If you’ve worked in the radio industry long enough, chances are you either know or know of Lisa McKay. She recently passed away after a brief battle with cancer. Lisa was the Vice President of Programming for Curtis Media and the program director for the group’s country station 94.7 WQDR in Raleigh, NC. Truly though, she was so much more than that.
Under Lisa’s guidance, WQDR won Academy of Country Music awards for best large market station. The morning show won awards for best large market personalities. There are tons of other awards. I just don’t remember them off the top of my head. If you want an idea of her impact in the industry, go to WQDR’s website and listen to the tribute from people like Kenny Chesney, Dierks Bentley and the members of Parmalee. She was a titan in the country music world.
I was at my lowest point emotionally in 2014. I had been out of the business on a full-time basis going on two years. Lisa threw me a lifeline. She allowed my friend Alli Morgan to hire me to do afternoon drive on Curtis’ Adult Hits station Radio 96.1 despite the fact that I was not a fit AT ALL!
I met with Lisa and Alli a lot to refine my sound and the way I spoke to a largely female audience that had different very priorities than I did. Lisa kept correcting my mistakes, but always ended every meeting with the advice “The most important thing is to have fun. If you’re not having fun, the audience isn’t having fun.”
This was literally the last thing she said to me as I walked out of a meeting and saw an email from WCMC program director Dennis Glassgow on my phone asking if I would be interested in coming across the street to join Mike Maniscalco and Lauren Brownlow on Buzz Sports Radio’s new morning show. I took a couple of days to think about it and decided that it would be more than just a perfect transition to sports. It would be fun.
The next day I met with Dennis and decided I wanted to be a part of the show. A few days later I sat down with Lisa. Raleigh radio is a small community, so she had already heard the news through the grapevine. Before I could say anything she congratulated me. She told me that she wanted me to go do great radio that I was passionate about and that was probably more likely to happen at the Buzz than at Radio 96.1. We shook hands, agreed on a transition period, and that was that.
Lisa’s death was announced last weekend. Friends from across the radio spectrum posted tributes to her on their social media accounts. What struck me were the number of people that mentioned that the best advice she had ever given them was to just have fun.
Lisa could be demanding. She could be a little hard to get along with at times, but she was always trying to make her staff better. She was smart enough to know that in order to really get better, you have to love what you do, and in my case, she realized I had to go elsewhere to do what I really loved. I am very appreciative of that.
Love what you do. Have fun! Make it clear to your audience why you’re there. These are truths that are universal across any platform of entertainment, but really paying attention to what you love about your job and then tapping into it can make you a totally different broadcaster.
And be open about the cool stuff that your platform gives you access to and share it with the audience. Lisa McKay loved working with animals. She used her platform at WQDR to bring the messages and needs of those charities to her listeners. It gave them a deeper insight into who Lisa was beyond “Oh, she likes country music.”
Listeners may like you for simply sharing their opinions, but what makes them love you is being able to identify with you as a human being. Whether or not they share your passions away from sports is irrelevant. In the age of social media and 24/7 access, showing listeners that you are a sports fan and not just a talking head, a parent and not just a cartoon, someone that lives in the real world instead of just inside that magic box in their car is important.
Lisa McKay was definitely a titan in the radio industry, and it stings that she is no longer with us. But this industry has lost great leaders before and it will lose others in the future. What we really cannot stand to lose are the lessons of its best teachers. Lisa was definitely among them. So remember, connect with your community, have a passion for what you do, but most of all just have fun. You can’t connect with anyone or build passion for anything if you’re not even having fun.