Case Study: Sandusky Radio


Sandusky Digital, with radio stations in the Phoenix and Seattle markets, needed to replace an antiquated CMS infrastructure with one that gives website administrators the ability to efficiently create engaging content that caters to each station's unique radio personalities and audience, thereby maximizing engagement and sales opportunities in their respective markets.

"Our system was antiquated and limited our opportunities, causing frustration and wasted staff time trying to manage downtime and archaic admin tools," Patrick O'Brien, Project Manager of Sandusky said. "We'd outgrown what was offered...and the vendor had not kept up with a changing new media landscape.

To bring their radio stations into the new era, Sandusky partnered with Bluespark to create 11 radio station websites driven by a common codebase yet allowing for each station site to be deployed with its own unique brand, audience, and features on budget, and within just six months.


Rather than rely on one facet of Web development, Bluespark blends user experience, creative visual design, and technical skill to find balanced solutions to project challenges. These three primary disciplines of Bluespark's approach to web system development worked together to create a common Drupal codebase that drives 11 different and distinct website properties for Sandusky Digital.

UX Finds Common Ground

Bluespark needed to find functionalities that were common to all but could be deployed independently and could be used to drive value across all of the sites. The UX team conducted a stakeholder discovery process, interviewing radio representatives from each station to learn the property's unique brand and to determine features that would provide disc jockeys ways to engage their audiences.

After learning of each station's individual needs, the UX team had a roster of available functions and tools that individually met a critical need, but as a collective represented a set of building blocks that each station used to assemble a 'custom' and unique site.

This choice puts the power of flexibility and creativity into each station's hands, and with a solid understanding of how each tool addresses users, a station can deploy a site that works for their unique audience.

Creative Delivers 11 Brands

To take eleven different ideas about how a radio station should look and turn it into a design framework, Bluespark's creative team designed mood boards that captured the essence of each station's brand. Each board defined the fonts, color palette, and imagery and established a cohesive art direction for each site. Having a clear individual art direction, a user interface (UI) was created based upon a universal wireframe and then further personalized for each site, carrying over established ideas from the mood boards. Customized elements like headers and background images further established individuality and helped convey the format of each station.

Bluespark’s Creative team took a novel three-tier approach to themeing, using Omega as a base. An intermediate level theme with styles and layout code that would apply to all 11 sites was implemented on top of Omega, and then on a per-site level we extend the cross-site styles with a sub-theme unique to each station. The Panelizer module allowed site webmasters to further customize each site reorganizing the layout of certain brand-intensive pages such as the homepage and radio show pages.

The end result? A common design and theme framework, but in appearance, 11 different radio station websites.

Technical Pushes Play

To accommodate the differences between the sites yet have them share a majority of their functionalities, Bluespark's Technical team had to put together an advanced and innovative Drupal system that spanned a wide range of Drupal technologies and best practices:

The site was built as a Drupal Multisite installation, with all 11 sites using a single codebase making development much more efficient. Each building block identified by the UX team was packaged as a Drupal Feature, making it easy for site administrators to activate and developers to deploy using Drush.

The Omega theme was used as the standard base theme across the sites providing a modern and flexible foundation to build upon.

Noteworthy Features

In addition to taking advantage of a well supported Drupal modules such as CTools, Panels and Views, the Bluespark team introduced novel customizations that were specific to the customers requirements and not readily available via existing modules.

  • Photo Galleries take what Drupal readily provides and enhances it extensively with custom extensions that allow for an easy way to bulk upload images, add SEO-friendly metadata, and drag-and-drop rearrangment of images and intermingled adverts selected from the site-wide Ad Management System. The end result is a flexible and powerful Gallery tool that takes the best of what Drupal makes available and enhances it to make it easy on content managers and the ad sales team alike.
  • The forms used throughout the site were enhanced to provide seamless automated integration with Mailchimp allowing the client to collect relevant user data and to create rewards programs.
  • The center of what a radio station site does is the ability to display what's On Air now and what is next on the playlist. Bluespark tightly integrated each Drupal site with the radio station's existing playlist system to pull that information in as well as allow content managers to set up show schedules.

A Rockin' Success

Using Drupal, Bluespark created 11 individual websites with a high degree of local audience engagement and targeted marketing initiatives. All 11 websites rolled out within the six-month corporate deadline.

"With the old CMS we only had positions with limited options. We needed- and got- a CMS that we can use to place ads anywhere we want," Drew Hutchinson, Director of Digital Sales and Web Development at Sandusky Phoenix, said. The Omega theme with panels and mini-panels is hands down my favorite feature. It works great with fixed content blocks so you can move them all around without editing countless CSS and theming files, [giving] us the ability to have 11 sites with the same structure but all looking different."

Drupal Community Contributions

  • The Panelizer module's initial port to Drupal 7 was completed for this project and has become an important part of the Panels infrastructure for Drupal 7.
  • The Menu MiniPanels module's initial port to Drupal 7 was completed and provides the "mega menus" seen on all sites and has become quite popular.
  • The References Manager module was built as a more user-friendly system for managing node references. Other potential use include sorting Commerce products.

About Bluespark

Bluespark does the Web, and Drupal, differently. While many web shops are unable to execute—or are even unaware of—the need for website development that puts the user first, we build sites and applications that are thoughtfully and intentionally designed with users in mind.

By researching, designing, and developing the enterprise social web, we are creating well-balanced, modern sites that are scalable in structure and intelligent in design. We are experts in user experience (UX) design, user interface (UI) and mobile UI design, interaction design, Drupal 6 and 7 site building, Drupal Commerce and custom Drupal module development. Read about our latest contributions at and on

About Sandusky Radio Phoenix and Sandusky Radio Seattle

Serving their respective areas, Sandusky Radio Phoenix and Sandusky Radio Seattle are comprised of eleven FM and AM radio stations--from top 40 hits to AM sports. Sandusky is a privately-held company proudly owned and operated by Sandusky Newspapers out of Sandusky, Ohio.