Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Perfect Partner and I'm Outta Here

I teased this story several months ago when writing about WTVN radio host Bill Smith.

Long before and, there was a much more "exotic" way to find the Perfect Partner.

One radio station in Columbus decided to do it the old fashioned way in 1976 because that was the only way to do it back then.

A little history.

Popular Columbus radio personality Bob Conners had left WTVN in early 1973 to take a coveted morning gig at cross the dial rival WBNS-AM in Columbus. At first, his ratings actually improved over the previous hosts ratings. But as time went on, they had began to wane back to previous levels.

To many, the move from WTVN where Conners had held forth in the afternoon drive slot when he arrived in Columbus in 1965 to the morning slot at WBNS seemed to constrain him. At WTVN, he had developed characters in his show. Two remembered by me were Sammy from Sammy's Bar & Grill and the Mailman. There was also a third character. The ever silent Jesse. The speaking characters visited daily. All were left behind when Conners jumped to BNS. Conners also had an opening and closing theme song for his show. That too was abandoned with the move to WBNS.

I remember listening to Bob's first show on WBNS. It was anything but easy. First, the WBNS signal was a voice in the static at my house about 10 miles north and west of Dublin. Even though I grew up on the other side of Dublin, the BNS signal was so weak that until the day signal kicked in, Bob and BNS was a voice among many voices.

WBNS also aired their news at 25 and 55 billing it as news 5 minutes sooner. As the newscast ended, WBNS played a closing sounder and a top or bottom of the hour legal ID. The music started cold. Bob's first song was a song I never really enjoyed. Roger Miller's "Engine, Engine #9". No theme song, no Sammy, Mailman or Jesse. Just Bob and Roger Miller and a jingle after back announcing the song but before the commercial. Backwards from the way it was normally done.

When listening to Bob at WTVN, you knew he had seen the latest movie, had gone to the latest live performance, had visited the hottest spots in Columbus, had an in depth knowledge of sports and seemed to have read all the major daily newspapers of record. Bob always sounded like the go to guy for all things regarding the cool and current events.

At WBNS that all seemed to be gone. The show seemed more constrained and too tightly formatted. Bob never quite seemed to be what he used to be over at WTVN. Cool and hip while on an adult music based radio program.

Just shy of three years at being at WBNS, all was about to change.

A new general manager had ridden into town in October of 75 to take over the reins of the radio enterprise. The radio stations were overseen by the head of the co-owned but not co-located television station, Gene DeAngelo. Many in the industry thought the new hire was a final admission that DeAngelo had been spreading himself too thin and the radio stations needed someone on site and more involved.

Enter from Denver, Colorado a gentleman by the name of Mike Jorgensen.

Jorgenson apparently also believed there was something missing from the morning show and he decided to fix it with.....a contest.

A contest to in 30 days find Bob Conners a perfect partner to livin up the show. Someone from the everyday world could interact with Conners about music, community events and leisure interests of the target audience. To the left is a scan of a post card that was mailed to the people who responded to the on air promotion. Sort of a picture yourself next to Bob as his perfect partner. It was reported that more than 3000 people from every walk of life applied for the position. As encouraged by the promotion, people needed to respond before this opportunity was Gone With The Wind.

Over 1000 were interviewed in blocks of 6 in 15 minute increments. People were quickly weeded out, but a Central Ohio homemaker survived and had a 15 minute meeting with Conners.

According to area homemaker Dee Barrows, she thought the interview would never go any further. She told Columbus Monthly magazine a few months later that she was "sure he hated me." But she survived that round and eventually made a tape with Conners. And then another taping on January 29, 1976. An hour later, she got a call from Jorgensen announcing she had the job and debuted two mornings later on a Saturday morning dry run.

The following Monday, the show made its official debut. It seemed on the air to be rocky from the start.

Apparently behind the scenes the rockiness was also an issue. Barrows commented in reports that Conners would be sympathetic to her and helpful or withdrawn from her depending on the day. .

The morning duo show concept lasted all of three weeks.

By Saturday the end of the third week, Conners, no longer smiling as in the picture, decided that he had had enough. Tired of daily debriefings after each show, Conners walking into manager Jorgensen's office with resignation papers in hand.

He then headed off to Aspen for a two week respite and skiing trip.

Clearly Bob wasted little time during his discomfort with the the addition of a morning coffee mate and submission of his walking papers. Within a few days of the announcement of his departure, David Drake's Citizen Journal media column headlined that Bob was headed back to WTVN where his personality and characters would once again be used.

And with that, the concept of the Perfect Partner was indeed.........gone with the wind.

As a footnote to non Columbus readers, Bob remains at WTVN and is fondly called the Morning Monarch. He returned to his old afternoon slot for just a few years and by 1979 was appointed host of the morning drive show with the departure of John Fraim. He has held that slot since that time and often maintains the status of Columbus's most listened to radio host.

Growing up, Bob Conners was one of the radio hosts who made an impression on a young man growing up in Central Ohio.


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Chris Johnston. said...

Thanks for the comments. Anything additional you would like to read about?