There have likely been few shifts in an individual category as telling as this year's winner for Best Talk Show Host. Winners have varied from year to year, but the club has been found strictly on the radio dial, not the TV set. Ryan Nelson's win leaves those guys with a face for radio in the dust.
It's somewhat fitting that Nelson, costar and coproducer of Lowcountry Live, got her start on television from a stint on the radio. A graduate of the College of Charleston, Nelson returned to the region when a Colorado newspaper job dried up.
"I came back and I couldn't get a job," she says. "No one would hire me."
She did a little work for the local press (including an unpaid internship here at the City Paper, where she was a Best of Charleston party planner in 2004) before snagging a job doing the traffic report during the morning and afternoon drives on 98X. That led to a stint doing traffic for Channel 4 and brought her to the attention of the station's producers when they were developing a local morning show in the fall of 2005.
"I heard her do the traffic for us, so I knew she had the personality," says producer Perry Boxx. "And I knew she was a good-looking woman. The only question was whether she could do the interviews. She was very natural. Easy to talk to. She came through the camera."
Coproducer Cathy O'Hara calls Nelson an "Energizer bunny." But it's hard to say whether that's natural or necessity. As a producer, Nelson is booking guests, developing graphics, and writing the segments for the show from start to finish.
"Nice, it's wing-it day," Nelson says about 10 minutes before the show goes on the air recently, after finding out the teleprompter isn't working. The news doesn't pull the smile off her face as she greets the guests, including a tribal dance troop, a singer-songwriter, a few female entrepreneurs, a parenting counselor, and Bob the Builder -- well, a guy in a Bob the Builder suit. The teleprompter is back in business minutes before the show begins, but Nelson doesn't ask how they fixed it. She's got a show to do.
"Welcome to Lowcountry Live ... I'm Ryan Nelson."
Nelson starts the show wishing George Washington a happy birthday ... oops ... turns out it's the following day.
"I'm sorry. I write so many scripts," she says, proving the show's live. Then she quickly moves on to the next topic, proving it's TV. After another gaffe later in the show (a large clock falls off a TV off-camera with a loud "clang" during the weather update) Nelson tells the audience the weather may have affected their production assistants.
"I'm going to call it out," Nelson says "I'm going to say, 'Look at that.' People are watching. They can hear what's going on."
During commercial breaks, Nelson is running the show, calling guests up to the stage and running over how they'll start the segment and the points they want to be sure to go through.
Chef Marc Collins from Circa 1886 makes some gazpacho that Nelson fawns over for the rest of the show and offers up to everybody.
"That's the best part of the job," she says. "I get to taste all these restaurants that I can't afford."
The worst part of the job? Nelson doesn't have much to complain about, but she's had one piece of hate mail: a man saying that she needed to lose 40 pounds.
"I'm a normal, average person," she says, brushing off the comparison to rail-thin girls who are more common on TV. "To me, there are more women out there that like to have fun."
But the jerk with the toothpick fetish is a prime example of how Lowcountry Live's market has expanded beyond the soccer moms.
"When we originally started, they said this was just for stay-at-home moms and retired women. So we always just stuck to the whole hormone thing, women stuff. Now we realize that it's men who watch, too, and young people."
Nelson says she's consistently surprised by the variety of people that approach her and say they watch the show.
"I'm like, 'You're supposed to be at work.'"