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Tanner finds chuckles in cancer treatment

By Mark Washburn
Mark Washburn
Mark Washburn writes television and radio commentary for The Charlotte Observer.

After turning 50, Rob Tanner went to the doctor in May for that checkup all men are supposed to begin getting at 50.

“That’s not supposed to be there,” the doctor said during the routine prostrate check.

“That” turned out to be a lemon-sized tumor between Tanner’s rectum and prostate, and within days tests showed that it was not only a rare cancer called GIST, for gastrointestinal stromal tumor, but it was in a place where few have ever been found. They usually occur in the stomach.

Tanner, marking his ninth anniversary this month as morning host on WSOC-FM (103.7), was put on the drug Gleevec to shrink the tumor, which had not metastasized. But the tumor didn’t shrink much, and now Tanner is scheduled for surgery on Feb. 3 at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa to have it removed.

Tanner has been sharing his progress with listeners, both on the show and on Facebook, and it has become a bit of a comedy routine. “What are you going to do? Cry about it?” says Tanner. “You have to laugh.”

His bosses at CBS Radio put a recliner, donated by Tyndall Furniture, in the studio for Tanner to relax in when he feels like he needs it. And co-workers cut him some slack, at least at the beginning.

“We went and got him his coffee, but just for a week,” says producer Chris Allen.

“Whenever someone tells me to do something, I say, ‘Hey, I can’t do it; I’ve got cancer,’ ” says Tanner.

Tanner admits he was depressed by the diagnosis for the first few days. “I freaked out a little bit. Now I know what it feels like when people are told they have cancer.”

But his faith, his wife Missy, their two children and others in the family helped him develop a positive outlook. It also helped that he didn’t have to go through debilitating chemotherapy, and that his prognosis is good.

Tanner came to Charlotte in an unusual way. D.J. Stout had been made program director for WSOC in late 2004, and he was winnowing down a stack of 60 potential morning hosts. Tanner, then working at a small station in Lakeland, Fla., near Tampa, kept making the cut.

Bill Schoening, CBS Radio’s market manager in Charlotte, happened to be visiting Lakeland, and called Stout to say he’d heard a guy on the radio there who might be a good fit for Charlotte. “I just talked to that very guy this morning,” Stout told him. “He’s coming up for an interview.”

Tanner was Stout’s first hire at the station. “Tanner in the Morning” started on WSOC in January 2005 and is usually among the top five Charlotte morning shows in ratings. Also on the show are Guenn Schneider and Captain Jim Slade.

“Tanner is the most down-to-earth on-air talent I’ve ever worked with,” says Stout. “There’s no big ego, none of that ‘I’m a big, bad morning guy.’ 

Stout says the station plans what he calls “How’s Tanner’s Cancer?” segments, interviewing Tanner by phone while he’s recuperating.

Tanner expects to be out of work for about three weeks. “I’ll be in the hospital for five to seven days if things go well. If they don’t go well, I will be out in about three hours.”

OK, but seriously. Hasn’t this whole thing taught you something?

“Life’s short,” says Tanner. “Enjoy every day. Spend time with your children. Any day you could walk into your doctor’s office and he could say, ‘That’s not supposed to be there.’ 

Media Movers

When the Panthers started 1-3, WFNZ-AM (“Fan” 610) morning host Jim Celania was sticking to his prediction that they would wind up at least 11-5, and said if they did, he would throw them a parade with goats and donkeys (no symbolism – Celania just likes goats and donkeys). After the Panthers finished 12-4, Celania began making plans for a parade in Cotswold. He lined up the livestock and planned the rally for Saturday. On Tuesday, CBS Radio’s legal department in New York put the kibosh on it. Liability issues. “Very disappointing,” says Celania. …

Joining WJZY (Channel 46) as weekend anchor is Barbara Pinson Lash, who was co-host of WBTV’s morning news show for two years ending in 2009. Lash has most recently been a consultant. … Brittney Cason departs from mornings at WFNZ-AM to pursue another opportunity. … Dion Lim, anchor and retail reporter at WCNC (Channel 36), leaves after four years for an anchor job at the CBS affiliate in Tampa. …

WJZY (Channel 46) will produce a 30-minute special following the Panthers game Sunday from Bank of America Stadium with sports hosts Anthony Flores and Mike Leslie recapping the game and gauging fan reactions, “either celebrating or crying in their beer,” says station manager Karen Adams. …

Keith Hotchkiss joins the five Clear Channel stations in Charlotte as director of sales. Previously he’d worked for Clear Channel in Cleveland. … Beginning 9:30 p.m. Thursday, UNC-TV will launch “North Carolina Now and Then,” a 20-week series produced by Bobby Dobbs that features archival segments each week from the 20 years of the network’s public affairs program “North Carolina Now.” …

Mike Fresina joins Mark Greenhalgh as co-host of the “Golf Shop Radio Show,” 8 a.m. Saturdays on WZGV-AM (“ESPN” 730). Fresina has been a coach at Charlotte Country Day, publisher at Street & Smith’s Sports Group and tournament director for the LPGA’s Symetra Classic. … Chuck Roads and Joe Larson will begin Monday providing traffic news to WZGV-AM from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the top and bottom of the hour. Roads, known in real life as Chuck Neely, previously provided traffic info service to WBT-AM (1110). …

“New York Sports Talk,” hosted by Chris Pardo, Bob Sosanakin and Tom Barton, moves from Sunday mornings to 1 p.m. Saturdays on WAVO-AM (1150). Pardo is the nephew of longtime announcer Don Pardo. … “Eat, Drink and Be Merry,” a foodie show, has launched on WAVO-AM at noon Saturdays with host Joe Cutrone of the restaurant Fratelli in Baxter Village.

Washburn: 704-358-5007
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