Michael Sharkey, a.k.a. 'Shark,' talks 97X Next Big Thing, the evolution of Tampa Bay radio and more
Michael Sharkey -- or "Shark" as he's known to nearly all -- was named program director of WSUN-FM 97.1 in late 2000, a month after the Cox Media Group-owned station switched formats from oldies to alternative rock.
He's been an influential figure on the Tampa Bay radio landscape ever since, creating 97X's annual Next Big Thing festival, orchestrating dozens of free concerts and shepherding the station through its biggest change since the format switch — last year's launch of a free smartphone app that allowed listeners to choose all the music. It was the first local station, and one of the first nationally, to make such a change.
But on March 28, after more than 13 years, Shark decided it was time to step down as program director at 97X and 102.5 The Bone. He'll spend a few months writing and traveling the world with his wife and children, ages 12 and 10 — a month in Italy, a great American road trip, maybe Thailand in the fall. He may return to radio or consulting, but not for several months.
On his last day in office, we asked Shark to reflect on his career at 97X and the Tampa Bay radio landscape, including 97X's listener-programming app and the history of the station's massive Next Big Thing festival.
"That was our baby," he said. "If you remember, (98 Rock's) Livestock was so huge, and I said in order to compete on the landscape of this particular market, we have got to do a really, really amazing concert experience. We're going to have opportunities to do State Theatre shows and Masquerade shows and things like that, but we've gotta do a festival. Next Big Thing was the name, because when I articulated it to my team, I said, 'It will always perpetuate itself. It will always be the Next Big Thing.'"