Nine years ago, talk radio in Mobile took a huge leap forward when FMTALK 106.5 hit the airwaves.
The brainchild of longtime WZEW disc jockey Sean Sullivan, along with his stepfather, Don Bigler, and local radio stalwart Wayne Gardner, FMTALK has blossomed over the past nine years to become a daily addiction for an ever-growing band of listeners.
Looking back nearly a decade later, Sullivan says the station certainly lines up with what he’d expected it could do, despite facing a daunting recession at its inception and the industrywide decline in terrestrial radio numbers.
“What I’ve done since [we started] is every chance I’ve gotten to put on more local programming, I do,” Sullivan said. “It’s the hardest thing to do. What happens across the rest of the fruited plain is people just run syndicated programs.”
While FMTALK certainly has its share of syndicated features, Sullivan has grown the bullpen of local talkers conspicuously over the years, which has taken the station in directions he didn’t necessarily foresee at startup.
“Maybe I didn’t expect all the ways people would use the station,” he said.
That means shows not only about politics, but also gardening, food, sports and more, all curated by local hosts. The result is the station now does live shows on the weekends and reaches people interested in a wide variety of topics.
“In a given week we’re doing at least 40 hours of locally produced programming and over 20 different podcasts,” Sullivan said.
This goes to the core of his “content is king” attitude about programming, and that is also something that allows Sullivan to brush off the doom and gloom talk about the end days of terrestrial radio. He believes good content will always draw listeners, but also says FMTALK embraces podcasts, social media and other digital ways of getting to listeners. The station also just launched a retooled website.
As for the station’s signature show, “Mobile Mornings,” it has morphed considerably since the early days featuring Sullivan and Gardner. Listeners now are getting Sullivan and co-hosts Dalton Orwig and Kelly Finley, both of whom Sullivan says were tremendous “gets” for the station.
“He has the chops and can learn just about anything,” Sullivan said of Orwig. “Having people who can learn to do things is so valuable.”
Likewise he says Finley, with her background as a television news anchor and reporter, has brought a meatier dimension to the station’s news presentation.
“It’s really elevated our news game and our social media game,” he said of the ever-tweeting Finley.
The only big complaint Sullivan has about the morning show, he jokes, is that it still airs 6-9 a.m., meaning very early mornings for the father of two. He also hosts the midday talk show each weekday, and says running a radio station keeps him very, very busy. But looking back at the growth over the past nine years, Sullivan realizes the station has come a long way and has solidified a place in Mobile media.
“I’m very happy and very grateful,” he said.