Audiences to BBC news programmes have soared in the last week as the public try to make sense of the biggest shake up to their day-to-day lives in peacetime.
On Monday night, for example, when BBC Scotland carried a news special combining both Prime Minister and First Minister live broadcasts, the TV audience rose to the highest for a news programme here in a decade, at more than a million.
But as the public tune in, increasingly at home following the latest government advice, how does the BBC keep the nation informed when its own staff have to take heed of that same advice?
For the BBC Radio Good Morning Scotland team, it has involved technological challenges trying to maintain social distancing while also ensuring that its listeners continue to get all the information they need as and when it happens.
Morning anchors Gary Robertson and Laura Maxwell now alternate working from home, using new equipment just issued to most of the corporation’s presenters which allows them to broadcast from their front rooms, or in Laura’s case, a shoogly camping desk in her converted attic.
Gary said: ‘Like everywhere else in the country, life at BBC Radio Scotland has changed markedly with Good Morning Scotland going from being prepared in a bustling newsroom to now being produced by a skeleton staff in studio while all its contributors – and a presenter- are scattered to the winds.
‘Usually there several guests every morning arriving in the studio to be interviewed; now all guests are interviewed remotely on their phones or laptops. And a studio normally full of colleagues bringing you news, sport, weather, travel and business news is almost empty as the majority of people – including one of the co-presenters – broadcasts from home.
‘It’s a technological and logistical juggling act on the part of a very talented production team and audio technicians to connect everyone up and make it all sound relatively seamless.
‘And yes, we have had the occasional barking dog, screaming child and alarm clock going off mid interview, while sport presenter Kenny Crawford remembered on air that his bins needed to go out immediately after his bulletin finished.’
Laura made the decision to convert what she assumed was the most secluded room in her home into a makeshift studio – complete with attic view overlooking the Renfrewshire hills.
She said: ‘Broadcasting a radio programme is never a solitary endeavour, especially when you sit in a small room with your co-presenter for three hours. But just as our listeners are being asked to work from home and social distance – so are we.
‘We’ve introduced strict hygiene measures in our studios, and in the cubicles where all the technical staff work – only essential staff are allowed in, with alcohol wipes and gel at the door for hand hygiene. Initially, Gary and I sat further apart, because our colleagues in sport, weather and business are broadcasting from home. But as the advice has changed, so too have our ways of working. There has to be at least one presenter in the studio, in case of emergencies. So we’re now alternating broadcasting from home – which throws up its own challenges.’
Laura’s mobile kit is set up on that dodgy camping table in her bedroom, with sound proofing provided by two blankets. One is the obligatory tartan rug. It’s an attic conversion – or garret – and she hopes you can’t hear the wind howling or birds clattering about on the roof.
She said: ‘Technically, it should be the quietest place in the house, away from possible interruptions from my little girl and the dog. My other half has been providing very good waiter service with coffee on demand. We shall see how long that lasts.
‘I keep in touch with studio constantly through various means; messenger, email, or most importantly, talkback from the output producers. They let me know when my microphone is open, if the next guest is ready, who’s talking next, how long until audio finishes, and probably the bit they like most, telling me when to shut up.
‘Without them, it’s safe to say, it would be a stramash. But when it works, it sounds like Gary and I are sitting in the same room.’
As is always the case, there have been some positives to working from home, such as getting almost a long lie-in for their 6am on-air starts rather than do the middle of the night commute to Pacific Quay.
Gary joked: ‘The question we’ve been asked most however, is whether we are broadcasting in pyjamas. So far the answer is a resounding No. Some standards, like clothes, need to be maintained!’
And although it could easily feel lonely being alone in the studio or broadcasting from a corner of the living room at home, the sheer volume of feedback from listeners every morning has reminded Gary and Laura of the importance of public service broadcasting.
Laura added: ‘It’s been humbling but we hope we help make a difference during an unprecedented time in all our lives. For that reason Good Morning Scotland plans to be with you every morning throughout this crisis – and hopefully you can help us keep each other company.’