TOMS RIVER – Success in radio is based, in large part, on using your time wisely. Three minute songs. Two minute segments. Commercial breaks.
For 40 years, Kevin Williams has used his time wisely. Signing on for the first time in July of 1979, he was WOBM’s first full time sports director. In an office decorated with, unsurprisingly, sports memorabilia, he talked about how things have changed – and how they haven’t – over four decades in the business.
Back then, WOBM’s slogan “We’re Ocean County” was more than just talk. When the station began in 1968, 92.7 FM was the only commercial station in Ocean County. There was a lot of room to grow, and to forge their identity.
As for sports, the station ran a highlight reel of the big national games, but 90 percent of it was high school athletics.
Williams gave a five-minute sports segment at 5:35 a.m. Steve Paul would start his show right after. As they made a transition, the two would have a little on-air banter. Over time, a minute of conversation became two, two became three. Eventually, their banter got longer than Williams’ entire segment. This transitioned into “Coffee With Kevin” from 5 a.m. To 6 a.m. It was an hour of two guys talking about whatever interested them. This grew into co-hosting the morning show from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. with Paul until 1996.
He still has an on-air presence with the Hometown View, where he sounds off on whatever’s on his mind for 2-2.5 minutes.
“I’ve never been censored but I’ve probably irked a person or two,” he said, laughing.
Throughout his career, he’s always had his finger on the pulse of the local sports community. Even if the way he reports on it is different.
When he began, the DJs used records. Then, there were 8-tracks. Eventually, there were CDs. Now, there’s just a computer with everything installed on it. Some of the character of those old days are lost in the sterile, digital environment. He admits he’s “technology challenged,” but does what he needs to do.
There’s still a hunger for local sports coverage in the area, but the method people get it has expanded.
This fall, they will be streaming video on Shore Sports Network, one of their websites. You can listen to content on your radio, of course. Or you can listen through your computer. You can get a free app on your mobile device.
People want information immediately, and if you can’t provide it, they’re going to find it somewhere else. Radio stations have to be flexible to meet customers wherever they may be, whether it’s in their car or on their tablet, he said.
He called this the ‘ATM mentality.’ Convenience is key.
The station had been sold a few times, most recently to Townsquare. Thankfully, through it all, ultra-local coverage, and sports, were a priority.
“I’ve been really lucky to work for different companies, and had superiors who let me do what I do well,” he said.
Williams had always been involved in sports, and has always been with WOBM. There were times he thought about going for a bigger audience. He had sent tapes to ESPN, when that started, for example. But if he had been got that job, he would have lost out on a lot of opportunities.
“I never missed anything. I walked my daughter to school. I went to 3 p.m. baseball games” for his kids, he said. “I met a lot of people, and they’ve become lifelong friends.”
There are some things that WOBM will always be known for. Snow closures, for example. These used to be compiled by someone answering phones, and DJs reading the list over the air. Now, school officials log in and enter the info directly to the station’s website. Most schools robo-call parents, too.
Local sports is another thing they will always be known for. They have become “the go-to source or high school sports in the shore area.” The hunger for local sports content is still strong, reaching 1 million views a month.
They crafted a partnership with the Shore Conference, working events with them
and streaming football games.
The station took on the WOBM Christmas Classic in 1984. The huge basketball tournament was hosted at Ocean County College over winter break for many years until moving to High School North’s arena. Williams had pitched the idea of WOBM taking it over after Southern Regional School District was considering dropping it.
They also just held the 42nd annual All-Shore Gridiron Classic, with football teams from all over the region.
He’s met the Todd Fraziers of the Jersey shore area, watching them come up in the ranks and knowing “This kid is going somewhere.”
The media has to be careful how they cover these stand-outs. “It’s not fair to create a 17-year-old superstar,” he said.
What’s amazing about these stars is that they are really decent people, he said. They were good kids who grew up to be wonderful adults.
There’s also more pressure on kids these days, and it’s hard for them to be under scrutiny like this. Social media has made bashing them a lot easier, and he’s not just talking about kids bullying each other. There are parents who are ripping on some of these kids when they have a bad day.
“They’re 16! People who make millions of dollars have bad days,” he said.
People have changed, too. “A lot of people are very connected to where they came from,” he said. There are a lot of retirees who don’t have the same emotional link to the local high schools. “There’s always a part of them left back home.”
There are also a lot more people in general. Back in the day, there were just a handful of high schools. If you grew up in Toms River, you went to Toms River High School. Now, there are three. Someone who went to South might not care about how well East did in a game.
Although his voice is so recognizable as a stalwart of local coverage, he hates the sound of it. Others don’t share that opinion, though, since he’s routinely asked to host events.
“It took a long time for me to learn to say ‘no,’” he joked.
But good things have come from when he’s said ‘yes.’
He was involved in the Toms River-Ocean County Chamber of Commerce, chairing it for a year. That’s just one of many things he was involved in. The Beachwood Fireworks Committee. He is a trustee for the Toms River Student Loan Fund. Beachwood Soccer. Big Brothers Big Sisters. The list keeps going.
The work schedule is still pretty daunting. He’s in the station at 4 a.m., doing the morning coverage, and recording different versions of material. He’s still in the building 12 hours later. From September through May, he’s easily in the building 12-14 hours a day.
All of this is tiring, since he’s 63, but it doesn’t mean he’s retiring. “I don’t know that I’d like to be bored.”