Riot Radio is still producing content – but not from its usual location in the Gordon Willey building at Durham College’s Oshawa campus.
The web-based visual radio station has been operating from off campus since the college informed staff and students it would be shutting its doors in mid-March due to COVID-19.
Dan MacInally, Riot Radio manager, was quick to form a plan with his co-workers to ensure the station would continue to operate successfully in an environment unfamiliar to them.
“I got a phone call from the general manager from the (Durham College Students Inc.) student association and he said the campus is closed and staff is being sent home and that we can reconvene on Monday,” said MacInally.
By the time Monday came, the decision was made that no in-person meetings would be able to happen because everything was shutting down.
“We found out about Zoom, which I never heard of before and we had our first meetings a week later,” said MacInally, adding everyone initially thought their absence from campus would be short term.
“We’re going to be home for a couple of weeks so let’s just figure out how we get through the end of the semester and then we’ll be back in the office – things will be normal,” said MacInally, discussing the mindset when the pandemic forced the campus shutdown.
Unfortunately, this was not the reality the station faced.
“We started to feel like things weren’t going to be normal for a while and at least we were going to be in this for a month, couple months, and at that point, we immediately thought about the students,” said MacInally.
“Students pay a fee for this service, whether it’s the food bank we run…or Outreach Services, so we need to continue to deliver to students and we need to make sure we’re helping them.”
The idea was to get students to produce content from home using whatever technology they had and send it in to the staff at Riot Radio to still be broadcast.
Stuart Bonell, 24-year-old Broadcasting – Radio and Contemporary Media student, is getting used to producing shows from his house in Newcastle.
“I don’t have a set schedule because there’s not dedicated studio time, which makes it a lot harder to be disciplined and actually get shows out regularly,” said Bonell.
The digital world presented issues for certain individuals who didn’t have a camera or proper equipment to record like they could when they were at the station.
Despite having what he needs to produce content, Bonell is finding it difficult to expand his audience by working from home.
“The only way people are hearing my stuff is if they are following Riot Radio on social media or following me but I know that if we were in person on campus, I would be able to catch maybe one or two people in the hallway while we’re doing it live,” said Bonell. “It wouldn’t be a huge bump to my exposure but it might be enough to get people to listen to the podcast.”
Although the visual elements of a live show are no longer able to be captured, MacInally found a way to accommodate all students.
“I found a platform called Anchor which is owned by Spotify and you can upload audio there and it sends it out to other platforms like Apple Podcasts, SHOUTcast, and iHeartRadio Canada,” said MacInally. “A bad situation allowed us to expand what we were doing and get out to more people so it’s a little bit easier for people to listen.”
Riot Radio staff miss being at work and seeing students in their element, but the pandemic has raised additional worry for parents – which MacInally happens to be.
“A lot of the issues were especially during the summer, there was a five-month period of no school,” said MacInally. “We’ve got a five-year-old and a 16-year-old at home that want to play all day and eat every two hours while we try to work.”
“My wife and I have taken turns scheduling meetings while the other plays with the kids and makes food,” said MacInally. “We’ve had to adjust pretty quickly.”
Having to adapt to working from home and balance family life has turned out to be the station manager’s new reality.
While MacInally still worries about students and the learning curves they may be facing, he is remaining optimistic about the situation.
“It’s unfortunate we’re not in the studio and students aren’t getting that social aspect…but we’re learning new things definitely from this like a lot of more working independently, working digitally, and harder timelines and stuff so there’s some plus and minus on each side,” said MacInally.
“I am ready to get back to normal.”