Tribune’s ‘Bob and Tom’ Offers Radio-TV Synergy

Following in the footsteps of several radio veterans who have shifted to television, popular radio program The Bob and Tom Show is also reinventing itself on the small screen for Tribune. Featuring a pair of Midwestern guys plying working-class humor for four hours a day, the show has been a radio staple since it launched on Indianapolis radio station WFBQ in 1983, eventually building a national audience across 160 stations. But since November, the pair has also been starring in a nightly TV show bearing the same name, appearing on both cable channel WGN America and CW affiliate WTTV Indianapolis.

Tribune Broadcasting Senior VP of Programming & Entertainment Sean Compton said the idea was hatched to bring Bob and Tom—the radio program is owned by Clear Channel—to television pretty much as soon as Compton (a Clear Channel vet) came to Tribune last spring. “It's a real use of TV and radio synergy,” he says. “These guys are producing content, and we're finding a way to use it on TV.”

a no-brainer

Compton says the decision to make Bob Kevoian and Tom Griswold TV stars was something of a no-brainer. Particularly popular in the Midwest, the pair has some five million radio listeners a week, he says, and producing a one-hour TV show out of a four-hour radio program was a more attractive option than bucking up for an aging off-network comedy.

Bob and Tom is one of many examples of stations opting to create their own programming as a response to the high cost and shrinking ratings of syndication. WNAC Providence, for one, debuts The Rhode Show Feb. 18, and WVTM Birmingham adds Daytime Alabama this month as well.

Tribune, which filed for bankruptcy in December, is prioritizing economically smart programming these days, but various stations in the group are investing in local fare. When it switched affiliations from CW to Fox Aug. 1, KSWB San Diego launched a four-hour morning news show and a 10 p.m. newscast. Compton won't comment on a morning program in the works at Tribune's WSFL Miami, but says “more group-wide program projects are something we are focused on.”

Bob and Tom, featuring PG-rated humor and guest appearances from comics ranging from touring acts like Frank Caliendo to unknowns, debuted Nov. 3 on WTTV at 11 p.m. and WGN America at midnight. A half-dozen robotic cameras dot the studio where Kevoian and Griswold broadcast their program, and the TV show airs one day after the radio program from which it was spawned.

Bob and Tom is hardly the first repurposed radio show on television; an edited version of Howard Stern's popular radio program, for one, ran on E! for 11 years and now feeds an on-demand network through In Demand. Others doing radio and TV simultaneously have ranged from Don Imus to ESPN's Mike and Mike.

WTTV/WXIN VP/General Manager Jerry Martin says Bob and Tom, which is produced by three staffers at WTTV, is off to a promising start on the CW affiliate. The show did a 1.6 household rating and 3 share in November; the previous November, Friends did a 1.6/3 at 11, and Sex and the City a 1.3/3 at 11:30. “In a healthier environment, it would be flying off the shelf,” says Martin, who points to its “very salable demo.”

While WTTV adds a local open to the show, Bob and Tom doesn't focus on Indianapolis happenings. But Martin says the hosts' roots in the No. 25 DMA make it something of a local program—certainly more so than Friends or Sex and the City. “In this day and age, you're looking for anything local you can get your hands on,” he says.

Compton says he's fielded phone calls from other stations about bringing Bob and Tom to their market. Tribune may consider launching the show at other owned stations down the road, he says, but for now it is focused on growing Bob and Tom on WGN America and WTTV.

But Compton would like to find the next radio personality to make the TV leap. He won't name names, but suggests they'd be consistent performers with faithful audiences rather than A-list stars.

“A lot of us [at Tribune] come from a radio background,” he says. “There's a lot of talent in various markets, and there are a couple of guys we're taking a good look at right now.”

In such a difficult business environment, it's hard to question the economics of such deals. “It's content that's already being created,” Compton says. “That's good stuff.”

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Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.