Monday, December 5, 2011

Gone With the Wind

With a final playing of Wooly Bully, WTVN morning host Bob Conners took of the headsets for the last time as a Columbus Radio host on November 30, 2011.

On October 24, 2011 at 7:45 in the morning, Bob Conners both shocked and gave the probably long expected news that he would be retiring and his last day on the air would be November 30th. In almost 47 years behind a Columbus microphone, Bob grew with Columbus. And he leaves behind many great memories.

He came to Columbus in very late 1964 to host the afternoon show vacated by Spook Beckman who was starting a new TV show called the Coffee Club. Bob received very little press on his arrival yet filled the large shoes left behind when Spook left.

 He maintained that spot until February of 1973 when he left for 3 short years to be morning host on WBNS 1460. Bob left WBNS in February of 1976 on the implosion of a promotion called the Perfect Partner. Whether that was the straw that broke the camels back or his return to WTVN was already in the works, Bob did indeed return to the WTVN afternoon airwaves in March of 76 after a brief Colorado skiing vacation.

Change would again happen in September of 1979 when John Fraim and WTVN management came to an impasse on scheduling issues. At first, Bob was filling in for Fraim as a vacation host. By the end of September, Fraim and WTVN couldn't come to agreement and Bob never left the morning host chair. (Scott Kahler had temporarily taken Conner's afternoon spot and shortly after 1980 arrived, Joe Waldman a former staffer had been permanently hired to fill the PM slot.)

As time went on, Bob would go on to survive several general managers and program directors, other hosts, ownership changed, the addition of talk syndication to the program schedule and the final big transition to an all talk format on the station.

Bob also introduced us to Sammy of Sammy's Bar and Grill, the Mail Man and the always silent Jesse. He ragged on the Danger Brothers at the rally in the alley and Hiney Gate, he playfully played of Wooly Bully and made Hudson and Landry's Frontier Christmas featuring Harlowe and Red Feather a longstanding Columbus Christmas tradition.

He teased us about Monk's Corner, Nerk, samiches and the Chicken Little Day Care calling in to cancel session because of a few snowflakes. He often referred to sports teams by their city name made possessive. For example, Michigan was the Michigan's. 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. At one time he collected menus from out of town diners and people would send them in for addition to his collection.

In addition, he introduced us to tele-vote, the Hiney Winery that had people driving to the decaying village of Magnetic Springs in search of the fictional winery owned by Big Red and Thor. There was the Cat Lady, the late Jim from the Northwest, the imperfect perfect partner and sadly Dave from Powell.

And he was the king of graciously bowing out (my wife always said blowing off) of being asked to attend a myriad of ice cream socials, fish fries or bake sales. He even managed to do it to Governor Kasich on his last day on the air.

We knew he was born in St. Marys, Pa., his brother Dan played for San Diego and Oakland pro football teams and he gave us other glimpses of his private life periodically telling us about daughter Kathryn and wife Linda. Yet in general, Bob was a reserved man.

Bob arrived in Columbus before Eastland Mall and the I-270 outerbelt existed. In those days, I-70 only was a few miles long and ran from downtown to someplace west of Hamilton Road. Columbus for all intents and purposes on the north side ended at Bethel Road and just north of Morse Road.

Hamilton Road. 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 Hilliard were all mere villages when Bob cracked a Columbus microphone for the first time.

Even television had a totally different look.  The major tv anchors were Hugh DeMoss, Earl Green, Nick Basso, Bill Pepper and Roy Briscoe. PBS was known as NET. Channel 28 wasn't even in the planning stages for the Columbus market. Cable television was something of a pipe dream.

The Columbus mayor was Sensenbrenner, the governor was Jim Rhodes (his first of 4 terms) and LBJ was in the White House and had just won a landslide victory over Barry Goldwater.

WTVN posted some video clips on the departure of Bob Conners on their web site. Included are 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, a co worker salute and the final hour of Bob's show among other things.

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 come and go. It's a very hard and difficult business. And to survive as long as Bob did, it took not only talent, but sacrifice and great savvy. Yet Bob seemed to always have a place. And that is amazing.

Being a fan of radio in general and Bob in particular, it would be 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.

Bob turning the reins over to his heir apparent Joel Riley.

No comments: