It is her gift of conversation — coupled with her honest take on relationships, her commitment to her listeners and her ongoing contributions to the radio industry — that led the National Association of Broadcasters to induct Delilah, the nationally syndicated radio personality, into the NAB Broadcasting Hall of Fame. Delilah will be formally inducted at today’s Radio Luncheon.
The honest and genuine nature in which Delilah conducts herself at home and on the air may explain her ongoing popularity. Over the last three decades, Delilah expanded her adult contemporary radio show audience to some 8 million Americans each week on 160 stations across the country and on the Armed Forces Network around the world. According to the NAB she is the most-listened-to-woman on radio in the United States.
Delilah spoke by phone before one of her radio shifts to the NAB Show Daily News about what she loves about working in radio, what changes the radio industry needs to make and why she thinks radio remains the greatest communication medium.
NAB Show Daily News: There must have been a point when you realized that radio was the medium for you. When did you have that “ah-ha” moment?
Delilah: I asked myself, “why am I killing myself full-time [in education to pursue another career] when I love being on the air?” Radio is what I love. It is fulfilling. There is an immediate feedback when working in radio; you don’t have to jump through a thousand hoops — you turn on the microphone and talk to people. There’s that instant connection.
Daily News: You had the good fortune to jump into radio at a fairly young age.
Delilah: Jerome and Steve Kenagy and engineer Wes Lockard (owners and an engineer at of KDUN(AM) in Reedsport, Ore.) gave me by break in radio. They were judges for a speech contest I won in junior high.
[They said]: “Your daughter really likes to talk.” And my mom started to apologize on my behalf, saying “We tried to get her to be quiet.” And they said, “This is a really good thing!” They took me to the radio station [where I reported on] school news and sports, and [learned] how to sell commercials.
I went from school from 8 a.m. to noon and was at the station from 1 p.m. until sundown, because we were a day-timer. I learned how to get a First-Class broadcast license. I was the youngest in the state of Oregon to get that.
Daily News: What have been some of your most satisfying experiences working in this industry?
Delilah: Just yesterday, I got an email from a man in prison who said my program has helped keep him sane. He paid the price [for his mistakes] with four years in prison, has since reconciled with his family, and said “Your program has kept me sane.” When you get a confirmation like that, I know I’m in the right place every night. There’s no way you can get that [immediacy] on TV.
Daily News: What do you think attracts listeners to your program?
Delilah: I made a promise to my listeners that this show is not about politics; it’s not about beating you up. I’m not there to take a moral stand. It would be much easier to do it the other way, and go for the ratings. If you could hear some of the calls I take, it would be easier to mock someone and turn it into huge joke. [But my listeners] know they’re being respected and honored.
Daily News: When did you realize your show might be destined for a larger audience?
Delilah: [Radio execs] Ken Spitzer and Mike McVay took my show into syndication in 1996 when I couldn’t get my foot in the [syndication] door. We started out with three stations and grew to 12, and were number one on all 12 stations. [Thereafter, the distribution rights were sold to Broadcast Programming in Seattle.]
Daily News: What is your perspective about radio today and where it’s headed?
Delilah: We’ve got the most vital, alive, wonderful medium in the world. It’s the most-listened-to medium — it always has been, always will be. With all the technological advances and all the changes we’ve seen … nothing else even comes close. When you look at the hours that people consume radio today and look at time spent listening, it’s still through the roof. That hasn’t changed.
Whatever changes do come, in the delivery system or through technology, people still want good content. People still crave good content. In my mind, it doesn’t matter how that is being delivered.
Daily News: What advice do you have for radio’s leadership on the future of the industry?
Delilah: I’d love to see radio leadership find a way for young talent to develop their skills. One of the things that’s happened with consolidation and syndication [is that we] no longer have weekend slots [for young people] to develop their talent. I’d love to see radio leaders address that.
Daily News: What are the goals of your show on a daily basis?
Delilah: It’s the same prayer every night. Our focus is to let my voice reach whoever needs to hear it, and [for me to] say whatever needs to be said to make their night better. If that’s one person, great. If it’s 100 people or 8.5 million, fabulous. When you finish interacting with me, no matter where, when our conversation comes to a close, I want you to feel enriched. I want to be in the addition column, not the subtraction column. To add wisdom, to add insight.