Catering to top talent without spoiling them can be a delicate balance.
Radio executives at 610-WTVN thought they'd reached the ideal this past winter when, instead of letting ratings suffer when No. 1-ranked morning host Bob Conners took his annual hiatus to Florida, they agreed to let him broadcast from the Sunshine State instead.
"He is an important part of this radio station," says Steve Konrad, program director for WTVN. "And last winter he took, I don't know, a couple chunks of vacation in a three-month span, and the conventional thought was, 'Wow. We kind of stutter-stepped during the morning, and it took us a couple of (rating) books to get back up.' It wasn't that he completely fell off the map because he wanted to take vacation time, but when you have such a popular, trusted person like Bob ... it's a trade-off.
"Do we have him away? Or can we work out an arrangement that he's happy with and we're happy with?"
They opted to try the latter.
A key condition of the arrangement was that it be seamless. They didn't want listeners to know their beloved BC was out of town.
"I kind of see it as irrelevant," Konrad says of the decision to not inform listeners that Conners was working from Florida. "I don't see it as covering up. But there's no benefit in making noise about it. We're still providing the high-quality sort of things people have come to expect from Bob. So what difference does it make?"
Keeping Conners in the loop on local issues and events was fairly easy despite his geographical separation from Columbus, Konrad says.
"Part of that is a testament to Bob, that he knows so many people and is in touch so much," Konrad adds. "He calls a lot. But he's doing that even when he's in town."
WTVN's little secret stayed under wraps fairly well throughout the winter. Conners even participated in weekly on-air weigh-ins as part of a friendly weight-loss wager between his producer Mike Elliott and executive producer Joel Riley. Listening to the lighthearted, spontaneous banter between the three, you'd never suspect Conners wasn't simply waiting in line with the others to step on the scales.
WTVN afternoon host John Corby says he understands why execs permitted Conners to do his show from Florida, but notes it's clearly a perk Conners was afforded because of his stature at the station.
"I'm sure if I asked if I could do my show from Florida all winter, they'd say, 'No,'" Corby chuckles. "But that doesn't bother me. He's been here for 30-some years and he's still doing well. I say, keep the guy happy."
Conners, who is scheduled to be back in Columbus April 1, was extremely tight-lipped when asked about his Florida arrangement, referring all direct questions to General Manager Tom Thon.
When pressed on whether he's being given special treatment by station execs, however, Conners says, "I don't think I get anything anybody else doesn't get. I don't have any idea what other arrangements they make with anybody else; I'm satisfied with what I have."
Conners points out that many radio personalities broadcast on WTVN are not locally based.
"Rush Limbaugh is in New York. Dr. Laura (Schlessinger) is in L.A. Art Bell is in Nevada. Tina Gregory is in Washington," Conners says. "I talk to guys at ESPN magazine sometimes and some of them are in Miami and some of them are in New York. The content is the key. What comes out of the little box is the key."
One big difference, Konrad points out, is a nationally syndicated program like Rush Limbaugh -- who does his show from Florida for six months of the year, Konrad says -- doesn't need a local feel. Listeners don't expect it.
So will WTVN try the arrangement again next winter? Konrad's personal vote would be no.
"As much as I'm trying to make you think it's business as usual, it's a higher level of activity that's required to do this," he admits. "I'm against it from a standpoint that there's something about being in the radio station and jaw-jackin' with your co-workers and bouncing stuff around that's hard to replicate over multiple phone calls. Being in the station and making faces at your producer when a guest is boring ... things like that.
"So I'm not really wild about it. But I think everybody is in agreement that it's good to keep BC on the station more." Nancy Byron (email@example.com) is editor of SBN Magazine in Columbus.