Where Did the Callers Go?

Good listener/talent interaction with “the phones” is content that adds energy and engagement.  Good callers can be funny, crazy, relatable and entertaining.  But in recent times there seems to be a lack of callers on non talk radio outside of morning drive.  And in some cases even on morning shows.

I have queried PDs about this and hear, “the phones are dead, no one is calling, they text instead”, “we are voice tracking and no way to answer the phones and record callers” and “with Covid we have no one in the studio to grab the calls”.  
These are all valid answers, but it’s a problem.  We’re missing an advantage and reason that consumers listen to radio instead of the numerous other options.
Good callers bring a great source of content.  They can be discussing a serious topic, sharing a funny story that ties in with an on air discussion or playing an on air contest.  It’s a great way to make your listeners the star, bringing them front and center to your station, helping to connect your talent to the audience.
I hear a lot of talent reading DMs, texts and emails, but that’s not the same, it isn’t as effective.  And I also hear generic callers that can be from anywhere in America, also not very effective.
The most impactful callers are real and local, reflecting the regional accent.  It can be “fixin” to get groceries in Birmingham to “you betcha” in Minne-SOOH-ta or being from the “uhr-ea” in DC.
So how can we make this happen?  How can we integrate callers on the air?
As thought starters, here are a few options:
-Most importantly, promote the number more often and prominently on air.   If the phones can’t be answered these calls can go to voicemail with a recorded message from one of the talent.  They can be accessed from anywhere and the talent can insert them into their shows.
-Some station apps including Urban One and CMG allow the consumer the ability to record a message and send it directly to the station.  If you have this option, promote it and use it as a feature for listeners to communicate with the station or comment on a topic. Throughout the day the talent can retrieve these listener messages. 
-Ask listeners to DM voice messages to the station on Instagram.   Again, the talent can retrieve these for use.
-Solicit for listeners to send a voice memo as an email with requests or at work shout outs.
-An engineer friend of mine suggested the Telos VX studio phone system and the XScreen software where calls can be answered remotely via the XScreen program and also brought up on the air remotely. 
-There are services available via barter that can provide callers.
-Stations within an organization could share their best, engaging callers in one central location or portal.  Talent would have the ability to use these archived calls.
Getting good callers has never been easy, they have to be coaxed, groomed and edited, but I think we can all agree they are a great source of content.