Monday Memo: Coronavirus Conundrum | TALKERS magazine - talk media trade : TALKERS magazine

Monday Memo: Coronavirus Conundrum

| March 9, 2020

By Holland Cooke


BLOCK ISLAND, RI — Keywords have never been more important – not just in composing and posting digital content – but in on-air content too.  Especially now.

Non-AM/FM audio competition is SO formidable, and ratings methodology is a memory test.  So being noticed is the ballgame, earning repeat use for what earned you that notice is a big win, and being quoted or referred by a user is winning the World Series.

Keyword #1 right now: “Coronavirus”

NOTHING – repeat, NOTHING — is more top-of-mind right now, and this story is closer to the beginning than the end.  At three different CVS stores in three days, the person in front of me in the checkout line asked for surgical facemasks, and the clerk shrugged “We’re out.”  Amazon is de-listing third-party sellers making specious claims that products will prevent infection.

If listeners don’t hear “Coronavirus” on your air, you’re wallpaper.  If you are telling them something they haven’t yet heard elsewhere, they will listen more and tell others what they heard (and where).

I’m about to break a rule.

No talent I have ever managed better-understood how listeners use radio than legendary WTOP traffic reporter Bob Marbourg, whose mantra “pick your lane and stay with it” is a metaphor, the foundation for strategy at the Limbaugh/Hannity/Fox News stations I work with.

Like everything else now, Coronavirus is a political argument.  In divided America, we’re shirts vs. skins.

  • Shirts heed the data. Conferences are being canceled, major companies are telling employees to telecommute from home, the airlines are losing billions, and – with movie theaters closed in several countries — the Easter weekend premiere of the new James Bond thriller has been pushed-back to November.
  • Skins are led by the president, who ad libs about the infected toughing-it-out by going to work: “It’s going to disappear one day. It’s like a miracle – it will disappear.”  Rush Limbaugh assures Dittoheads that “It’s nothing more than the common cold;” and that “The Coronavirus is being weaponized to bring down Donald Trump” by tanking the stock market.  (Ironically, the shirts – who respect data – see the Dow rollercoaster as a buying opportunity…but I digress.)

So despite my persistent “pander” strategy, I now urge garden-variety conservative talk stations to employ both messages.  As licensees, we vow to serve the public interest.  Science, like ratings, is apolitical.  And every day the blotches on the national outbreak map will be more and larger.  Calling Trump “the master of saying the quiet part out loud,” Rolling Stone quotes his preference that 3,500 passengers stranded aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship not come ashore, “because I like the [Coronavirus] numbers being where they are.”

Do this; don’t do that.

If you still have local news people at your station:

  • Watch this story like a hawk, and tell listeners something they haven’t heard yet. Example: Did you know about the 007 flick before you read this?
  • Localize this story every way you can. Does your city or state have a hotline?  I’ve heard numerous public officials urge those with symptoms to call, rather than going to the doctor.

If you’re among stations that lost local news people in recent corporate cutbacks, produce a series of shortform tips, culled from CDC information and other sources.

  • Sponsorable? You bet!  But revenue isn’t the point.  You promised the FCC you’d serve the public.
  • If you schedule a daily update, tag that you will have fresh information “at this same time tomorrow” (“horizontal maintenance” in ratings lingo).
  • In addition to toteboard-type numbers, that update should include stories. Cable news channels are showing Facetime chats with passengers on that cruise ship.  Search for them on Social Media and do a phoner.  Ask listeners if they have friends or relatives who are just back from Italy.  Enterprise this and you’ll own it.

On my TV show this past Friday, I interviewed a doctor who said several things that may surprise you.  ICYMI:

Also appearing, a savvy guest I invite often, Marketing/PR/Social Media expert Kristen Ruby ( who has a real important tip for your digital content: DISCONTINUE scheduling Tweets while Coronavirus continues to block-out the sun.  As I have previously cautioned in this column, advance-scheduling Social Media posts is like sending a mannequin to a networking event.  While your cheery copy posts at predetermined intervals, some gun nut could be shooting-up a mall or school.  Coronavirus presents that potential every day now.

Keep washing your hands.

Holland Cooke ( is a media consultant working at the intersection of broadcasting and the Internet. He is the author of the e-book “Holland Cooke: Greatest Hits” from Talkers Books.  Click the ad banner in the right-hand column on this page for an instant download.  And he hosts “The Big Picture” TV show Friday nights at 7ET on RT America.  Read HC’s Monday Memo each week at, and follow him on Twitter @HollandCooke

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Category: Advice