Despite our seemingly non-stop consumption of social media and affinity for all things digital, there’s a reason that happy hours at local outdoor eateries fill up faster than a Twitter stream during a Royal wedding.
We crave connection, chatter and the comforting knowledge that someone else not only understands the challenges we often face, but that they’ve walked in our shoes and lived to share their stories.
Even on the radio, there’s no shortage of talk these days. Dial to the AM side of the airwaves and you’ll hear passionate commentary about everything from politics to sports. Until this year, however, those observations in Kansas City were from a decidedly male slant. Seven local women are on a mission to change that with their two weekly shows The Radio Dish and The Perk.
Known to listeners across the Metro, veteran radio personalities Darcie Blake and Mary McKenna found themselves in a position all too familiar to many: downsized and leaving the jobs they thought they would retire from years down the road. Blake, formerly with KUDL and McKenna, formerly with KFKF, had been friends for years and had shared professional appearances and emcee duties through their respective years of tenure in Kansas City radio. When they found themselves without a microphone for the first time in years, McKenna called Blake and pitched the idea of sharing airtime in their very own show.
“We’re women, and we like to talk. About everything! And there was really nothing here for women in our demographic,” says McKenna. They recruited Mindy Hart, who brings non-profit sector, marketing and business savvy to the table, and within two months were reinventing themselves in the new world of destination radio on their show The Radio Dish. The space they’ve created feels at once familiar yet fresh, and marries life outside the studio with the power of the airwaves. Like life or a candid conversation between friends, no topic is off limits, and the trio has dished everything from veteran’s rights to tales from the bedroom without seemingly missing a beat. What the team is really passionate about, however, is sharing stories of people who also reinvented themselves after
hardship or challenges.
Even with double digit years of experience, The Radio Dish team was surprised at just how hard it was to transition from simply being radio personalities to actually owning and running a weekly show.
Perhaps the steepest learning curve has been defining their roles and responsibilities behind the scenes. Hart brings a wealth of administrative and technical acumen to the table and regularly switches hats between contract negotiator, sales manager and marketing executive. McKenna has flourished in the role of producer and Blake rounds out the team by keeping everyone on track and organized, driving sales and working her editing magic.
While the shows are on different stations and share the Kansas City airspace, there are common threads that unite these seven women. Each team has created a show that mirrors what they were looking for but couldn’t find just a year ago.
“These two are such an amazing production team,” says Hart. “Mary creates these bells and whistles that have never before been a part of talk radio, and Darcie is the editing queen. Mary can take what Darcie has done and put it on steroids. It’s such a symbiotic relationship. Together they produce something that is completely unique.”
“What I look for as a program director is something that jumps out of the speakers. These women are plugged into what’s going on around town, and there’s no one who puts more into a show,” says Chris Hoffman, program director at Cumulus Media Partners. “Talk radio is challenging because you have to put so much time in to get something out. This really is the hardest job in radio, but they are so good that they make it sound so natural. No one realizes just how much work they have to put in to make it sound so easy, and there’s no show that has the veteran experience that these ladies have.”
Valerie Bentley, on the other hand, had no experience in radio before jumping into the show The Perk. Born with a gift for gab and a burning desire to connect with people, she often shared stories of her unpredictable days with the other adults as she picked her children up from preschool. She was surprised one day when a teacher thanked her for making them feel “normal.”
“The teacher said that even though similar things happen to everyone, no one else was talking about it, much less making it funny,” says Bentley. “I immediately knew that we needed a talk radio show for women.”
She recruited friends Mindy, Kelli and Wendy to join her on the endeavor. Among them they share more than twenty years of friendship and far too many stories to count, but each brings a different life experience and perspective to the show. Bentley works in marketing, Kelli is an attorney, Mindy is a Realtor and Wendy is an event planner. They approach their show with the bold declaration that even though they have an opinion on just about everything, they simply don’t know it all.
To round out their show and bring fresh perspectives and interesting information, they recruit guests with remarkable stories or interesting events to join them on The Perk. Billed as a ‘happy hour with the girls,’ The Perk ladies, like their Radio Dish counterparts, consider every topic fair game and segue from celebrity interviews to tidbits of practical advice about everything from parenting to fashion to local news and events. With four women sharing the mic, they’ve divided the duties and each has found a home in her respective segment. Bentley typically takes the lead on interviewing guests and navigating the show, but each woman contributes in her own unique way.
They are quick to point out that, even though they aim to entertain while they educate, their show reflects their lives and the lives of those who listen. This means that the topics are not always light hearted, but their outlook remains upbeat. A perfect example was a visit from Henry Winkler, also known as ‘The Fonz’ from “Happy Days” fame. As a campaign ambassador for “Open Arms: Raising Awareness of Upper Limb Spasticity,” Winkler joined The Perk team in the studio to put a familiar face on Stroke Awareness Month. He and Bentley shared their personal stories of family members who have suffered from strokes.
Not content to stick behind the mic, The Perk team hosts frequent happy hours at various Johnny’s Tavern locations in the KC Metro area. They encourage all listeners to attend and entice with complimentary appetizers and the promise of a great time.
While the shows are on different stations and share the Kansas City airspace, there are common threads that unite these seven women. Both teams thrive on their ability to connect women throughout the metro and beyond, and feel a responsibility when behind the microphone to not only offer valuable and entertaining content, but to reassure women that they are not alone. Each team has created a show that mirrors what they were looking for but couldn’t find just a year ago.
“Sometimes people just want to know that we’re here, and that we understand,” says Blake. “We are moms, wives, daughters, employees and so many other things just like everyone else. We share our experiences and that helps people who may feel like no one understands that someone really does.”
“We are semi-normal, everyday women with careers and families that love to have a good time. Our goal every week is to have our listeners enjoy the show, feel connected and informed, and get some good laughs with the Perk Girls,” says Bentley.
Another shared surprise is the number of male listeners each show enjoys. The Radio Dish team chalks it up to the fact that the issues they tackle, while spoken from a female perspective, are universal issues that affect everyone. Current events like the Baby Lisa case are universal in appeal, but even topics that might seem to appeal more to the female spectrum seem to find listeners on both sides of the gender gap.
“We expected some, but the male listenership has been overwhelming,” says Bentley. That could be in part because we are all a little girly but really tom boys at heart.”
The Radio Dish airs Saturdays from noon to 1 p.m. on both KCMO Talk Radio 710 and 103.7 KCMO FM. The Perk airs Thursdays from 3 to 4 p.m. on 1510 AM. Full biographies, schedules, past show podcasts and upcoming show information can be found at TheRadioDish.com and ThePerkKC.com.