Tom Barnard, Twin Cities radio’s most popular personality, has signed a new contract to extend his run on KQRS by five years. By the end of the deal, Barnard will have been at KQ for 34 years, making him among the country’s longest-tenured hosts to broadcast from the same station in the same time slot.
“They really stepped up by saying they wanted to keep me around for many more years,” said Barnard, 63, referring to Cumulus, the Atlanta-based company that owns KQRS. “I’m one of those guys who, if you believe in me, that means a lot.”
Barnard’s attitude was decidedly different in 2009 when he announced plans to quit the show by 2012, complaining about the corporate climate. In 2011, Cumulus took over KQ and two other local stations from Citadel Broadcasting.
Any tension with his bosses has apparently cleared.
“Tom Barnard is a legend in Twin Cities radio and a national treasure we are proud to call our own,” said John Dickey, executive vice president of content and programming for Cumulus.
St. Paul-bred comedian Louie Anderson, a frequent guest on the program, credits Barnard’s longevity to his authenticity on the air, refusing to be anyone but himself. The comic also cited Barnard’s melodic baritone voice, comparing him to such broadcasting legends as Larry King, Paul Harvey and WCCO-TV’s Dave Moore.
“Tommy’s voice is a combination of about a million people,” Anderson said. “It can represent everyone from a grandfather to a friend to Elvis.”
Barnard may not be in the same demand nationally as he was in the 1980s, when he was doing voice-over work on commercials for such high-end clients as Burger King and Nike. His KQ show may no longer be the juggernaut it was when it was attracting nearly 25 percent of the 25- to 54-year-old audience, an almost unheard of dominance in the radio business. But he remains tops in that all-important demographic.
KQ operations manager Scott Jameson said that it’s critically important to commit to tried-and-true talent in these times when listeners have so many choices.
“I’ve worked in several big markets with a lot of strong personalities, but I’ve never seen the kind of loyalty the audience here shows Tom and the show,” Jameson said. “When you have the opportunity to secure top-tier talent in this content-rich world, why wait?”
Details of the contract were not released, but Barnard — who had two years left on his current deal — said he was shocked by how much his salary would increase.
Jameson did note that when the new contract kicks in at the start of 2015 that Barnard will have additional responsibilities, but declined to go into specifics.
Barnard already has a full plate. In addition to his radio show, which runs weekdays from 5:40 a.m. to 10 a.m., he hosts a podcast that gets 200,000 to 250,000 downloads a month. Barnard plans to stretch the Monday through Friday podcast from two to three hours starting in January. He also has invested in several Twin Cities restaurants, including Bar La Grassa.
Talk of retirement seems to be in the distant future.
“I was at home during Thanksgiving with nothing to do and it drove me crazy,” he said. “It’s really hard to annoy people if they can’t hear you.”