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Monday Memo: Weekend Warriors, Battling the Virus

| May 18, 2020

By Holland Cooke


BLOCK ISLAND, RI — As the cooped-up are coping, talkers are listening. In last week’s column, a panel of weekday hosts describes the mood they’re monitoring.

This week, a panel of weekend ask-the-expert hosts describes how callers’ questions flesh-out listeners’ lives during the shutdown now easing in phases.

“How has what-people-are-asking-about changed during the shutdown?”

That’s an easy one for Tom Kraeutler from “The Money Pit Home Improvement Show:” “Two words: doing and dreaming!”

  • Tom and co-host Leslie Segrete are fielding lots of calls from “homeowners who have dusted off their improvement, remodeling and décor To-Do lists. Calls, emails and social reach-outs to help folks with these projects in March alone were up 112% from March 2019.”
  • He notes “an impressive number of folks taking on repairs that, prior to the pandemic, would have been left to a pro to tackle. We’ve had to dig a few folks out of the weeds when they got in over their heads, but it’s still exciting to see how listeners are becoming more resourceful and confident in trying new things.”
  • Tom & Leslie offer “5 Questions to Ask Your Contractor Post COVID-19″ here.

“Into Tomorrow” tech talker Dave Graveline gets lots of “calls from people looking for help staying in touch with — and keeping an eye on — relatives, especially elderly parents and grandparents” who are most-vulnerable to the virus. And with many school districts in distance learning mode and workplace meetings gone-virtual, Dave fields lots of questions about “video calling devices, such as Amazon’s Echo Show and Google’s Nest Hub Max.”

With Social Distancing disrupting the perennial Spring selling season now underway, “Real Estate Today” host Stephen Gasque admits that “the traditional open house is gone, at least for now.” So innovative Realtors are holding “virtual open houses.” Steve explains that they’re meeting prospective buyers “on Facebook Live, or Zoom at a specific time. They walk around the property, inside and out, describing its features, and answering questions.”

We’re hearing a lot about “supply chain disruption.”

It’s not only problematic for manufacturers, this issue hits the kitchen table. Echoing a funny old TV commercial, Doug Stephan reports that “Where’s the beef?” isn’t as funny now. If you’ve been to the supermarket lately, you’ve seen empty shelves in some of those now-one-way aisles. Doug, who hosts “The American Family Farmer” show, reports that “more people finding locally-derived sources.”

Stephan, himself a working dairy farmer, has firsthand concerns:

  • Flawed policy: “Regulators don’t understand farms;” and he calls rules that “require good food to be tossed” by restaurants and hotels – rather than redistributing leftovers to the needy — “nuts.”
  • Big Corporate Ag: For years, conglomerates have been forcing family farmers to quit. Two years ago on my TV show, Doug predicted that “in 50 years we won’t be able to feed ourselves.” Now, as spotty supermarket inventory demonstrates, “that length of time has been shortened to today.”
  • China, the biggest threat of all: “We’ve allowed them to buy Smithfield,” now hobbled by the outbreak, upstream from the meat shortage we’re suffering. Doug doesn’t mince words: “The Chinese government is no good, and the sooner we realize that and bring production back home, the better.”

Shelves are NOT bare at home improvement and hardware stores — Essential Services – have been open all along. Tom Kraeutler reports they’re “well-stocked and busy.”

  • But, like the currently-creepy supermarket experience we’re having these days, “the job of shopping for those supplies has become more time consuming given the related entrances and exits, and long lines necessitated by reduction in occupancy limits.”
  • Tom eyewitnessed a telling moment: “On my last trip to Home Depot I noticed a commotion a couple of registers down. A shopper had removed his mask and store associates were on him in a flash with a very clear message: wear a mask or get out – NOW. ‘Pretty sure everyone who saw this was giving the associates a virtual high-five.”

Typically, the real estate market hinges on supply-and-demand, though Steve Gasque points to a silver lining: “Fewer sellers putting their homes on the market – but strong demand from buyers, equals rising prices. But – that is reportedly not hurting buyers, because even though prices are on the rise, interest rates continue to drop – so affordability is actually better now, than earlier in the year.”

While we’re all hunkered-down, Dave Graveline ticks-off these tech trends:

  • “Almost every type of delivery app has seen a major surge.” With restaurants relying on take-out business, Dave says “we constantly remind our listeners to continue to support their favorite LOCAL establishments.”
  • “Many E-tailers, especially Amazon, have slowed down shipments of ‘non-essential’ items, so that they can more quickly ship toilet paper, cleaning products, etc.”
  • “It may be hard to believe with everyone confined to home, but Fitness wearables have gained even more popularity,” especially as various states and cities re-open parks. And do-it-yourselfers selling wares on Etsy are crafting cool face masks, and “selling hundreds of thousand per day.”
  • And as we’re watching SO much television while housebound, freebies abound. Among streaming services that have extended their free trial periods, “HBO announced 500 hours of shows and movies that can be streamed for free.” Pre-pandemic, when we were on-the-go and watching so much video on smartphones, Quibi pioneered longer-shortform video. Now, their CEO blames a disappointing launch on the pandemic, because we’re all sitting stiller.

While the pandemic story “blocks-out-the-sun…”

When I asked Doug Stephan about prepping “The Talk Radio Countdown Show” he hosts each week, I compared his task to the Billboard charts we Baby Boomers saw in 1964: “6 of the Top Ten songs were by The Beatles.” Doug deliberately steers Countdown, and his weekday morning DJV Show, away from the caricature Talk radio narrative: “We’re NOT political.” With listeners seeking solutions, his advice to fellow talkers is: “You better be broadening your reach. Talk radio has become pretty one-sided, so we’re losing half the audience, and advertisers know that.”

 Ditto Tom Kraeutler, whose how-to show is utterly apolitical: “I think everyone would like to see our famously divisive government spend less time trying to make the other side look bad, listen more to our medical and health professionals, stop grasping for straw solutions and get serious. There’ll be plenty of time for them to put the boxing gloves back on once we’re past this.”

 Radio can take a cue from the people-helping-people kindness we see in so many pandemic-pertinent TV commercials.  “Real Estate Today” is garnishing its how-to-buy-a-home advice with “the many human stories of kindness and caring within the real estate community.” Stephen Gasque tells of “the Realtor who had the coronavirus, recovered, and then donated his plasma – saving a man’s life. And the Realtor who started ‘Feed a Healthcare Hero,’ in which people donate to local restaurants, which make meals, that are delivered by Realtors to the frontline heroes. And the Realtor who posted a singalong song, which has gone viral.”

Stay safe.

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.  Follow HC on Twitter @HollandCooke

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Category: Advice