Everything was sounding so good until the television producer mentioned money.
Marion leaders huddled around a phone Thursday in the Marion City Council Room for what they thought was a proposal for a television news show. The group included Mayor Mary Olson, City Administrator Doug Kjellin, St. Luke Hospital CEO Jeremy Armstrong, USD 408 Superintendent Lee Leiker, Chamber of Commerce President Don Noller, Chamber Executive Secretary Margo Yates, and Ministerial Alliance representative Jeremiah Lange.
A producer from Today in America called in promptly at 1 p.m. The show shoots 5-minute segments about a town, which it sells to networks, in this case, 20 showings on Fox Business Channel and then plans to pass the content along to Wichita TV stations. The show is hosted by football analyst and four-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Terry Bradshaw.
The producer began by stating that the show was about the positive aspects of a community — heritage, present, and future.
“For a small community, we know how well equipped you are with facilities for your population,” he said. “Obviously, economic development, job creation, and job retention is important but quality of life is playing a more significant role on where (businesses) want to be.”
One by one, the Marion leaders outlined the city’s case for inclusion with the show.
Armstrong detailed the setup and layout of the renovated refurbished hospital.
Leiker talked about the facilities at the schools.
“Everyone has a chance for a good education,” he said.
The producer remained strikingly positive throughout the explanations. When Olson talked about the available emergency services in the county, including that the county needed more volunteer emergency medical technicians, the producer never strewed from a positive path.
“You have a very special relationship with the community and they seem to be very proactive in community affairs,” he said. “Marion seems to be a town poised for growth.”
Then the producer described the process of the show, slipping in their in the middle of his statement a sentence about the city needing to pay a $19,800 scheduling fee.
“In TV that’s not a large amount of money,” the producer said to Kjellin.
Previously the Marion leaders were barely able to contain their excitement with thoughts of undiluted positive exposure reaching a national audience. When the nearly $20,000 fee was mentioned their faces became grim.
“It would be nice to say it was a pay for play deal,” Kjellin said after the meeting.
Even with the bombshell that Today in America was a soliciting to produce 5-minute commercials on an obscure cable channel, some Marion leaders would not relinquish the idea.
Leiker especially said that they were likely to spend the money anyway.
“We’re always looking for that long-range rifle shot,” Kjellin said talking about obtaining city exposure.
Yates said the city might be able to negotiate to own the footage from the program. She said the city was in need of a new video, which may cost in the neighborhood of $10,000.
Kjellin talked about splitting the money between the county, hospital, city, school district, and chamber of commerce and that is when Armstrong backed away from the idea.
“The guy that was on the phone was a salesman,” Armstrong said. “They want a commitment before you talk with the senior producer; I don’t do business that way.”
A day after the meeting was dismissed, Kjellin said he had conducted more research and decided that Today in America was not a sound investment of $19,800.
“If it sounds too good to be true, it is,” he said.