Chattanooga area radio programmers adjusting as drive-time hours shift during COVID-19 pandemic

Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Local on-air personality Sean Stewart works on recording voice tracks from his home on Monday, Aug. 17, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

In times of crisis, people often seek the familiar to help them feel normal and secure. For many of us during this pandemic, that comfort comes from radio, particularly local stations featuring the personalities, music and shows we grew up with.

"In a time of heightened uncertainty and disrupted routines, consumers are turning to radio as a trusted source of information and community connection, mirroring patterns observed during past regional and national disasters and weather events," said Brad Kelly, managing director, Nielsen Audio.

A recent story reported media consumption has risen during the COVID-19 pandemic, with 26% of those surveyed saying they are spending more time listening to radio at home, and that they are doing so in new ways, specifically via their phones, computers or smart speakers.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga radio hosts Jeff Styles, Bryan Stone increase footprints amid station lineup changes)

Radio can also be where people can feel connected to their communities, keeping up with local news throughout the day.

An informal poll on Facebook found Chattanoogans generally split, with many saying they are not in the car as much so they listen less, and others saying they spend more time listening to podcasts or satellite radio.

Others say they are listening more in an effort to keep up with the world around them.

David Lee, 60, still commutes daily to his customer service job at Erlanger hospital, and the radio is a constant companion. He said he listens for three to four hours each day.

"I listen in the car, but I have recently started downloading some apps that give me some stations," he said.

Listening keeps him connected to the city around him, Lee said.

"I like the interaction. I like knowing what's going on in town. I like to hear what's going on in the community."

Drive-time hours have shifted as many people around the nation are "commuting" only from the kitchen or bedroom to their home offices, and many stations have begun focusing on the 9 and 10 a.m. hours, as well as the 3 and 4 p.m. period.

Local radio programmers are monitoring that shift, but say they haven't made wholesale scheduling changes yet, choosing instead to see how things shake out.

"We definitely see it," said Sean Stewart, brand manager and on-air personality for WKXJ and on-air personality at WRXR.

"There are not as many people driving at the rush hours like we used to see. The shift is more toward mid-day - 10-2, 10-3. We haven't seen the hard data come in yet, though, and we haven't changed things up because we feel like we have a strong lineup.

"We are still adjusting and looking, because what if things slowly get back to normal, whatever that will be?"

Scott Chase, operations manager in charge of programming for Cumulus and an on-air personality at WSKZ, said the station continues to draw people who are going into work, as well as a growing number listening at home.

"I know there is a large portion of KZ listeners who are working men and women that are not working from home, but we know more people are listening at home with a smart speaker or on their computer," he said.

Chase doesn't see the station changing its scheduling, but those digital listeners are a new market that the Cumulus stations are focusing on.

"I think we will stay where we are with our programming, and I think that we've seen more and more emphasis put on our digital presence, whether through our web site or social media platforms," he said.

Stewart, who does his show from home, said the biggest operational changes have come in how stations go after revenue. Traditional endeavors such as live appearances in which the radio crew broadcast from a business, for example, are no longer possible, so his stations have looked for new, virtual ways to increase revenue.

"It's actually fun because it's challenging," he said. "It's fun to be a part of this."

Contact Barry Courter at or 423-757-6354.

photo Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Local on-air personality Sean Stewart works on recording voice tracks from his home on Monday, Aug. 17, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn.