Tag Archives: 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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Wave Goodbye to the Handshake

don't handshakeCOVID-19 will change our world in so many ways. Dr. Anthony Fauci said he hopes the world will end the custom of handshakes going forward. It’s a custom that dates back to the 5th century B.C. in Greece. It was a symbol of peace and a way to demonstrate that neither person was carrying a weapon.

What wasn’t known was that handshaking can transmit germs, bacteria, and viruses (like the common cold and flu) as well as the current pandemic causing COVID-19. Now that we know this, why would we continue this ancient tradition?

Common Cup

The Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-19 was raging in America when in Winchester, Virginia, Austin A. Kelly would begin his ministry at the church my wife and I are members of, Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church. Because of this global pandemic the chalice, or common cup, at the administration of the Lord’s Supper was to be abolished in favor of the individual glasses.

The first communion services conducted by Pastor Kelly during the Easter services of 1919 gave communicants the option of either drinking from the common cup or receiving their wine via individual cups. Virtually all communicants preferred the new innovation, and from that point until the present day, individual cups have been the way wine has been received at Grace Church.

YouTube Easter Service

I learned about all of this as my wife and I attended the 2020 Easter Service at our church via YouTube.

In January of 1942, Grace Church began the radio broadcasting of church services over WINC-1400AM. Those radio broadcasts ended long before our arrival in Winchester, Virginia.

COVID-19 would see Grace Church forced to innovate again by broadcasting its services on its newly created YouTube channel.

Will some members of the church prefer to attend church via a YouTube channel or Facebook page versus attending services wearing a mask and protective gloves going forward? Only time will tell.

What we do know is that global events, like world wars, depressions and pandemics bring about lasting changes and a new normal.

What We Can Learn from the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918-1919

Much like with COVID-19, there were no vaccines or treatments for the Spanish flu when the outbreak spread. The only ways to mitigate it’s spread was to have people isolate themselves from one another via self-quarantine.

What history has shown is that cities that took the Spanish flu seriously did better than those that didn’t.

By the way, how the name “Spanish flu” came about has its own interesting story. The 1918 pandemic began near the end of World War I. Countries engaged in the war limited journalist to reporting only positive or encouraging news, and so reporting anything about this flu bug was forbidden, but Spain was a neutral country during this war and so its newspapers reported on the flu outbreak popularizing the term “Spanish Influenza.”

It should also be noted that influenza pandemics have been regularly occurring every thirty to forty years since the 16th century. So, the COVID-19 pandemic shouldn’t really have caught the world by surprise.

One study of the 1918-1919 flu pandemic that I found interesting was the impact it made on the cities of Philadelphia and St. Louis. When the first cases of the Spanish flu showed up in St. Louis, it took the city only two days to close schools, libraries, courthouses, churches, theaters, playgrounds as well as other venues where numbers of people usually congregate. Philadelphia didn’t take similar actions until two weeks after their first cases of the flu were diagnosed.

St. Louis city’s quick action saw its death rate one-eighth of what Philadelphia experienced from the pandemic. However, when things looked better and social distancing measures were rolled back, a second wave of the flu struck and deaths went up again. In fact, the second wave of the flu (October 1918) proved to be deadlier than the first (March 1918), and by the time it was over in 1920, 675,000 Americans would have lost their lives.

What COVID-19 Has Taught Us

Each society produces its own specific vulnerabilities. In 1918, it was American soldiers returning from World War I that would bring home the Spanish flu.

Yale historian Frank Snowden has studied the impact infectious diseases have made over the centuries and notes that they have “altered outcomes of wars, inspired political reform, demolished revolutions, transformed entire societies’, relationships with God and fundamentally changed the course of human history.”

For positive change to take place, it will take leadership from the top and a realization from all citizens on how important the role of government is in creating a national plan for their health and well-being. It’s our current health and economic crisis that brings home the results you get when government abdicates its role.

Free Market Thoughts

Capitalism thrives on infinite growth, but we live on a planet with finite resources.

For most of my broadcasting career, every year brought double digit revenue growth at my radio stations, until America’s Great Recession of 2008. Revenue growth never returned to that level in the decade since, yet the number of radio signals in America has continued to grow. The radio industry has created an infinite number of advertising avails in a world with a finite number of advertising dollars.

It’s a myth to think that we can grow everything infinitely without facing the consequences.

A Big Re-Think

No one has the answer to all the world’s current problems. Any plan that has a chance of succeeding needs to take a collective, collaborative effort to devise a global society that lives in harmony with its climate, its resources, its economies and the lives of its people.

I’m hopeful that COVID-19 is the wake-up call that begins real meaningful change in every aspect of our personal and professional lives.

 

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