Radio ‘broads’ take Broadcast Legends spotlight
By Ben Fong-Torres, Radio Columnist
April 22, 2015
Photo: John Evans “Broads in Broadcasting” luncheon participants Dusti Rhodes (left), Kate Scott, Nikki Blakk, Trish Bell, Sherry Brown, Maria Lopez, Marilyn Pittman, Lisa St. Regis and Celeste Perry.
It was all about the “broads” at the most recent luncheon gathering of social group the Broadcast Legends.
The local chapter of Broads in Broadcasting, an organization of women who get together to socialize and raise money for good causes, took the spotlight at the March 21 luncheon at Spenger’s in Berkeley. “Headlines,” news tidbits from the distant past, usually read by manly men, featured Sherry Brown of KGO and Melissa McConnell of KJOI in Stockton. Dusti Rhodes, founder of the local chapter, said women were making “slow, yet steady progress. … We’re seeing more and more women in all-important drive (time) — even a few rising to management.” Rhodes has worked with only two female program directors in her long career: Sam Bellamy of Los Angeles and the late Pat Evans at KFOG.
The panel, smoothly moderated by Brown, included Celeste Perry (KOSF 103.7 and KOFY-TV), Kate Scott (KNBR and KNTV-TV), Lisa St. Regis (KISQ, “Kiss”), Trish Bell (KABL960.com), Nikki Blakk (KSAN, “The Bone”) and Maria Lopez (SmoothJazzNetwork.com).
Asked to name their mentors and inspirations, they offered male and female names. Perry saluted top 40 programming legend Ron Jacobs (“Boss Radio”), her first boss, in Honolulu; DJ Keala Kai (“a woman with a natural style”); and New York FM pioneer Alison “The Nightbird” Steele. Blakk was inspired by fellow KSAN DJ Steven Seaweed. Bell named Chet Tart, general manager at KMBY in Monterey, who emphasized being “relatable, local.” Lopez, who was doing traffic at KIOI (logging commercials), said Valerie Geller, the news director, took her to lunch, listened to her talk and told her she should be on the air. And St. Regis named KBAY’s Lissa Kreisler as her first inspiration to get into radio.
Blakk was the most candid when the panel was asked about the challenges of being a woman broadcaster. Corporate ownership, she said, has made it easier for women to be “glossed over,” especially with management often headquartered out of town. “They’re not here.” But, she added, “anyone who’s worked with me directly has shown incredible support and respect.” Budget cuts have forced many DJs to prerecord (voice track) shows. Some do separate programming for numerous stations. St. Regis is on seven stations. Lopez, the smooth-jazz DJ, has been on eight at a time, recording her tracks out of a spare bedroom in her East Bay home.
Many female broadcasters have to juggle their odd-hours work with their families. Some were fortunate. Perry said that when she had a baby in 1991, her station “built a studio in my home.” Rhodes said that KSAN built a makeshift nursery for her at the station and that, during her show, she’d be nursing her baby while queuing up a record with her free hand.
On the other, not-so-free hand, Bell recalled missing a day of work. When her boss asked why, she said Adam, her baby, was sick, “and I couldn’t bring him to day care. He said, ‘Well, he doesn’t work here!’”
The women also told about stalkers. “Two people have asked for pictures of my feet,” KNBR’s Scott said. That revelation annoyed “The Bone’s” Blakk. “Kate took my feet story!” she said. “If you Google ‘Nikki Blakk,’ the second or third option … is ‘Nikki Blakk’s feet.’”
After hearing stalker tales from St. Regis, Brown and Bell, and telling her own, Perry reasoned jokingly, “The moral of the story is that people get really connected to us.”
Women showed up in force for the event, including “broads” Heather Hamann, Trish Robbins, Miranda Wilson, Debi Kennedy, Lynne Sloan, Kim Schaffer and Janet Lawson, along with Joanie Greggains, Melanie Morgan, Valerie Grant, Ramona Gutierrez, Gloria Duffy, Karen Lipney, Cynthia Reinholtz Edwards and Carol Nelson.
News to him: Ed Cavagnaro, director of news and programming at KCBS, was tieless. “Casual Friday,” he said as we headed to his office in the newsroom. Beginning Tuesday, it’ll be “casual life,” as Cavagnaro will retire after 37 years, the last 26 spent as a news director.
Cavagnaro, who’s only 63, said he’s retiring “because I’ve been doing it so long, and it is a pretty stressful job.” He and wife Barbara are also brand-new grandparents, and he’s looking into doing volunteer work and teaching, targeting young people and journalism.
That’s how Cavagnaro started. He attended UC Berkeley as a journalism major, then earned a master’s degree at Northwestern University. He began at KCBS in 1977 in the promotion department, writing press releases and helping produce a station newsletter. KCBS was mostly news, with a few magazine-style programs and call-in shows. Within six months, Cavagnaro was a news editor, gathering information by phone and writing copy. “My first shift was brutal,” he said, as he worked the 2 to 10 a.m. shift on weekends, then the 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. for three weekdays.
He was promoted to news director in 1988, two years before KCBS went all-news. As with his staffers, his was essentially a 24/7 job. When news broke, he often broke away from family and events to get to the station or to oversee coverage by phone.
And that aspect of the job is what he’ll miss the most: “reacting to news events with everyone, as a group.” He glanced at the newsroom, where editors and producers were chatting. “It’s exciting every day. And I’ll miss the impact the station has, what we hear from people about big stories and how they rely on us.”
His job, he said, changed as news radio changed. “In the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, you were a utility,” he reasoned. “You are telling people what they need to know — the time, weather, traffic reports and breaking news. From the ’90s on, listeners could get that information elsewhere. Our role has changed. We’ve added more depth, more perspective, more stories you can’t get anywhere else. More than ever, the news is about people and people’s experiences. The earthquake in 1989 was all about numbers. But we have to remember the people in Oakland at the Cypress freeway structure, putting up ladders to go in and save people. … More than ever, it’s about storytelling.” <z_solid_box name=”z_solid_box” displayname=”z_solid_box”>
Ben Fong-Torres is a freelance writer. E-mail: [email protected]
(Late in the week, Jack Swanson was named to replace Cavagnaro at KCBS. He was for many years the News and Program Director for KGO Radio in San Francisco, and later became President and General Manager of KING Radio in Seattle, then returned to KGO/KSFO as the Vice President of Programming before joining KCBS.)
READ MORE HERE AT THE S.F. CHRONICLE WEBSITE