Before I enjoyed success as a programmer in a couple of major markets, I was a hungry and aspiring broadcaster in a smaller market with big market dreams. I emulated what I heard on WFAN and assumed it was the right way to do professional sports talk radio.
There weren’t content coaches or mentors available teaching me how to program and develop as a talent. Everything I learned was through trial and error and seeking out independent advice. I provided the best product that I could for my employer and assumed they were ok with it. The alternative would’ve been to spend more money to find someone better and in smaller markets that isn’t often an option.
Years later after running stations and working on successful national shows, I have a much deeper understanding of how to create content, develop ratings and social media strategies and maximize a brand’s value. If I were to listen back to some of my earlier work I’m sure I’d want to erase it. The perfectionist in me might wish that those inferior performances didn’t take place but truth be told, I’m glad they do. It’s important to learn, make mistakes, and be stretched thin early on because it gives you an appreciation for the business and provides you with experiences that help you later on during your career. If you can’t handle three to four roles, talking about community focused subjects, and making little money, the early stages of this business may make you consider another line of work.
I raise these points because they’re part of the fabric of small market radio stations everywhere throughout the country. Air staffs are small, sales staffs are small, and budgets are even smaller but the mindset to be successful can’t be. In many cases patience, positivity, and a love for the medium are required. The more an individual can handle and execute in strong fashion, the better their chances of developing and one day gaining an opportunity to make a better living in the radio industry.
It’s not much different than being a minor league baseball player. The goal may be to reach the big leagues, earn a big contract, and perform in front of sellout crowds, but before getting to that level, paying your dues is required. A player might perform in front of a few hundred people, ride a bus to each game, and even organize the bat rack or fetch baseballs. It’s part of the process of learning and proving you can handle responsibility before being thrown into the lion’s den. That said, you have to treat the stage as if it’s as important as the larger one you hope to one day stand on.
In my current role, I get to listen, talk and follow the work of many small market brands and radio professionals. I can tell you that there are hidden gems all across this nation and some brands which create exceptional programming despite not working with a ton of resources. Small market stations don’t often earn national headlines or praise, but many do a great job of connecting in their communities through events, promotions, sales, partnerships and charitable associations.
I thought for this industry piece that it would be interesting to get the perspective of someone who works in one of these situations and is doing a really good job. Mike Gill, programs 97.3 ESPN in Atlantic City for Townsquare Media, and doubles as the radio station’s afternoon host. He broadcasts in market 151, 60 miles outside of Philadelphia (market 8), and aims to superserve South Jersey and Philadelphia sports fans as if he were sitting on the other side of the New Jersey and Pennsylvania border.
As you’ll learn in this article, smaller market stations work with less and have to think outside the box to make their brands stand out. When they’re able to be creative and made up of a staff that shares a passion, love and dedication to making an impact, the results can be anything but small.
— Jason Barrett
Don’t Let The Market Size Make You by Mike Gill
In today’s ultra-competitive sports radio world, many of us ‘small market’ guys are doing a ton of things in addition to hosting our own show just trying to get noticed. Programming, meetings, imaging, meetings, editing audio, meetings, blogging, meetings, making sure logs are right, meetings, building programming clocks for the upcoming NBA game and weekend’s shows – did I mention meetings?
All of that in addition to preparing for a four-hour talk show with compelling content and great guests, coming up with station promotions, scheduling, making sure everything runs smooth and more.
In Atlantic City, which is located on the beach in market 151, we are in the shadows of one of the most competitive major sports radio markets in the country – Philadelphia. However, I would contend we are only in the shadows of Philadelphia in terms of market size – not show content, guest promotions or overall show quality. We may not have the same amount of listeners but our market share is every bit as good.
Many people recognize our station when they vacation “down the shore” in the summer when the Philly stations are out of range and tell us ‘wow, I can’t believe the level of guests you guys have’, or ‘I can’t believe some of the things you guys give away on your station’.
Someone once told me, don’t let the market size make you, you make the market size! It’s something that I live by everyday when I program and host at 97.3 ESPN.
I went to West Virginia University where I was the sports director at U-92 Radio. I hosted a sports-talk show, provided play-by-play, and took any opportunity that came up. When I graduated in the spring, the first job I applied for I got, and my radio career began. That only fueled my desire to take on more challenges.
I did an internship at WIP in Philadelphia, with my goal being to work in Philly again one day. I fulfilled that goal, doing weekends at 97.5 The Fanatic from 2013-2014.
But, I always wanted to be more than just an on-air host. I wanted people to associate the station’s sound with my personality. I consider the radio station an extension of myself. Throughout my time in this business, I’ve always sought to give back and do more. It’s how I program my brand.
One thing I’ve tried to do is find and give young talent a chance to show what they can do. Many of our alumni have moved on to bigger markets and become successful and I take a lot of pride in witnessing their continued success.
- Pat Gallen (Now CBS 3 in Philly and WIP Radio)
- Matt Lombardo (97.5 The Fanatic and NJ.com)
- Matt Hammond (Sportsradio 610 in Houston)
- Barrett Brooks (Breakfast on Broad on CSN Philly, 97.5 The Fanatic)
- Matt Martucci (Voice of St. Joe’s men’s hoops, WIP and SiriusXM Radio)
Those are just some of the recognizable names that got their start at ESPN 1450, which has since become 97.3 ESPN.
So how did market 151 get their hands on so many talented guys?
We got creative.
If a person has an idea, I’m willing to listen and within reason, give them a shot.
Currently, we are live and local from 1p-7p ET Monday-Friday and we air local updates from 6a-6p ET. Rich Quinones handles middays, and I host our afternoon show. We carry the NBA, MLB, the Masters, the NCAA Tournament, every primetime NFL game, the NFL playoffs and the Super Bowl. 97.3 ESPN is also an affiliate of the Sixers, Flyers and Eagles and because of these partnerships, our on-air promotions have a big market feel and sound.
Through those partnerships, we’ve been able to give away trips to Eagles road games, Flyers tickets every Thursday during the Spring book, Sixers season tickets, and an opportunity to sit with Sixers radio play-by-play man Tom McGinnis. These giveaways resonate with our listeners.
We’ve also created unique promotions. One in particular, ’99 Bottles’ includes registering 99 listeners and having a party where each bottle has a logo taped to the bottom of it. Each person picks a bottle and wins the pair of tickets that are taped to the bottom of it. Prizes include tickets to see the Sixers, Flyers, Phillies, local casino shows, concerts, anything we can get our hands on. The grand prize is Eagles club box seats on the 50-yard line.
With all of that play by play on our airwaves, it’s important to cover each team on a regular basis. We’re fortunate to have a Phillies, Eagles, Sixers, Flyers and high school sports beat reporter covering them for our website 973espn.com.
How does market 151 have the budget to make that happen? We don’t. We get creative.
Veteran NFL writer John McMullen covers the Eagles for us. John appears on my afternoon show daily in-season and during the off-season, while providing content for our website. Flyers beat writer Dave Isaac from the Courier Post covers the Flyers for us, providing web content with his on-air hits during the season. Michael Kaskey-Blomain, formerly of Philly.com, covers the Sixers, while also providing web and on-air content to the radio station.
We also struck a content sharing deal with a local website, SportsTalkPhilly.com, which is led by Philly radio veteran Brian Startare. The website supplies Phillies content for us from Frank Klose, who we credential and send to games. In return, he appears for bi-weekly on-air hits or anytime Phillies news happens.
Dave O’Sullivan is a well-respected local high school sports publisher of a magazine called Glory Days. He hosts a Saturday specialty show called ‘The South Jersey Sports Report’ and is our go-to guy for local material that we might not cover on our local shows, but has strong appeal on our website. By teaming up, Dave gains an opportunity to promote his magazine on the air during his show, and we receive the benefit of local high school sports coverage.
In addition, we’ve formed strong relationships with ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio and Jayson Stark. They both appear weekly during their respective seasons, once again helping us present a profile of quality guests and content on the radio station that our audience can enjoy.
Not to be forgotten, my producers have worked tirelessly in securing high caliber guests. My former producer Pete Giordano spent eight years with me before leaving for a great producing opportunity at SiriusXM. Josh Hennig has since taken over and we haven’t skipped a beat.
I’m sharing these details to remind you to be creative, work tirelessly, and not take no for an answer. We try to make people take notice on a daily basis and that’s something that every small market station has an ability to do.
The goal at 97.3 ESPN remains the same, don’t let the market size make you, you make the market size. Because of that approach, the hard work has paid off in the ratings. Here’s an example of one of our recent books.
4.0 – #6 in the Market
6.5 – #2 in the Market
7.9 – #1 in the Market
6.2 – #2 in the Market
5.5 – #3 in PM Drive
8.2 – #1 in the Market
8.6 – #1 in the AM Drive
10.2 – #1 in Middays
8.5 – #1 in PM Drive