10 Questions with ... Karen Dalessandro
June 7, 2015
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
At 19 years of age, KAREN DALESANDRO's radio career began as the midday host at WSDS-AM/YPSILANTI, MI. She eventually landed mornings at WYCD/DETROIT, then afternoons at crosstown WWWW. In 1998, DALESANDRO shifted to WMIL/MILWAUKEE for mornings, where she has since remained, co-hosting the "KAREN, SCOTT, & RADAR" morning show. In 2001, the show was honored with a CMA Broadcast Personality of the Year award. She has contributed to her community, forming her "KAREN's Check Up For Chicks" campaign, which has provided mammogram screenings for hundreds of woman in SOUTHEAST WISCONSIN. DALESANDRO has also introduced numerous Country artists to her audience via her morning show, providing first-time exposure to artists such as LUKE BRYAN, KEITH URBAN, LADY ANTEBELLUM, SUGARLAND, and countless others.
1. Karen, thanks for taking the time for 10 Questions. Let's begin by asking what induction into the Country Radio Hall of Fame means to you and what you think it says about your radio career.
Being included among this exceptional group of fellow broadcasters is the greatest honor I could imagine. At no point in the last 30 years, did it occur to me that the job I loved so much would reward me in such a HUGE way. My career began on Country radio and my passion for the music and the industry makes this especially sweet. I'd like to believe this acknowledgement means I've somehow made a difference in my chosen field. Whether I inspired a future broadcaster or impacted a listener having a bad day, my goal has always been to make a connection. To be recognized for my efforts with a Hall of Fame induction is truly the pinnacle of my career and the gift of a lifetime!
2. OK, so exactly where you, and what were you doing when you got the news?
Getting the news was surreal! I was leaving a doctor appointment when I returned a voice mail from [WMIL PD] Kerry (Wolfe) who sounded VERY serious when he picked up my call. It's a good thing I was on my hands free because I started screaming "No way. You're messing with me!" . I immediately hung up to call my husband and that's when I got emotional. If there was a downside, it's that I couldn't share this news with anyone else until it was made official at CRS!
3. What station or personality did you listen to most growing up and how did either - or both -influence you in pursuing a radio career.
In the late 70's , there was literally one woman on the air in Detroit and had it not been for Karen Savelly (still holding down an airshift in Detroit), I never would have considered radio as a career. At that time, she hosted the night show and as I listened, I would repeat her breaks exactly the way she delivered them. No one I knew was that cool! Also from WRIF , Dan Carlisle emceed the first concert I attended - it was one of the Bob Seger Live Bullet shows at Cobo Arena (check the liner notes---he's listed!). Even from the nose bleed section, I was mesmerized by his stage presence and convinced this was what I intended to do with my life.
4. Tell us about your first radio job - and your first-ever live break on the air. Certainly, you remember both, right?
It was 1981 and I was hired for middays at WSDS in Ypsilanti, Michigan (a small city outside Ann Arbor). Barely out of radio school, my worst fear was running a smooth board and hoping I could figure out what all the buttons did. Dead air, the nemesis of all radio people would have destroyed me. That first break was an out of body experience! I rehearsed for days before I opened the microphone and although it was "stiff", it went okay. I'll never forget how exhausted I was on the ride home---like I just got out of a boxing ring!
5. Mentors - everybody has a few of them. Who was it for you that helped you, challenged you and made you believe you could actually make this a career?
There have been many Karen "believers" along the way and I am grateful for each of them. Included on that list is Jaye Albright, who has the ability to coach talent with great empathy and her support over the years has been invaluable. My husband, Doug, has been letting me bounce ideas off him for 30 years and is responsible for keeping me sane and settled.
But from Day one, Dick Kernen, (who in fact nominated me for the HOF induction), has been the person that guided and encouraged me. Dick was one of my instructors at Specs Howard School of Broadcast Arts and at that time, the schools placement director. Dick placed me in my first job in Ypsilanti and has followed my career ever since. Coming full circle, he will be in Nashville to introduce me at the induction dinner.
6. You're going into the Hall of Fame so there's no downside to answering this question: What was your most embarrassing moment on the air - the one time where it all went wrong and you were mortified?
It takes a lot to embarrass me--I'm good at rolling with most any situation. But there was an incident that happened days after I was hired in Milwaukee. One of the station's biggest outdoor events was happening that weekend and I invited a girlfriend from Detroit to fly in and join me. We caught up over drinks the night before the big concert and we had ..... many drinks! And that was the night, I met the Milwaukee PD. The bar was less than two miles from my apartment but I'm ashamed to admit I got pulled over. There was no ticket issued but all I could imagine was me explaining to Kerry that I was in jail and would miss my first event at FM106.
7. You're part of a rare breed anymore - the personality that has stayed in one market for a long time - the majority of your career. Was there a deliberate decision to "Marry the market" as they say - or did it happen organically.
I am unique in that most of my career has been spent in only two markets: my hometown, Detroit where I was on the air for 15 years and my "adopted" hometown of Milwaukee. Obviously, staying in Detroit was intentional--family, friends and my blue collar upbringing made it a great city to do radio. Milwaukee was TOTALLY organic! When I arrived in 1998, there is NO way I expected to be here 17 years later. The listeners welcomed me, I jelled immediately with the rest of the morning show and I couldn't ask for a better program director than Kerry Wolfe. It's just a great town and a comfortable place to call "home".
8. The job of on-air personality has evolved, what with PPM and Social Media becoming bigger factors. How do you exert your personality in shorter bursts - and how has social media changed the way your show and its brand are presented?
Adapting to PPM wasn't a difficult transition for me and I credit that to my time at WYCD and the original "Young Country" format in 1982. Late program director Al Casey insisted we break every conventional radio rule by discarding call letters or positioning statements and crafting a break that compelled listeners instantly. It was challenging, exciting and as PPM rolled out, it was SO applicable to this methodology. Along with that, I was lucky enough to spend part of my career doing "Hot Rockin', Flame Throwing" Top 40 radio where the mantra was "be a Great Big Personality in 7 seconds!" Less is only more when it's creative and well thought out. As for social media, it has truly created an entirely new dimension for radio people. There was a time when you would do a break and it was gone forever (unless you preserved it on an aircheck for your own purposes). Now, most everything we do is pre-promoted and retained on our web or social media pages. It brings a visual to radio that was never there before and expounds on our personalities beyond our airshifts.
9. There are three of you in that room - You, Scott and Radar. What's your best advice on maintaining a good working relationship with people whom you spend more time with than your family? How do you manage it?
It's funny, our listeners all want to believe that Karen, Scott and Radar are carpooling into work and barbequing together every weekend! The way we make it work is by leading separate lives outside our morning show. It's true--we are together eight hours a day, plus outdoor promotional events and travel junkets. Our chemistry was almost instantaneous and that's apparent when you listen. But we're respectful of each other's space and know our individual boundaries.
10. There's industry-wide concern about the thin on-air talent pool and its lack of development. How will we get younger talent ready for prime time, and where will we find younger creative types, in a time where radio isn't seen as cool as it once was? In short, where is the next Karen Dalessandro coming from?
Broadcast schools and colleges still provide learning opportunities but voice tracking and syndication have definitely made an already competitive business even more competitive. Until recently, the morning show had a very successful internship program that launched many full time careers but it's even tough to land an intern position these days. The Internet presents new possibilities for creative types; it's an outlet to experiment and discover your personality. But for those work hard and want it as badly as I did, there will always be a way to "break through" and succeed.