Ever hike the steep narrow pathways just inside the rim of the Grand Canyon? That’s how it felt to launch the “Sherman & Tingle” morning show on Chicago’s WDRV(FM) “The Drive” on Halloween in 2016.
“We knew that there was no other route we could take, no other option,” says Program Director Rob Cressman. “But it was scary as hell!”
In the face of growing competition from streaming services, satellite radio and other music sources, even the most well-built, music-centric FM brands are facing a harsh realization: Their long-term survival depends on adding more personality, contrary to their original DNA.
“In 2018, if you’re not already moving in that direction, you risk total devastation,” says Cressman. “There are so many other choices for music now, but they don’t offer local music curation and companionship. To maximize our advantage, radio stations are racing to see who can have the best talent in mornings and every daypart. Music is still important, but it’s delivered by friends you enjoy spending time with.”
BUILT ON MUSIC
If there ever was a radio brand built on music, it’s “The Drive.”
Iconic DJs demonstrate their knowledge and love for the music.
Voiceover legend Nick Michaels, who passed away from a heart attack earlier this year, wove cinematic stories about the artists as the imaging voice of “The Drive.”
Longtime morning DJ Steve Downes kept the focus on music until his retirement from “The Drive.” This was followed by what Cressman calls a “failed experiment.”
He knew they probably had just one more chance to “get it right” when they hired Brian Sherman and Steve Tingle, who had first teamed up at crosstown alternative rock station Q101. When that frequency began a quick succession of ownership and format changes in 2011, they — and the whole staff — were asked to leave.
Tingle did what most radio people do in that situation. He loaded up the U-Haul and moved his family to the next opportunity — in Philadelphia, then Atlanta.
“I was with Emmis so long.” Tingle wondered, “Why do so many radio people keep traveling? Why do they get fired? Then I started to understand.”
Sherman didn’t want that kind of life. He had offers, but “my gut feeling was not to move my whole family somewhere for a risky job that could last six months. So I remember thinking, ‘Maybe I don’t want to do [radio] anymore.’ I think most radio people feel that way at times, but — I’m sorry to tell you — you’re spoiled by working in radio. Deal with it.”
He tried several non-radio jobs, including (wait for it…) driving a garbage truck. “‘The Drive’ was the #1 pre-set button in my truck, and I listened to [DJs] Steve Downes and Bob Stroud every single day, never thinking in a million years that I might work there someday — or anywhere in radio again.”
Then a suburban Chicago station reached out to offer him an on-air position, and — although they couldn’t pay much – it was an opportunity to get back into the business without uprooting his family.
A SUCCESSFUL REUNION
Fast-forward two years, and to their surprise, “The Drive” started toying with the idea of bringing Tingle back to Chicago to reunite with his old friend. “It was out of nowhere, and it was a no-brainer,” says Sherman. “But to fit on ‘The Drive,’ Steve and I had to prove to Hubbard that we’d grown up since our Q101 days. And we had.”
Cressman started them off slowly, playing 10 songs an hour. Lately, it’s down to six or seven. “The plot of their show is they’re suburban dads who never really wanted to grow up. They’ve taken that and made it bigger than life.”
Not all of “The Drive’s” music fanatics accepted the new show right away, but the team’s authenticity and accessibility has won over many of the cynics. They get out to public appearances like “Thirsty Thursdays” often, and they take the time to spend a few minutes with every person who shows up.
At one recent event, a 50-year-old gentleman approached to admit, “When you first came on, I thought you were terrible, that you didn’t belong on a station like ‘The Drive.’ Now, I can’t stop listening. I’m hooked.” Tingle replied with a high-five and said, “Nothing makes me happier.”
Without a doubt, the listener could sense he meant it.
Since their return to Chicago, “Sherman & Tingle’s” ratings started strong and just keep climbing. After driving garbage trucks and moving vans during their time apart, they could not be more grateful.
“The second time around is so much fun,” says Tingle. “This does not feel like work.”
Adds Sherman, “I know this sounds like a Hollywood screenplay, but it’s a true story. We’re living it.”
Veteran programmer Dave Beasing’s new company is Sound That Brands. It co-produced “Inside Trader Joe’s” with Steve Goldstein of Amplifi Media. It’s become the most listened-to branded podcast series of its kind. Find Dave on Twitter @davebeasing.