Matt Steele used to be known to Mix 106 listeners as the guy behind those Birthday Spank prank calls.
These days, Steele is better known for the work his Boise company does for radio stations from coast-to-coast and beyond.
It all started with a phone call and a surprise trip to a place many people consider as paradise.
“I get a call — this is how strange radio is – and it’s like ‘you’ll receive details on your flight information, but we need you in Jamaica in 24 hours.’”
He packed his bags, got on the plane – and saw his eyes opened.
“It was an amazing experience. I started learning about how radio is evolving and doing different things in other countries,” Steele said.
With that, he decided to take his side gig full-time – and left the Treasure Valley airwaves behind. But now you likely hear the work he and his team do more than ever before.
Gorilla Sound is born
Steele owns Gorilla Sound, a Boise-based production house that provides the “stuff” you hear between the songs for stations. The company has clients locally and in towns and cities all over the country.
Nicole Hanks, the company’s Director of Operations, explains what they do.
“We do everything that is on the radio station that is not the music,” she said. “The promos that go on the station, some commercials – and the pieces in between the songs that lead from one song and another.”
Hanks used to team up with Mike Kasper for mornings on Mix 106. She left in 2018 along with her husband and show producer JD to pursue other opportunities.
That opportunity – for both the Hanks’ – is Gorilla Sound.
“Ever since I got into radio, I’ve always had this fascination with sound and the way putting things together can affect people when they hear it on the air,” JD said. “The radio station isn’t just the music but the sound you hear between the songs.”
What started as a solo, part-time effort by Steele is now a full-blown business with six employees and several freelancers.
You’ve likely heard their work
If you listen to stations like 96.1 Bob FM, iRock 99.1, Wild 101 or My 102.7, you’ve heard their work. That little bit where it sounds like an artist like Taylor Swift is signing the station’s name? That’s Gorilla Sound.
“That’s what we call the secret sauce,” Nicole said.
JD said one of those custom sung intros might come from the actual artist – but many times they are able to manipulate sound in ways that can create something unique.
“With a lot of equipment, time – with just raw voiceover, we can go in and sing something and throw some… ‘stuff’… and make it sound similar to what the original song sounds like,” JD said.
Hanks said they are over 55 stations – from Phoenix to San Antonio to Portland and more.
“They range from all over. East coast, midwest, west coast,” Nicole said.
Darrell Calton, CEO of Boise’s Impact Radio Group said the Gorilla Sound team helps when time is of the essence.
“We have such a short short window of opportunity — what happens between the songs is so vital,” Calton said. “We are a binary society – we hear something and we give it a mental thumbs or mental thumbs down. if they give it the thumbs up, they will stick around and listen to the media – hopefully, it’s ours.
With a growing company and a long list of clients, Steele hopes to be part of modernizing one of the first mass mediums.
“I think our vision is how to do radio better,” he said. “Howe can we support the people that can kind of push the platform into the future and still have it be a competitor against all the other choices people have.”
He said part of saving the industry and evolving to different customer habits is about looking forward.
“My goal is to work with the people that want to fix (past issues) and they are realizing that we could be first and break the old habits.”
He’s looking at building out a studio for the company in the future, but wants the business to remain flexible.
“It was kind of magic,” Steele said. “The right people just kind of came into my life and we just decided like ‘yeah, we’re going to do this all together’ and build a culture that is much different than you feel in a radio building – it’s not just a 9-to-5, but work to build this creative atmosphere.”
The company gives radio operators the benefit of scale and talent by utilizing one provider instead of hiring an in-house team.
“The advantage (for operators) is the fact that is cheaper than to pay someone’s salary,” Nicole said. “These guys have been doing this, collectively, for years. Our turn around is 24 to 48 hours, and in emergencies, we can turn it around the same day. Being smaller means we can really deliver for our clients, and they appreciate that.”
“They’ve got a success story going on right now – they’ve got a good culture,” Calton said. “They’ve got a situation where they’ve got a ton of business but they are taking the time to get it right before they send it out the door.”
Steele said he hopes to keep growing the business.
“It’s weird. When I picked the name Gorilla Sound, I didn’t want it to be just an imaging company, I want to do more. I realize now, we can do more: we can consult and help people get out of rock bottom.”