Wednesday, November 23, 2011

WTVN begins Countdown to Say Goodbye to BC

It's the end of an era.

When Bob Conners took off the headphones for the final time on November 30th,2011, a radio era ended.

When Bob came to Columbus, the radio scene was radically different. Hired to replace Spook Beckman on WTVN as afternoon host at the end of 1964 when Spook made the move to television, his competition was a far cry from what it is today.

WBNS had Irwin Early Worm Johnson in morning and Dean Lewis in afternoon drive along with CBS network programs sandwiched in between. WMNI was playing standards hosted by largely nameless record spinners but Bill Robinson, Ron Barlow and Tom George were already in the stable. WMNI hadn't made the transition to the Country format for which it became famous.  WVKO had only a little over a year before made the transition from top 50 to what was then called a Negro format. Eddie Castleberry and Eddie Saunders were the early mainstays of the format at the 1580 position.

WCOL was playing the top 40 hits. Hosts like Johnny Hill, Sonny Palmer, Mike Adams, Bob Harrington and Johnny Buck were manning the microphones. Up the road at WRFD, Pop Hess and Clyde Keathley anchored farm broadcasts along with Johnny Martin (JM in the AM) and Bill Collins spinning the music platters.

Even WTVN was different. While long time mid-day host Dave Logan was already in place, morinngs was anchored by Johnny Dollar and evenings by Jim Lohse and Dick Boyer.

And the Columbus FM dial was almost an after thought.

And along comes Bob replacing then afternoon legend Spook Beckman.

Through the years, Bob wore many hats.

  •  He did color for the Columbus Jets for the two seasons that WTVN had them in 67 and 68.
  •  He made a side trip to WBNS in 1973 to host mornings. 
  •  He returned to WTVN in afternoon drive in April of 1976
  •  He added color commentary for OSU football broadcasts when WTVN was the sole home for local broadcast rights in the market and state. 
  • Sometime while still afternoon host, Bob began taking calls on Saturdays. When he moved to mornings that segment moved with him and became a Columbus institution known as Saturday Morning open phones. 
  •  And of course it was in September of 1979 when John Fraim had a dispute with management and left the station, Bob assumed the time slot at first temporarily and within a few weeks permanently and laid the groundwork to become the Morning Monarch.

In those almost 47 years behind a Columbus microphone, Bob grew with Columbus and on Columbus as the city itself grew.

Bob introduced us to Sammy of Sammy's Bar and Grill, the Mail Man, the always silent Jesse. He ragged on the Danger Brothers, his playing of Wooly Bully when it was "banned" from the WTVN airwaves and making a Frontier Christmas staring Harlowe and Red Feather a longstanding Columbus Christmas tradition.

He teased us about our uniquely named Monk's Corner and "Nerk". He introduced us to samiches. And the Chicken Little Day Care as they called in to cancel session because of a few snowflakes.

And yes, if it hadn't been for Bob, I would have never discovered Nancy's. For many years, Bob did a shout out to the guys and gals having early morning breakfast at the popular Clintonville eatery.

In addition, he introduced us to tele-vote, having more than a few make the trek to Magnetic Springs in search of the Hiney Winery, allowing the Cat Lady to tell us about the pet of the week available at the shelter she worked at, suffering through the imperfect Perfect Partner contest and sadly even Dave from Powell.

Bob was here before Eastland Mall and the I-270 Outerbelt were built. I-70 at the time only ran from downtown to someplace short of Hamilton Road. Columbus for all intents and purposes to the North ended at Bethel Road and Morse Road.  Hamilton Road, Route 161 and Brice Road were still two lane roads with dirt yet to be turned to make way for the neighborhoods that would grow up around them. Dublin was two gas stations and a traffic light. Westerville, Pickerington, Gahanna, Grove City and as Bob would say "Hilliards" were all mere villages when Bob cracked a Columbus microphone for the first time.

Even the TV scene was different.  The major tv anchors were Hugh DeMoss, Earl Green, Nick Basso, Bill Pepper and Roy Briscoe. PBS was known as NET.

The Columbus mayor was Sensenbrenner, the governor was Jim Rhodes (his first of 4 terms) and LBJ had just been elected to his first full term to the White House.

WTVN has posted some teaser clips on the departure of Bob Conners on their web site. A couple of old air-checks including one from his days at WEEP, one from WBNS and one from WTVN circa late 60's or early 70's.

In a video clip on the site, Bob relates that he knew Columbus would be home. One has to wonder what he sacrificed to do that. In the entertainment world, personalities would come and go. Yet Bob seemed to always have a place. And that is amazing.

So what was his secret?  He seemed to have a pulse on the people of the city.  He never talked up, down or at his listeners.  He talked to them in their language.  He was extremely well informed.  Before the advent of the internet, Bob would consume several newspapers daily.  Bob was hip and on top of current trends and events.  And most of all, he was relevant.

Being a fan of radio in general and Bob in particular, it would have been interesting to spend some time over a cup of coffee and talk about radio, his career, his high points and yes probably some of the low points as he made Columbus someplace special.  Now that opportunity is now gone.


Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

Just found this blog - very interesting! Brought back a lot of memories - Spook Beckman, etc.
I found the blog thru an Internet search for Nick Basso. I recalled seeing him on the Columbus TV news but could not remember when. Does anyone know anything further about him? i.e. the years he worked in Columbus, if he is still alive, etc. Remember seeing him in the 50's on WSAZ-TV Huntington WV - he was a pioneer in local TV news.
Please contact me at

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your interest in Nick Basso.
Yes, he is still alive. He is in his late 80's and is still telling stories about the golden age of broadcasting.
I'll try to contact you.
Thanks Again!

Rich Rarey said...

Bob Conners was very kind to me, a 14 year old wanting to get into radio, by letting me and my high school buddies stand in his studio for a few minutes during his show. (The audio console was a dark RCA, later a console from Visual I've never seen since). I loved WTVN-AM for its variety and listen on my transistor radio---all my classmates were glued to WNCI or WCOL-FM.

Chris Johnston. said...

Rich: Thanks for the comments. I remember also seeing that old dark board and the bird cage mic that was in the studio. Logan was on the air when I saw it. I got to work weekends at WTVN from 1976-1978 and worked on the Visual board. I agree. I loved the variety and the full service element that the station provided. I too was a teen glued to 610 while my friends were locked into WNCI and WCOL.

Since I grew up in southeastern Union County we were not able to WCOL after sunset and at the time FM was not common to car radios. I split my time between WTVN and WCFL after dark.