A light in the WLLR studio in Davenport blinks whenever there's an incoming call.

And a few weeks ago, morning show hosts Pat Leuck and Danielle Howe were on edge whenever that light came on.

As a finalist for Country Music Association small station of the year award, they were put on notice that, should the station win, a congratulatory phone call from a country star would be coming at a random time.

"The more often it didn't happen, the more often we were convinced it wasn't going to happen," Howe said of the call.

The light started blinking at 7:40 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 21.

"I thought, 'It's either them or we did something horribly wrong,'" Howe recalled.

The voice on the other end was Kimberly Perry, lead singer of the family trio The Band Perry, giving the first kudos to the station, at 103.7 FM, for winning the small-market honor.

"Once we heard it was Kimberly Perry, we knew we didn't do anything wrong this time," Leuck joked.

The station was in contention with broadcasters from Columbia, Mo.; Cookeville, Tenn.; Asheville, N.C., and Florence/Muscle Shoals, Ala.

WLLR will get its national recognition Wednesday night during the CMA Awards on ABC. Jim O'Hara, station program director, midday host and operations manager of Clear Channel Media & Entertainment in Davenport, will accept the award and get a couple of seconds of TV time from the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.

"What we try to do is create an experience for them," Brandi Simms, CMA director of membership and balloting, said. "We take them out on the stage prior to the telecast starting and do photos and meet our board and become involved with the television show."

Also, "one of the things that's really exciting about it is that their seats for the show are probably in the third or fourth row," Simms said of the broadcast winners. "They always get a glimpse of TV time."

Broadcasters, Simms said, submit entries highlighting the station's sound, ratings, promotion of country music and community involvement.

O'Hara said the award capped off the year for WLLR that arguably is its most successful. The submission from the station included a music video of Mississippi Valley Fair headliner Rodney Atkins, which was shot on the fairgrounds and included WLLR's logo and personnel. It also talked about the station's involvement with different organizations, most notably St. Jude's Childrens Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.

As for ratings, O'Hara said WLLR had its highest ever, and was named as having the largest market share of the audience of any country station in the United States, according to the trade publication Country Aircheck. A 21.3 rating among listeners 12 years and older in the Quad-City market translates to better than one in five radios tuned in at any given time are tuned to 103.7.

"If we're ever going to win, we're going to have to win now," O'Hara said of the award.

The station has been the top rated among listeners 12 years and older in the Quad-Cities since the fall of 1989.

O'Hara said the station constantly makes connections with its listeners, both near and far. Community involvement and live remote broadcasts keep the local audience in touch, but thanks to the recent introduction of the iHeart Radio website and app, listeners can hear the station throughout the world.

Phone calls and emails have shown that the station has listeners including West Coast truckers, Quad-Citians who have moved elsewhere and, at least a half-dozen times, U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan.

"Talk about long-distance dedication; that one blows your mind a little bit," O'Hara said.

"There is something magical about a station you're loyal to," Leuck said.

Howe, who also fronts a country-rock band that bears her name and plays frequently on weekends in the area, said fans tell her after they travel that there's no place like their hometown country radio station.

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"They say, 'I just didn't like their country station as well as I like you guys,'" she said. "We must have something special if they're comparing it and not liking it as well."

Another secret to the station's success, all three said, is the longevity of the station personnel.

O'Hara has been in the Quad-City market for 37 years, the last 20 with WLLR. Leuck has been heard on WLLR since 1989, with a three-year break while working for other stations in the Clear Channel local hub. Howe has been on for 17 years. And WLLR music director Ron Evans, who hosts the morning show on sister station Mix 96 and is sometimes heard on 103.7, has been involved since 1984.

Newcomer Jillene, a three-year veteran in the afternoon shift, has helped make connections to younger audiences thanks to her presence on Facebook and Twitter.

"She's really done a great job of making herself feel at home, feeling connected on social media," Leuck said.

Gaining the national recognition is a boost for the personnel at WLLR, but won't change the way it operates, its hosts say.

"It's great to get the accolades, but we've performed at a high level for a long time," Leuck said. "We'll just keep doing that."

The quickly spreading news of the award is another indication that listeners feel a sense of ownership and kinship with the station, O'Hara said.

"They're saying, 'we won, the Quad-Cities won,'" he said. "The listeners won. And they feel proud that they won.

"That's the thing that's most exciting for me."

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