Bob Gillespie

WNKT’s Heath Cline balances work, life

bgillespie @thestate.comMarch 28, 2014 

HEATH CLINE HAS a favorite story that demonstrates how technology has changed his job for the better in recent years – and, on a personal level, helped make his home life better, too.

Cline, whose sports talk show “Game Time” airs 4-7 p.m. weekdays on Columbia’s WNKT-FM, aka “107.5 The Game,” was in Indianapolis in April 2007 covering the Final Four for a radio station in Gainesville, Fla., when he ran into a hurdle to doing his daily talk show – how to broadcast from the road without access to a studio.

“Back then, you couldn’t use a phone line from your hotel room to do it, because it had to go through the hotel switchboard – you needed a dedicated line,” Cline said this week. “So that day, I’ve got to go find a place to do my show.”

His less-than-ideal, if humorous, solution: “I did it from the manager’s office at a Houlihan’s (restaurant),” he said, laughing. “So I’m on the air, and I probably should be saying, ‘Live from the manager’s office, next to the large cans of tomato sauce …’”

Seven years later, the Internet and a broadcast device the size of a loaf of bread (a Comrex Access) allows Cline to conduct his show from wherever he might be on that day: an SEC basketball tournament or SEC Football Media Days in Birmingham, Ala., for example.

Or, as is often the case, from his apartment … in Raleigh.

Cline, not unlike others in his business, met the love of his life through broadcasting. When Mandy Mitchell, a University of Florida graduate like her then-future husband, was hired at WPDE-TV in Myrtle Beach, Heath regularly drove five hours each way from Gainesville to see her.

When WIS-TV hired Mandy in 2007 to cover sports in Columbia, “I said, ‘OK, it’s now viable for me to find a job there,’ ” he said. Fortunately, 107.5 was looking for an afternoon drive-time host, and Cline debuted on Dec. 19, 2007.

But four years later, Mandy Cline had an opportunity to move up the TV ladder to a larger market with Raleigh’s WRAL-TV. “There was never a debate; she needs to advance her career,” Heath said. “Of course, that’s trickier when you’re married.”

Not as tricky, though, as in, say, 2007. “I can do a show from anywhere,” he said, and proves it every week. Depending on events in Columbia, Heath might be in The Game’s West Columbia studios or in Raleigh – he has access to a studio at Raleigh’s 99.9 The Fan in addition to using Access from home.

“To be clear, I’m (in Columbia) for the things I need to be,” Cline said. “Games – I’m here; (NFL) Pro Day – I’m here. Football practice (is) usually happening during my show, anyway.”

That freedom is about more than his home life. Since he began in broadcasting in 1994 while still a Florida student, Cline says his philosophy has been to be at sports events, rather than pontificate from a studio. “I always felt it was my job to be involved and cover things,” he said.

“Cumulus (Broadcasting, which owns WNKT) spent money to make it possible” for him to work via the Access from almost anywhere. “It gives you a ton of freedom to be where the action is, which I want to be.”

Cline differentiates himself from some sports talk-show hosts in other ways, too. Though he works for a station joined at the hip with USC – 107.5 is the home for broadcasts of Gamecocks sports, originating game coverage for a statewide network – the soon-to-be 40-year-old often tackles topics with no connection to USC. “If something local is hot, that’s always the (show’s) lead,” he said.

“I think most of our listeners aren’t only USC fans – they’re sports fans. I try to give them something that’s worth their time to those who have given me some of their day (by listening).”

Cline also believes a talk show should not revolve around phone call-ins. “That’s a misconception about what we do, I think,” he said. “Any day, you can say something insulting on-air about South Carolina or Clemson, and the phones light up. But if you’re not entertaining and informative, just because they light up, I’m not sure that’s a good show.

“Some shows don’t take any calls; we still do, and I appreciate listeners (as opposed to simply callers, he said). But I listen to more sports-talk shows than probably anyone … and I haven’t called one since I was 15.”

As you’d expect with someone in tune with technology, Cline has embraced social media. “I do some tweeting during games, more than just a random Tuesday,” he said. “If I know the audience is following a game, I want to be able to share my thoughts then, not wait until Monday. It’s a useful tool to have, and pretty essential nowadays.”

It all fits into Cline’s “un-tethered” approach to his job. Until such time as family matters dictate otherwise, he seems content to commute between Columbia and Raleigh.

Later this day, though, he would be in studio to interview USC basketball coach Frank Martin, and he relished the face-to-face. Cline said he hadn’t talked to Martin recently, but the coach “knows I’ve been on the road. And he knows I’m a basketball guy.”

That, Cline says, doesn’t change – no matter where he happens to be working from.

Email heath@1075thegame.com; Twitter @heathradio; call-in show (803) 404-6100

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