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Keith Williams takes reins at ESPN 1000 looking to expand reach, maintain continuity

Williams, 46, is the station’s new market manager, overseeing sales, marketing and content. He has managed five of Good Karma Brands’ markets, most recently at ESPN Madison.

Before Keith Williams gets down to business as the new market manager at ESPN 1000, he has to learn the lay of the land, and not just in the city.

“I got lost going to the bathroom,” Williams said of navigating his new office. “I literally opened up the storage closet.”

Williams, 46, might be new to town, but he isn’t new to radio. The vice president and partner at Good Karma Brands – which operates ESPN 1000 as part of a lease agreement with ESPN – has been with the company for 22 years. He has managed five of its markets, most recently at ESPN Madison.

Williams grew up listening to New York’s WFAN. After starting in sales at Good Karma, he gravitated to the spoken-word format.

“I love radio, and what better brand than ESPN, and 1000 specifically, in this crazy sports town,” said Williams, who started Nov. 1. “This city has just so much energy. I grew up in the shadow of New York in New Jersey, but I’ve also lived in the Midwest for the last 20 years. So for me, it’s a perfect fit.”

Williams oversees ESPN 1000’s sales, marketing and content. He’s searching for a program director who will lead the content department. Williams replaced Mike Thomas, who doubled as the PD in two years at the station. Thomas took a promotion in Boston, where he came from, as senior vice president and market manager of Audacy’s six stations there.

“He brought a renewed sense of energy and enthusiasm to ESPN 1000,” Williams said. “One of the best things he did was find ways to put our content in front of our fans. The changes he brought were great, and hopefully we’ll continue to grow our impact and reach our fans.”

Williams pointed to Thomas’ creation of the ESPN Chicago app and Twitch channel as means of expanding the station’s reach. He also lauded Thomas for creating the station’s first local morning show and bringing the White Sox aboard. Williams’ plans will show themselves in time, but maintaining continuity is important to him.

“Right now, I’m literally just trying to listen to our teammates first, one-on-ones, getting to know them as people, their backgrounds,” Williams said. “I would hope to continue to have the same team around us while looking for other ways to expand from a local level.

“But I plan to continue to find ways to innovate so that we can entertain our fans and get results for our advertising partners, which is a big component of what we do.”

The question is whether those ways will translate to higher ratings. In the summer book, sports-talk rival The Score earned a 4.8 to place fourth in the market among men 25-54 from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday (streaming included), according to Barrett Sports Media. ESPN 1000 tied for 14th at 2.9, but that was up more than a point from the spring book. The fall book comes out in late December.

Still, Williams doesn’t put too much stock in ratings.

“There’s definitely more to it,” he said. “Our priorities at Good Karma, we have three pillars: teammates, fans and our advertising partners. I need to figure out what’s going on here first before I can worry about anybody else. To be frank, I’m not worried about other people. I wanna do what’s best for our team, our fans and our partners.”