Straight From the Mouth
The Morning Mouth's April interview with Dana DiDonato
(Reprinted by permission; Copyright © 2010 Talentmasters Inc.)
So at the end of 2008, when high-paying radio jobs were more scarce than ever, you left WBLI on your own, but then returned a few months later. Can you tell us what that was about?
I had a couple opportunities that I was excited to explore, so my husband and I decided after 3 years on Long Island we would be up for moving to a new city. I gave BLI notice in August that I would not be renewing my contract. Fast forward to 2 weeks before my last day at BLI- everything we owned was in boxes and we were set to leave... December 2, 2008, I found out I was pregnant that morning. The next day BLI asked me to reconsider staying... I couldn't be happier with the choice we made.
How many years now at WBLI?
This is my 5th year.
Was this your first time anchoring a show?
Well this is the first time I've anchored a show without being overwhelmed by anxiety and nervous sweats every time the mics go on... I did a 2-month hosting stint at my last station in Greensboro, NC (WSMW). The host of our afternoon show had to take a leave and I got shoved into the driver's seat with random passengers who took turns sitting across from me to bravely endure the trainwreck. I held tightly onto the fact that I survived that experience when my bosses at BLI asked me to temporarily take the reins of our morning show in Long Island.
Did you get hired to be the main host, or is this something that just fell on your lap?
I was originally hired to be the co-host of BLI in the Morning. That lasted for 6 months, at which point the host was let go and the search for a new anchor began. It never occurred to me that I would ever be given the
Meanwhile, during what turned out to be a 6 month audition process for me, my goal on a daily basis was just to host a show that didn't disappoint anyone... the listeners... my bosses... my co-host (who at the time was just Randy). . . myself... my mother. I turned my life over to prepping... writing... brainstorming (with my ultimate brainstorming partner our former producer Amanda Greene-WKRZ). There was planning then throwing the plan out and trusting my instincts... taking risks... learning my way. After what was probably the most insanely fun 6 months of radio I had ever done, BLI management asked me to be the permanent host.
Who else does the show with you? What are each of their roles?
Being the female Host of BLI in the Morning for me is kinda like being the girl in high school stuck doing a group project with the class clown who's hilariously funny and quick with an answer but spends the majority of his time flirting with ladies (Drew) and the loveable yet wildly insane, inappropriate, loose cannon who's constantly letting non-filtered thoughts exit his mouth and then getting detention for it (Randy). I genuinely love them both like family members... annoying-ass brothers who harass me daily but... family members all the same. I'm the more conservative "good girl" who keeps the boys in line (to the best of my ability) while at the same time boggling their uber-male minds with my girly preferences, high maintenance demands, and honest confessions.
When does preparation for the next day's show begin?
The minute the show ends we're working on the next day's show. After a show meeting at 11, with a general plan for the next day, I spend roughly 4-5 hours a day at home doing everything from writing a dirt report to scouring over my favorite sites... which I visit IN ORDER like a person with an obsessive compulsive disorder. I edit audio occasionally and I try to give myself time to think over all the excessively girly topics I can pull straight out of the awkward happenings in my life/ relationship and those of my friends. Part of my prepping is making sure Amanda Greene (WKRZ) and I connect at some point during the day even if it's over BBM so we can bounce ideas.
Let's talk about the show. Being in the shadow of New York City,
shows that can be heard on the island, how are you able to cut through?
Yeah ya know, the thought of competing with Elvis Duran... Scott Shannon... Imus and all the other legends' whose radio home is the biggest city in the nation is a thought that could really intimidate and mentally ruin a host out on Long Island... but to tell you the truth, I don't think about them. I don't check their sites... I don't know what they're doing or what they talk about (except when my mom- a PLJ P1- reports back with a piece of show prep that I should probably talk about since Scott and Todd did.) I love our show... we genuinely walk in and have fun from 5:30 when we start to the end when occasionally we beg our bosses to let us stay on till noon. We are laughing all morning... on air, off air. None of us (sorry guys) are polished pros... but we're honest and ridiculously open. We have a unique product that we're putting out. No other show we compete with sounds anything like us. Yeah they may be "paying more bills" more often than we are, but I bank on the fact that there's a niche of Long Islanders that relate to us and what we talk about, enjoy our outrageousness, and want to laugh with us.
What are some of your most popular benchmark bits?
One of my favorite games that our listeners love... every Wednesday is "Multiple Ma'ams." This is the game where Randy, a 47 year old white gay male whose voice is often mistaken for one belonging to a curvaceous black lady, extends the olive branch of friendship out across our nation and dials unsuspecting people at random. The question is how many times will the person he talks to mistake him for a woman in a 2 minute phone call. The listener closest to the actual number of Ma'ams wins fabulous prizes.
Another one that our listeners love is Name Mama's Melody (ripped off of Fitz at The Wolf in Seattle- Randy's former show).We get Randy's 78 year old mother on the phone. She is a lovely little person who hates our show and constantly yells at us for putting her on hold, forcing her to listen to "that garbage" we play- but who also has plenty to say about The Bachelor and Dancing with the Stars. Our producer has given her lyrics to a popular 'BLI song she sings them in her own little melody... listeners guess the song. We also rotate through: Mama's Boy Bust (On Long Island we have a lot of Italian Mama's Boys... fed up wives and girlfriends call us to listen-in while we offer her Mama's Boy flowers. Will he send them to his wife or mother if offered a free bouquet?... wife listening in.. if he says mom... yikes.)
To Catch a Cheater (War of the Roses) Couple's Court (Any relationship problem... each side presents their case... who will Long Island decide wins the argument?) Affection Rejection (A person contacts us because he or she went out on what they thought was a great date... the person never contacted them again... we call with that person with their date listening in and ask why it was "one and done" situation.)
Websites you go to daily?
Complete Sheet, NY Post, Newser, Huff Po, The Frisky, Drudge, DListed, erez, MZ, people, Egotastic, awker, Pop Sugar online, mnotobsessed, radarOnline, cosmopolitan, Jezebel, askMen, yahoo, SN.
Some of your personal most memorable on-air moments?
I will never forget opening the mics at 5:30 in the morning the day after the shootings at Virginia Tech. I started to talk and my voice just cracked. That was the hardest day I've ever had to get through on the radio in the last 8 years. I graduated from Tech in 2002 and still have a lot of friends there. All I did the day of the shootings was sit in front of the TV silently watching. It was hard to believe that it was real. I truly didn't think I would be able to get through the morning show the next day. I called my PD Jeremy and asked him if I could take my first ever personal day and he told me that he wanted me go on the air the next day and do whatever I felt was right. So I did. I cried a lot... raw emotion flowing over the airwaves. Some of my fav moments?... I not only had the opportunity to surprise Ran and Drew with the news that I was pregnant on the air, but I also went through labor ON THE AIR... contractions 6-8 minutes apart... meanwhile the studio was draped in tarp, Randy and Drew were adorned in ponchos in case my water broke. I gave birth later that day - July 22nd 2009!
There was also the time when Randy showed up at our co-host Drew's parents house (yes, he was living in their basement at the time @ age 26)... in red silk lingerie... at 5AM to awaken him with the news that we selected him as our new co-host... the police were called.
Then there was the time that my life flashed before my eyes when Randy set off FIREWORKS in the studio as a surprise. It was the scariest moment of my career... there was a slight fire issue.
I mentioned guests, are you big into in-studio guests? Best/worst ever?
Well we would be but we're literally banned from talking to a lot of our core artists because Randy offends them by saying wildly inappropriate things. If anyone knows any of the following artists and can put in a good word for us we'd love to have them on again for a second chance... Pink, Justin Timberlake, Adam Lambert, Christina Aguilera, Kelly Clarkson, Justin Bieber, Chris Daughtry, Lady Gaga, Nick Lachey, Usher, David Archuleta, Basically anyone on Jive or RCA
My all time highlight was meeting Donnie from New Kids on the Block... I got so nervous I couldn't speak properly... there was sweat involved... awkward staring... inarticulate questions. Oddly, it was in a small room in the back of a Wal-Mart... this was not the way I envisioned our first meeting when I fantasized about him as a 4th grader.
What's the weirdest, most bizarre response you ever got from a question?
We were talking to Justin Bieber about the video of the little 3 year old girl, Cody, who would cry every time she heard his music... the video was everywhere- we had talked about it on our show. He said he met her on Jimmy Kimmel...I said, "Oh my gosh how did her tiny little 3 year old little self respond when she saw you in person!?" He responded, "You can YouTube it." I decided to try again, "She loves you so much, was she losing it?!? Did she just start crying hysterically when she saw you?!" Pregnant pause... "You can YouTube it." At that moment Drew chime in... "Yes Justin but we're on the radio, so why don't you tell us what happened." Randy piped in... "Justin do you like doing radio interviews?" Silence... "Yeah I like the exposure."
Last month Chris Brown walked out of a radio interview. Did that ever happen to you?
Justin Bieber hung up on us. We were happy.
Who's your biggest source of feedback on the show? Whose opinion do you take to the bank?
We have daily meetings with our wonderfully unique PD Jeremy Rice and BLI's OM/Morning Show Mom, Nancy Cambino. These meetings consist of everything from planning the next day's show, to brainstorming future ideas, sometimes we look at research. Randy will hit on Jeremy... they give us their honest opinions on things we did on the show that day... Randy will hit on Jeremy some more. Sometimes we play "Guess the Complaint" where Nancy will read an email she received about one of us and we have to guess who has offended someone on that particular day. I'm also a big Lorna Ozmon (talent coach) fan. When we have a session with Lorna I just sit there silently sometimes, mouth agape, writing feverishly, soaking her in the valuable pearls she effortlessly drops in our laps. It's like she always knows exactly what we need to hear each time she comes.
A whole day with anyone in the business; who would it be? Whose opinion do you take to the bank? Randy Lane, duh. (Angela Perreli too!) If they were busy I would prob just get together with Amanda Greene (WKRZ), brainstorm, drink champagne and wind up crying for some reason.
First person in your career that made a difference? Whose opinion do you take to the bank?
Kevin Scott (PD WXLK). I will forever be grateful to Kevin for not laughing in the face of a 20 year old who, one day on a whim, drove 45 minutes to get to the radio station, walked into the lobby, and asked the receptionist, "How do you get on the radio?" He took the time to sit down and tell me; and ultimately wound up (years later) giving me a chance at my dream job. As far as on air, once I got my chance at doing mornings, I had the opportunity to sit across from the person in this business that I admire most, Danny Meyers (Host of the K92 Mornin' Thang- WXLK) . I truly could write an unauthorized biography on Danny (It would have to be unauthorized because he's far too humble to allow a person to say as many nice things about him as I have to say.) He just gets it... people who get it know what I mean. His gift of story-telling, creative energy, insane work ethic, and his ability to create laugh-till-you-can't-talk-or-breathe-moments out of truth and pain are all ways that he inspires me. He's also ALWAYS willing to teach and share his knowledge with young talent. Now hosting, when I'm trying to figure out how to present something on the air or how to respond to certain situations I often use my "What Would Danny Do?" filter.
Advice you never forgot?
While he never actually articulated it to me, one of the most valuable things that I learned from working with/ watching Danny, is that a good host sets up the rest of the team and gives the show members constant opportunities to shine. A good host isn't all about getting the last word or punch line. A good host is truly "for" the other show members. A good host never leaves anyone "hanging" on the air... when necessary a good host will dive to the ground and take a face full of sand to keep the ball up or provide a perfect set so someone else on the team can spike it . . and other various ball references. That selfless attitude Danny has as a host fosters an environment where team members feel confident and trust the person that inspires me is his patience. Patience is such a rare quality to find in a person because it takes such discipline to maintain. My husband has it down and he reaps the benefits- less stress... slowness to anger... a peaceful demeanor. As a high strung radio personality I try to emulate his patient ways, often failing. As radio peeps know, it takes a strong, confident person to be married to a radio personality... an even stronger one to be married to a morning show person. Our listeners call Kevin a saint. One guy actually called in to thank Kevin for taking me off the market so no other man would have to be subjected to me. While I often stretch every fiber of his patient being, he also has his imperfections which have provided me with endless show material. Thanks, Kev.
Do you listen to much radio when you're off the air?
My freaking neighbor blasts BLI pretty much all day... I'm currently listening to Usher... through the window... otherwise I usually treat myself to silence when possible.
Whose show do you always make it a point to listen to?
I listen to The Kane Show on Hot 99.5 in DC a lot. I make it a point to see what Kane's talking about because his show (as far as format and his cast) is the closest to ours that I've found. Kane is insanely well-prepped, edgy, relatable to his audience, he's always talking about the stories that people in the demo are talking about... also I love Sarah's sassiness and enjoy Sammy's stoner giggle.
Any radio pet peeves?
Positioning statements that take 15 seconds to spew out when you just want to get into the break... especially when you only have 3 minutes to talk and a lot to say and we're measured by PPM anyway. JEREMY RICE DON'T BE MAD! I HEART YOU!
Which TV shows do you TiVo regularly?
Oprah. I sit there taking notes and bawling my eyes out... what am I supposed to do after season 25!?!? I also enjoy Gossip Girl A LOT- I would so be friends with S and B. 16 & Pregnant (SUCH A GUILTY PLEASURE), The Jersey Shore (How many guilty pleasures to we get????) Otherwise, It's very hard for me to commit to new shows because every show I ever like starts sucking around season 3 and then gets cancelled. Grey's Anatomy, for example, once the best show on television, is now disappointing.Then there's the ones that watch that I'm so over but like a sick addict I keep going back to because I'm scared to miss anything if by chance something does happen... Idol... DWTS
Social media: Are you a daily twitterer or FB'ooker?
Social networking and I go through phases... sometimes I'm updating multiple times per day... then I'll go through a dry spell for a few days. It's like my sex life... maybe the two are somehow correlated.
How much celebrity dirt do you dish on your daily show?
Dirt tests HUGE for us... and we love to get into it and have completely an endless supply of completely unfounded opinions on any story you throw at us. We do dirt every hour.
I asked Kelly Ford this question last month, now your turn: What's your take on Tiger? Jesse James, John Edwards?
I feel like we're playing marry date or dump...Yeah... I mean the celeb cheating roster for 2009-2010 has provided the foundation for our dirt reports for quite a while now. To be honest, it was depressing. In the midst of Tiger's awkward press conference, women with massive boobs and tattooed foreheads speaking out, and Rielle Hunter basically straddling a Dora stuffed animal... I found myself moping around the house in sweats, eating Hagan Daz pints, watching chick flicks and projecting paranoia onto my husband. Like a crazy person I would hear myself saying out loud, "do all men cheat?" The dirt report almost sent me back to the therapist's couch or at least searching for a Xanax.
And just for the record...Marry... John Edwards so I could shave his head in his sleep one night when he least expects it. Two America's THAT John! Date... Jesse James... the Vanilla Gorilla? Too intriguing. Dump... Tiger Woods... he would never go for me... my hair is nowhere near blonde enough and my boobs are 3 sizes too small.
Last year was extra special: In July you gave birth to your first child? First, congratulations! How's it feel to be a Mother and how's life as a morning radio mom?
I literally get butterflies of excitement and hurry out of the car when I pull into the driveway after the show. The best moment of my day is walking in the door and sneaking up on my 9-month old daughter Joelle so when she turns around her little face lights up and she gives me an open-mouth grin (followed by a massive open-mouth bite on my cheek which I believe is a kiss). As far as balancing life as a morning radio mom... I'm not going to say it's easy... yesterday Joelle had to go to her first client meeting with me where she almost ate the spot copy the client gave me... they were very forgiving.
I have a lot of help from my family with watching her but some days I'm on my own prepping for the next day's show while simultaneously singing "C is for Cookie" as she shoves sweet potato Graduate Puffs in my mouth with one hand, using the other to bang her wet little fingers on the keys of my laptop.
If there's female personality reading this who's contemplating having a baby, what's the best advice you'd give them? e-mail me!! (DanaonBLI@gmail.com) I'd love to talk about this with any of my fellow radio ladies but I don't think I have enough space for another LONG WINDED answer. (And this one would be really long-winded!) For brevity's sake, if you have a supportive family and a supportive radio fam... you'll make it work. Oh and if you can plan your announcement for the spring book and maternity leave for the summer book your management team would really appreciate it.
Final Q: In Italian, Donato means "doer." Coincidence?
I would love to pretend I was that clever and well-thought out back at age 22 just starting my radio career! It must have been fate when Danny Meyers and I stumbled upon it while thumbing through issues of NY Magazine looking for a good Italian name for me.