10 Questions with ... Gavin Spittle
August 21, 2012
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
After being a producer in Boston, I got a job as a PD at a start up religious station WCRN in Worcester. From there 1997-99 I programmed WXTK in Cape Cod. I've spent the last 13 years with CBS Radio, first in Las Vegas at news/talker KXNT. Vegas was awesome for 4 years, and then CBS called on me to program FM Talker Live 105.3 in Dallas. After two years in Dallas, I was promoted to VP of news and talk to oversee both Live 105.3 and NewsRadio 1080 KRLD. From Dallas, I moved to Houston to tackle the sports battle at SportsRadio 610, which is where I've been for just over 3 years.
1. You're presently the leader in a four-way sports talk race -- what goes into maintaining that lead? What, in your estimation, keeps 610 in the lead?
It's amazing: my other station KIKK-650 will become a sports station as well on January 2, 2013, so that will make 5 sports stations in one radio market. That's truly amazing to me. Probably what I'm most proud of is that we've been able to grow that lead. We became the first sports station in Houston history to crack the top 10 Men 25-54 and our weekday lineup has remained there.
SportsRadio 610 is extremely active in the community. We're always out and about. We are live and local from 6a-11p and on many days, we're live and local from 4a-11p. CBS Radio and my GM Sarah Frazier have been such a great support system, allowing us to expand in several areas where other stations have had to contract. We've been able to break several big stories, and listeners know that whatever the time of day, if a story is breaking, we'll have it to them first.
I can't say enough about our staff. They are extremely personable. If you work on SportsRadio 610, you need to be relatable, have a great work ethic and be one with the people. It's an amazing staff that produces a tremendous product. Our goal is to bring you sports but also to make you laugh a lot. We've created somewhat of a tree house mentality, and who doesn't want to hang in the tree house?
2. 610 has pretty much gone all-in as the home of the Texans, year-round. How important is play-by-play to a sports station's success?
The Texans are a tremendous franchise beginning with owner Bob McNair to President Jamey Rootes and the entire staff. We're real proud to be their flagship station. In our latest 10 year deal, we added a lot more programming elements to compliment the play by play. The Texans are a huge "hit" in Houston, and last year the Texans' success propelled the station. I think that's where play-by-play can be a huge help. It's a great opportunity for new fans to visit your station. The key is to hold them throughout the week. I also believe it has to be the right play-by-play for your station. The other key is not just to run play-by-play but embrace it. If you are putting something on your station, be proud of it and show it off. Set the appointment for your listeners and tell them why they should listen. It's one thing to talk about a big play but to image that play all over your station while you're talking about it truly is a storyteller and it separates you from your competition.
3. In that vein, Houston has teams in all the major pro sports but hockey (in which it has a minor league team), but I, and most of Texas, is still football country. How true is that of the Houston market- what's the percentage of football versus other sports talk right now, especially with the Astros in the basement?
Houston is football but pro football is the big hit. Texans and NFL are the two biggest draws, and we put a lot of emphasis on both on SportsRadio 610. Probably football is about 90% of the conversation right now, maybe even more. A little bit of college football from time to time, but this isn't a huge college football town as far as topic generation. Talking about the Astros is unfortunately a tune out. Hopefully, someday, they'll get back on track. The Rockets have struggled as well. Football will always be number one in Houston but the struggles of the other sports in town has people even more excited about the upcoming Texans season.
4. You've programmed traditional talk and "hot talk"/FM talk. How different, if at all, have you found programming sports talk?
Not that much different, and I think that's why I've been fortunate to have success. I have the same kind of playbook, and I alter it according to the kind of spoken word format. This started back in religious radio and has carried through sports talk. With our "hot talk" station, we threw some amazing concerts; traditional talk, we brought in some tremendous speakers and sold out venues. With sports talk, thousands have come to our events for athlete's autographs, and roasts of sports celebrities. When you step back and realize that no matter how serious the subject, the key is to entertain, I think your mind begins to explode with ideas.
The biggest difference with sports talk is the regionalism involved. For instance, sports radio on the east coast is completely different from sports radio here in Texas. The key to sports talk in my opinion is to not only know sports but also be relatable. Will we give you compelling sports talk on our station? Absolutely, but we're not going to bore you with X's and O's talk. We want to have the same argument you have with your friends. We just happen to be coming through your radio but consider us your friends. I program my stations very similar to music stations. If you play the hits, they will come.
5. What do you look for in talent for sports talk? What makes a good sports talker?
You need to jump out of my radio when I listen to you. Your energy in your voice will tell me everything. The next key is can you be entertaining? Can you take something in your everyday life and make it absolutely compelling to listen to? Are you a character? Can you make fun of yourself and have a good laugh at your own expense? Those are key components to me. A good sports talker is someone that in July, which is normally the slowest time of year, is raring to go with topics, not just stories they've found but organic stories that are created on the station. Finally and most importantly, I hate to repeat myself, but a great sports host knows what the "hit" of the day is. They also know how to tease it well. If you keep me in my car after getting groceries and my ice cream is melting in my back seat, I'll hire you. I'm real proud of all of my hosts, because they are constantly striving to get better at these aspects. We have some great talent on our station. If I just mention one, the others will kill me, but they are all very talented.
6. You're also involved with a new venture involving sports logo apparel for apocryphal teams. What's that about, and how's it been going?
Thanks for asking, the company is called Awesome Sports Logos and our website is www.awesomesportslogos.com. Ever since I was a kid, I would draw logos of my favorite sports teams. I've always had a passion for sports logos but unfortunately, cool logos, especially in the minor leagues are becoming extinct. Teams like the Macon Whoopie are no longer around. Our goal is to bring back the fun in sports logos with our t-shirt line. Our designers work in pro sports, but took on this project because they loved the idea and also have a passion for sports logos. The biggest compliment we receive is people asking, "Are these real teams"? That's when you know you have a cool logo. So for two years on nights and weekends, I've been building this company. I kept it completely quiet because I never wanted anyone and I still don't want anyone to think that I take my eye off the radio station. In fact, I think doing this has actually made me focus even more on the radio station. My amazing wife and business partner has a degree in fashion merchandising which has helped out so much.
We have over 40 t-shirts in our line, including names like the Cocksville Blockers, The Boca Raton Cougars, and The Brooklyn Legbreakers. The other key is the t-shirt. We care more about quality than profit margin. Our t-shirts are extremely high quality, many organic, and are super soft. I hate low quality t-shirts, so why would I expect people to wear low quality t-shirts? It's been an absolute blast, and the business is going real well. We're getting orders every day and we've received some great interest from retailers, so hopefully you'll see us in stores soon. We've done some giveaways on radio stations across the country, so if any radio station wants some t-shirts to give away, they can let me know.
7. Thinking back to your experience with the "FM Talk" format (geared towards young male listeners) in Dallas, do you think that it will ever make a comeback? With the success of the format in some Florida markets, is there a glimmer of hope that it might be tried elsewhere or has that ship sailed?
I think there is always a chance. What has happened is elements of that format are now on some sports radio stations. In many ways, FM Talk has morphed into sports talk. If you find the right talent, I think the format can still work. The best thing about FM talk is that so many issues are relevant as long as you cater to males.
8. How, if at all, do you use social media in what you do on the job? Do you pay attention to what people are saying about 610 online?
CBS Radio has done such a good job in their training and emphasis on social media and our websites. We use social media as another way to set that appointment with the listener for upcoming segments or guests. Social media is an amazing promotion device for your website as well. I think we should all pay attention to what people are saying online. There are many that are just haters no matter what you do but I completely respect that they have the opportunity to speak their mind, and I think they appreciate that I try my best to write everyone back or return as many listener phone calls as possible. Our hosts are very social media active. The best part of social media is that our guys are commenting on sites like Twitter throughout the day and night so in essence, they are expanding their relationship with their listeners for more than just four hours per day.
9. Boston, Vegas, Dallas, and now Houston... what's your favorite thing about living in Houston, and what do you miss most about each of your previous stops?
The people in Houston are so friendly and I love the diversity of this city. There are so many unique restaurants and it's weird to say since it's the 4th largest city in America but it really is one of the great "hidden gem" cities in America. It's not a huge tourist destination, but the quality of living is terrific. Dallas is the same way and both cities have a lot of similarities. I was a hockey season ticket holder in Dallas so I miss watching NHL hockey. In Vegas, I miss the desert. Climbing in the canyons was so therapeutic. In Boston, I miss my family and lobster rolls.
10. What's the most important lesson you've learned in your career?
Oh, wow, there are so many lessons. From a Program Director perspective, believe in yourself. There are so many people telling you differently. When we were 23rd in the ratings Men 25-54, everyone loved the station. Now we have record ratings and the hate mail seems to grow larger every day. You are in that position for a reason. Believe in the decisions that you make.
The second lesson I've learned is to give back as much as possible. We have an amazing medium to make a difference and doing something special is so much more valuable than any billboard or other marketing campaign. Giving back to radio is also important. I love communicating with young talent because they are our future. I remember when a Program Director would respond to me when I was trying to make it. I would be ecstatic and I learned from so many people in the business that I feel as though it's my duty to pay it forward.