The AM Ladies on Your FM RADIO Dial
By Betsy Ross, Contributing Writer
Photos and videos by Madison Schmidt
A special thank you to BLOWN for providing their on-site hair styling services
known as BLOWN Away
They come from Cincinnati and they come from L.A. They have been at the radio game for more than two decades, and they’re relative newcomers to the airwaves. Some work with their husbands—and all get up way earlier than most of us.
Cincinnati radio has a number of women who grace our morning radio stations, giving news and traffic updates, DJ-ing or chatting about the day’s events. We’re going to introduce you to three of them who enjoy solid ratings, longevity and a healthy perspective on the changing business of radio. They are (alphabetically):
Janeen Coyle, who joins husband Chris O’Brien on “Chris and Janeen, Married with Microphones” on WGRR-FM; Bridget England, the self-proclaimed “Mistress of the Airwaves” on 96Rock’s “Mornings with JD and Bridget” and Marianne Goen, who makes up half of the “Bob and Marianne in the morning” duo on Warm98 with her husband Bob Goen.
In radio, it’s a must to know your audience and cater to them with content they care about—every day. In the three neighboring studios at Cumulus that Janeen, Bridget and Marianne command each morning, we listened in about Jane Fonda’s breakup with long-time boyfriend in the 96Rock morning gossip report and a light-hearted debate on how you would feel if your husband brought home Star Wars bed sheets on WARM98.
Janeen’s day begins earlier than the other two with a 5 a.m. start. That means getting up “around a quarter ‘til 4. It’s early. It’s 0-dark-30 early.” Her start in radio? That was early, too, at the beginning of her time at the University of Cincinnati. “I started out at UC as a theater major. Unfortunately, I had to work at McDonald’s to support myself, so I couldn’t be in plays. So I switched my major to broadcasting.”
Janeen started out on campus radio, then as a sophomore found a job in a small Northern Kentucky radio station. That eventually led to Taft Broadcasting and their family of radio stations, and a career was born. From overnight shifts on WKRQ to talk radio to the on-air partnership with Chris in 1995, Janeen’s career has been Cincinnati-centric.
“It’s important to be part of the community,” she said, “and I honestly think that’s the secret to our survival. I know everybody—I went to school here!”
Janeen starts her day the earliest of the three: “Married with Microphones” goes on at 5 a.m. and runs until 9 a.m. “The hours are hard, but it’s nice to have the rest of your day,” she said. “And when you work with your spouse, you’re a real team. You’re together all day so you can discuss what you’re going to do the rest of the day. It’s four hours on the air, then preparation here, and at home.”
In the highly competitive Cincinnati radio market, WGRR has been a ratings winner over the last several months, something Janeen thinks comes from the connection radio makes with listeners. “You get to talk one on one with people every morning share your observations on the world,” she said.
And that connection doesn’t stop when the radio shift does, because social media has made radio a 24-hour source of fan interaction. “You have to grow with the times,” Janeen said. “And you can teach old dogs new tricks when it comes to my husband. He’s had to learn several technological changes over the years, and he’s a master of it.”
They post anything from their latest thoughts on the SAG awards to their granddaughter’s thespian skills, all to keep their audience engaged and entertained. (Follow them at https://www.facebook.com/janeen.coyle and https://www.facebook.com/ChrisOBrienWgrr)
Because, Janeen reminds us, “Listeners are king. The best thing about this job is when people say, ‘you’re funny, you make me laugh.’ Because there is so much negativity and so much tragedy in the world, if we can make somebody giggle on their way to work, that is a true blessing.”
Janeen’s advice to that young student looking to find his or her way in broadcasting? “Don’t expect too much too soon. We have a tendency to think we should have a $200,000 lifestyle just starting out. You’ve got to start small like everybody else and work your way up. Be open to everything, doing production, be open to TV, learn all the skills you can.”
For Bridget England (AKA Mistress Bridget, AKA Bridget Rock) who works in the 96Rock studio next to WGRR, starting her day off means starting around 3:45 a.m. On a good day. “That’s when the first alarm goes off. Usually I get out of bed by 4 at the latest.”
Bridget’s another home-town girl who started out at the University of Cincinnati but wasn’t quite sure what to do past that. “I did wedding receptions and it was fun,” she said. “But I knew I didn’t want to do that for the next million years of my life. I ended up at Northern Kentucky University and a friend said, ‘what did you always want to do?’ And I said I always wanted to be in radio. And she said, ‘then go do it.’”
She got into the communications department at NKU, which led to an internship at 96Rock’s former parent company, Susquehanna, which led to full time employment. “I didn’t expect or want it to be any other way,” she said. “I wanted to do it in Cincinnati. And so far, it’s worked.”
It’s made her a morning drive time fixture on 96Rock for a decade, first co-hosting with long-time partner Fin Rock, then doing morning inserts during the here-today gone-tomorrow “Free Beer and Hot Wings Show,” then back to co-billing on “96Rock Mornings with JD and Bridget.” She thinks her Cincinnati roots have helped her stay relevant in a radio world that can be volatile.
“Cincinnati loves them some Cincinnati,” she said. “Luckily, I love me some Cincinnati and a lot of the reason that I wanted to stay, I know the in’s and out’s. I grew up on the West Side, worked on the East Side, and live in Kentucky now. Cincinnati loves them some Cincinnati, and I love Cincinnati.”
She rolls into the Cumulus offices around 4:45 a.m. to prepare for the 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. shift. “After that, we do stuff for the next day, whether it’s meetings or social media. I’m out of here around 11 a.m.-noon, then I’m off on my own.
“But I don’t feel like it stops there. With social media, you’re re-tweeting, you’re talking about breaking news. We can communicate with listeners all day long. You check into places and you’re not just talking about what’s going on, you’re experiencing it as well. People are more likely to listen and more likely to be part of your day when they feel you have a lot of the same things in common.” (Follow her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/bridget.rock.1 )
Her advice to would-be Bridgets? “Take advantage of every opportunity. And ask. Let it be known what you want. From the moment I was an intern, I said, ‘I want to be on air.’ And I did overnights from midnight to 6 a.m., after school I worked at a restaurant five shifts a week to pay my bills. Just say yes, do it whether you want to or not, whether it pays or not, just do it and you’ll be amazed where it gets you.”
“I like to say, ‘we don’t get up early, we get up yesterday.’” So it’s a good thing that Marianne Goen is naturally a morning person. She and husband Bob are up between 3 and 3:30 a.m. and are in the studio across the hall from 96Rock and WGRR by 4:45 a.m. to get things started at 5:30 a.m. on Wam98.
Her path to Cincinnati morning radio took a longer route than Janeen or Bridget’s: She’s an East Coast native by way of L.A. who has a background in sketch comedy and “The Tonight Show” on her resume. Husband, Bob, is probably known best for his co-anchor stint at “Entertainment Tonight,” but also has hosted gigs like Miss Universe and game shows like “The Price is Right Live.”
So how did they land on Cincinnati radio?
“Bob and I did a radio show together in L.A. and it went very well, and the producers said, you guys should think about doing this. So this opportunity came up (in 2012) and we were ready to jump off the cliff and do something new.”
“As I tell most people, when you turn 40, they ask you to leave L.A.! You’re no longer allowed to live there. They welcomed us with open arms here, and we’ve really found our rhythm and our audience and we have a great time.”
Listeners have warmed up (pun intended) to “Bob and Marianne in the Morning,” as end-of-year ratings show a strong finish for WARM98 in 2016 (“we are the Christmas music station, you know,” she reminded us). But just like the other two morning hosts, the work day doesn’t stop when the shift ends. “When you’re a locally based show, you have to connect with the community. I like to put a face on the audience, and they like to meet whose voice they hear every day.”
And that includes social media. “It’s amazing how much you have to be tuned in to, and I’m still trying to do my writing and my blog (It’s funny: Check it out at http://mariannecuran.blogspot.com/) and trying to master Facebook and Twitter and Instagram all at the same time. But if you’re not connecting your show through all the media levels that you can, you’re not in the game.”
Bob and Marianne not only have had to adjust to the new world of social media, they’ve had to adjust to life away from Southern California. For Marianne, it’s not such a big leap. “I grew up outside of D.C. in a town not unlike Cincinnati. There are some things that feel like home, but it’s a big switch, it’s a whole different rhythm of life.
“And it’s not just the weather and the type of city, but everybody here has been so welcoming. L.A. can beat you up after a while, and the business has changed dramatically. A lot of the things Bob and I did for a living either don’t exist anymore or a small handful of people are doing them. Reality TV completely flipped television on its head. Radio was another spoke in the wheel of entertainment, we took a chance and it’s worked out great.”