Nostalgia, Music and This Pirate Radio Station Bring Older Adults Together

Radio Recliner helps seniors connect and combat isolation

Radio Recliner is a hit. Bridge Senior Living

When one conjures up images of a pirate radio station, it usually includes a collection of hippies and subversive types looking to tweak the establishment’s nose. Or, it could remind you of several Richard Curtis films.

Regardless, a new pirate radio station has emerged from a decidedly unexpected source: Bridge Senior Living residents. Radio Recliner, created by Birmingham, Ala., and Atlanta agency Luckie, is an online radio station run by the residents.

DJs from across the country sign up for a one-day shift, pick the music, take requests and dedications, and run the three-hour show like any other radio program. Additionally, each program includes custom liners and IDs created by Boutwell Studios in Birmingham. New shows are uploaded to the player each day at noon Eastern time and reflect the tastes of each DJ.

While Radio Recliner is a fun walk down a musical memory lane, there is a far more crucial component: keeping seniors connected and engaged through the shared experience of music from many eras.

“The idea came from thinking about how seniors struggle with feelings of isolation in the best of times,” said Mitch Bennett, Luckie’s CCO. “Then Covid-19 hit, and residents of senior living centers like Bridge could no longer get together with friends, share meals, participate in activities, or even have visits from family. With residents spending more time than ever alone in their rooms, we wanted to find a way to help them stay connected. Radio Recliner has been a way to turn radio into a kind of social media.”

Bridge’s team was immediately taken with the concept.

“We were looking for a way to pull our residents together in support of each other, keep them company and create social contact while keeping them safe in our communities,” said Kimberly Stanford, vp of marketing and advertising at Bridge Senior Living. “We knew it had both elements of fun and emotion tied to music, and the memories those song choices evoked.”

One of the funner aspects of the station is the names residents choose as DJ personas (15 of them so far). Names like Silver Fox, Birdman, Chickity Chick, Charming Charlie and Jersey Jack create a good-natured roster that continually rotates.

Resident Lois Pixley (aka, DJ Miss Fancy Pants) reads lines for the Radio Recliner Show.
Bridge Senior Living

According to Bennett, three of the DJs have been from memory care and several from hospice care.

“The decline from speaking to not speaking can happen quickly, and the families have been so happy to hear their loved ones in this way,” he said.

The variety of music (which is licensed through ASCAP, BMI and SoundExchange) and personalities creates a welcoming environment. Moreover, the geographic breadth of resident DJs is interesting and makes the station feel more national in scope. But, critically, Radio Recliner has become another way for families to stay connected and send messages of support and love.

One caller offered a dedication to her father (“Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” by B.J. Thomas) and, referencing the coronavirus crisis, said, “We love you very much and hope to see you real soon when this when this is over.”

“[The station] helps residents feel connected with the world right now where people are relationship starved,” Stanford said. “They are seen as our most vulnerable population, but most of their attitudes are that they have lived through worse and will get through this pandemic. They are such a resourceful generation.”

Bob Featherstone goes by the name DJ Jersey Jack.
Bridge Senior Living

The response has gone outside Bridge’s 24 senior living centers, with families around the country sending dedications and seniors signing up to be DJs.

“We’ve also had dozens of offers from fans of the station to create everything from new station jingles to video profiles of the DJs,” Bennett said. “We’ve even had companies write in wanting to advertise, which we politely declined.”

Luckie is assessing ideas for how to expand the program’s scope and scale. Recently, an Alexa skill was added to access the programming.

The original plan was to run Radio Recliner for a month, but the overwhelmingly positive response compelled the agency to explore running the station indefinitely.

“We still have so many residents within our portfolio that want to participate, and we want to continue to offer this platform to them while restrictions are in place,” Stanford said. “As the platform continues to grow in popularity, we may branch out beyond our portfolio.”

In the meantime, the residents of Bridge properties around the country are sitting back, relaxing and enjoying some good music and camaraderie together.

“It’s been an honor to help them put together their shows and give their families a chance to hear and document their stories,” Bennett said.

@zanger Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.