Mark Rickard of Pleasant Hills showed up early, taking a detour on the way to work at a North Hills software company. His destination: a toy drive Friday featuring conservative talk radio hosts Jim Quinn and Rose Tennent.
He wasn't the first to arrive in the pre-dawn hour at the Geno Levi Salon in McMurray, but he must be among Quinn and Rose's biggest supporters. For five years, Mr. Rickard maintained a Facebook page for the radio show, "The War Room With Quinn and Rose." Then treatment for colon cancer forced him to shut it down last February.
"One of the reasons I started it was to share their values with people out there," said Mr. Rickard, who said his health is "fine now."
When news spread that Clear Channel had severed ties with the duo, effective Nov. 18, he re-activated the page at www.facebook.com/quinnandrose, and it became a sounding board for dismayed listeners.
He was hardly alone Friday. Between 6 and 9:30 a.m., a steady line of fans streamed into the salon, its bright-white, modern decor in stark contrast to the wet, black morning. What was originally planned as an annual fundraiser -- Toy Treasures is a favorite charity of Ms. Tennent's -- instead became the hosts' first public appearance since the show was abruptly canceled.
Clear Channel Communications, which owns WPGB 104.7-FM, where the show originated, said in a statement that Mr. Quinn and Ms. Tennent could not reach financial terms with the station. A no-compete clause in their contracts means they cannot be on the air in the Pittsburgh market for six months. Ms. Tennent said her contract allows her to fill in for nationally syndicated host Sean Hannity, however, and she is scheduled to do so Dec. 30.
"We never had a chance to say goodbye," Ms. Tennent told a well-wisher at the salon. "Oh, I feel like I'm going to cry now."
There was surprisingly little talk of politics or current affairs. For the most part, members of the crowd -- difficult to gauge but perhaps 200 -- dropped off new toys then headed over to where Mr. Quinn and Ms. Tennent were seated at a table. In addition to his donation, one man brought them two dozen fresh brown eggs from his farm.
"He does that every time," Ms. Tennent said, smiling.
They arrived from all over: the college student from New Kensington, a family from Canonsburg, a married couple from Richmond, Ohio.
"I had to go to the other side of the world to get here," joked Fox Chapel's Bill Simpson, who donated two enormous stuffed animals bought at cost from Lynlott Miniatures in Aspinwall.
The hosts distributed handshakes and hugs while signing autographs, books, bumper stickers and whatever else people asked of them. Bethel Park's Stan Buczkowski produced his smart phone to take a quick video of Ms. Tennent saying hello to his daughter, Brianna, a student at Grove City College.
Copies of her book, "Thanking Our Soldiers," were being sold at $15 apiece to raise money as well as "Wilson Won't Be Bullied," a children's book she worked on with Susan Castriota. Two large cardboard cartons quickly filled with toys, and the overflow piled up by the front door.
"That's the thing I love about our listeners. We had 10 18-wheelers full of donations after Katrina," said Ms. Tennent. "I love them on a number of different levels."
One woman tried unsuccessfully to sneak a $50 bill into the large plastic container for monetary donations, prompting yet another leap from the table and a hug by Ms. Tennent.
Toy Treasures is part of the Compassion Connection ministry at South Hills Assembly of God in Bethel Park. New toys donated for the event are sold at one-tenth of their retail price. This year's sale is Dec. 21; registration is required to purchase (www.compassionconnectioninc.org or 412-835-8900, ext. 104).
"We started this six years ago," said Kay Stepp, a pastor with South Hills Assembly of God and Compassion Connection executive director. "Rose heard about it and became involved. ... The reason this intrigued her was it affirms the dignity of the parent. It lets them know they are valued. She loved the way it was set up, so she started advertising it on her program."
Ms. Tennent works at the event as a gift-wrapper.
Before the sun came up, another early visitor was Jean-Luc Zadroga, a Benedictine monk from the St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe.
"I listen to you guys and feel like we know you," he said. Turning to Mr. Quinn, he added, "I understand you are a product of Benedictine education?"
This prompted Mr. Quinn to launch into a story involving a nonchalant priest strolling down the hallway of their high school when it was on fire.
"Jim is brilliant," Brother Jean-Luc said. "He calls things days ahead of Rush [Limbaugh]. ... I think they made a huge mistake, letting them get away."
Mr. Rickard agreed: "Five thousand fans are completely torn up for the holidays."
Maria Sciullo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1478 or @MariaSciulloPG.