin into the hands of as many of the sick who desperately needed this antibiotic, Fleming never applied for a patent.

One sometimes finds, what one is not looking for. When I woke up just after dawn on September 28, 1928, I certainly didn’t plan to revolutionize all medicine by discovering the world’s first antibiotic, or bacteria killer. But I suppose that was exactly what I did.

— Alexander Fleming

Ironically, it wasn’t until after the bombing of Pearl Harbor that mass production of penicillin would occur. By D-Day in 1944, penicillin production had been ramped up to produce enough of the antibiotic to treat all the wounded in the Allied forces.

Prioritizing People

If history teaches us anything, it’s that Americans win when policy makers prioritize people. The GI Bill for example, gave returning veterans a chance to acquire skills, and seize educational opportunities that would have been difficult for them to pursue on their own.

Herb Kelleher, co-founder of Southwest Airlines and its first CEO, built his airline on the principle of prioritizing people. Forbes wrote:

For almost 30 years we’ve been asking, “What if you could build a company that is as human as the human beings in it? What if you could create a culture that inspires passionate people to come to work fully awake, fully engaged, firing on all cylinders because they know they are doing epic work?” 

What if you could create a culture that inspires people to come to work, fully engaged, firing on all cylinders?

Herb did it.

Kelleher said, “I’d rather have a company bound by love than a company bound by fear,” and for 46 consecutive years Southwest Airlines growth and profitability showed what that can produce. Sadly, Herb Kelleher passed away at age 87 in 2019.

If there’s any industry that’s been hard hit by COVID-19, it’s the travel and leisure industry. So, how is the current management of Southwest handling this business crisis? On July 26, 2020 Southwest management announced it will not furlough or lay off any workers on Oct. 1, the first day it is allowed to, per its CARES Act terms saying, “We have no intention of seeking furloughs, layoffs, pay rate cuts or benefits cuts through at least the end of the year.”

Where Are We Headed?

No matter what business or industry you’re in, we’ve reached that moment in history where it’s time to focus on where we want to go and not where we’ve been.

The COVID-19 global pandemic is a war on our health. Like military conflicts, it is causing the world to change at an accelerated pace.

The challenge for all of us is to seize the moment and not be afraid to reimagine every aspect of our lives. How and where we live, how we educate the next generation, what our business models should look like, and how we embrace diversity and talent on a global scale. It’s our moment in history to let go of the past.

100 Years of Commercial Radio in America

2020 marks the 100th Anniversary of America’s Radio Broadcasting Industry. In the 1950s, television forced radio to re-invent itself and become the industry that many people, like myself, grew up with and made our career.

I’m sure the radio people of the Golden Age looked down their noses at how radio was changed by my generation, but we created a communications  product that reached virtually every American.

COVID-19 and the internet are forcing radio to do that once again.

As Walt Disney famously said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.”

What’s your dream for this moment in time for radio?

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