Delilah grew up in Reedsport, Oregon, and her first job was at the local AM station, KDUN, while she was still in high school. After traveling the country, working at different radio stations and building her audience, Delilah was syndicated at the age of 36.
Delilah’s audience loves her show — they love her — and she loves them all back, with a nightly goal of bringing people together and helping them deal with life’s struggles while showing them her positive approach to life. The goal of her show is to deliver hope.
2021 is Delilah’s 25th year of radio syndication; her show debuted at the beginning of 1996, on just four radio stations. Today she is the most listened to woman on radio in America, heard on over 130 stations reaching 10 million monthly listeners.
Delilah won a 2016 NAB Marconi Award for Network/Syndicated Personality of the Year and has been inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame and the NAB Broadcasting Hall of Fame.
Radio Ink is proud to present this year’s MIW Legend, Delilah, Premiere Networks syndicated host and BFF to her legion of listeners.
Radio Ink: What has the year of COVID been like for you?
Delilah: When the first outbreak was announced near us, in a nursing home outside of Seattle, we wasted no time and took our kids (the five still at home) and my elderly in-laws to our remote cattle ranch in Oregon. While it’s been challenging, and a sad time for those who have lost family and friends, there have also been so many blessings.
The year has not been without challenges for us — nine of us living in a 1,200-square-foot home, using a makeshift home studio, home schooling, and more. But so many beautiful things transpired.
We did this cool thing at dinner each night: we’d ask a question and go around the table taking turns answering questions like, “If you had a $1 million and could keep just $10,000, and had to give the rest away, what would you do with it?” Or, “If you could go to Mars, but knew you’d never get to come back home, would you go?” Great conversations, with funny, insightful, and thought-provoking answers, providing fabulous inspiration before my show started, night after night.
Radio Ink: How is your family doing?
Delilah: For the most part, we’re good, thanks for asking. My kids are missing friends and personal interaction, but hopefully there are brighter days on the horizon. Things will begin to open, and we can get back to living our normal lives — back to school, and being with friends, and going to work out at the gym, for instance.
Radio Ink: Why did you decide you wanted to be on the radio?
Delilah: Oh, gosh, that’s a good question. I’ve loved this medium since early childhood, listening to the Lone Ranger and Mystery Theater on my grandad’s big old stand-up radio.
I was a Girl Scout in my hometown of Reedsport, Oregon; we went hiking, camping, did community outreach projects, and took field trips. One of those trips was to the local radio station, KDUN-AM. I was only 11 but remember it like it was yesterday. The tower and broadcast studio were in the same location — a tiny shack with goats on the roof! I got to take home copy from the AP Wire and was hooked even back then!
I was fortunate to get to be on that radio station, KDUN-AM, first in junior high and continuing on through high school. The station owners were judges in a school speech contest that I participated in, and after seeing my performance, offered me a job covering school news and sports on air. Later, they encouraged me to get an FCC license so I could open the station. It allowed me to be the first voice on the air before going to high school classes. It was a big deal at the time!
Radio Ink: What happened along the way in your career when you thought or knew you could take your show national?
Delilah: I wanted to be syndicated before I knew what the word meant! Before I even had “a show” I would lay in bed with my AM radio and pick up clear channels at night. (Not the company, actual stations with signals that traveled for thousands of miles.) I’d hear Wolfman Jack and think, “I want to be as cool as he is” — but obviously in my own way.
Later, after I had graduated from high school, left KDUN, and moved to Eugene, Oregon, in 1978, I ran the Larry King Live show on the station there and always thought, “If he can talk to people in more than one market, so can I!”
Radio Ink: Tell us about the “show-off” gene you told The Daily you had. What’s that all about?
Delilah: If you’ve ever had a child who can’t sit down, always wants to be the center of attention, loves to dance and spin, and talks too loud, they possibly have the “show-off gene”! Not sure if geneticists would agree, but I’m pretty sure it’s in our DNA. Folks who don’t have it don’t get us. Folks who have it know what I’m talking about, and are drawn to one another like moths to the flame.
Radio Ink: How and why did you decide on this type of radio format — the encouragement and support for listeners that you exhibit every night?
Delilah: I didn’t. It’s just who I am. When I started being more myself on the air and incorporating the calls I was taking each night in the studio, it worked. Chris Mays was my program director in Seattle who gave me permission to do something different, instead of simply reading liners and saying the time and temp!
Radio Ink: Do you ever go back and listen to old tapes from your early days?
Delilah: Not until recently. I thought that I had lost them, but I found a bunch in the basement last year, and my business partner, Kraig Kitchin, had them digitized for me. It was weird to listen to 26-year-old Delilah!
Radio Ink: Did you ever think it would be this big, and so successful for so many years ?
Delilah: Nope. When I became syndicated on 12 stations in 1996, I was beyond thrilled!
Radio Ink: When you found out you were going to be syndicated all over the country, what was that like? Take us back to that day.
Delilah: Ken Spitzer, a friend of a friend, contacted me. He said he was running a group of stations in Rochester, New York, and might be in a position to help me get syndicated. At the time I was nine months pregnant and had just been fired at WMGK-FM in Philly. I needed a job to support my family, and Ken was looking to put something together with Mike McVay, but it didn’t happen.
So instead he put me in touch with a GM back in Boston (where I had been fired two years before!). John Laton hired me for a year at WSSH-FM before flipping the station to Jazz. That gap year enabled Ken and Mike to get everything lined up, and allowed me to make several trips to Oregon to spend time with my mom, who was battling brain cancer. She passed in September of 1995.
In February of 1996, Ken moved me and the kids and my longtime producer, Jane Bulman, to Rochester, New York, and we officially started the show in syndication! Mike convinced three stations he consulted into giving it a go at night, and in the space of 10 months, we grew to 12 stations, we had no budget, no syndication company, and the station we worked out of, WVOR-FM, was being sold at the time, but the sale was tied up by the FCC. Because of that, we had the freedom to develop the show the way we wanted. In 10 months, we grew the audience on all 12 affiliates to number one or number two in the ratings at night
We knew then we had a story to tell! Ken shopped us and sold us to a small company in Seattle that had never done live syndication before.
It was a learning curve for all of us, but it allowed me to go home to my family and move back to the first house I ever owned.
Radio Ink: Describe the relationship you have with your audience.
Delilah: My audience are my friends. They trust me to be who I am, and I give them the best content I can every single night. I made a promise to my listeners years ago that my show would be a safe place to come. I want my show to feel like a big picnic table where all are welcome — nothing fancy; I’m not there to impress anyone with my intellect or my political savvy. I’m there to be a friend, someone you can confide in and trust. Mother Teresa once said she wanted to be the pencil God used to write His love letter to the world. I want to be a voice He uses to speak His love to the world.
Radio Ink: Tell us about the research you do for your show every night. How do you prepare?
Delilah: Simple. I live my life each day, then share it with my listeners at night. I take the kids to choir rehearsal and to plays and to soccer games. I talk to everyone I meet, from the lady who takes my order at the coffee shop to the man who comes to clean my gutters. I go to Home Depot and buy too many plants and haul them home in the back of my SUV, and I spend time with my horses and my dogs.
I talk to the neighbors and make notes in my phone about the things that matter to them. I call Janey at least two or three times before the show, as well as my web and social media director, DeAnna Luke. I talk to my business partner, Kraig, and find out what the affiliates or advertisers want or need, and how to serve them.
I have three audiences: Group 1, my listeners who love me and care about the show in every way, shape, and form. Group 2, the casual listeners that I want to convert to Group 1. And Group 3, the program directors and advertisers who don’t always necessarily get the show but totally get the power and value of the show.
Radio Ink: How do you know you’ve made an impact on a listener? Can you share an example or two?
Delilah: There have been so many heartfelt stories shared by listeners. Adults who’ve told me I was their nighttime companion and sanity check during their turbulent adolescent years. Moms who told me they’ve found the strength to get through another evening of hardship, homework, and not enough “me” time because of my companionship. Listeners who have stood in a line for an hour to meet me so they could share their own heartache, knowing I’ve experienced and shared my own. It’s humbling, and it reinforces why I do what I do every evening.
Comments on social media and phone calls I take each night tell me I’m doing exactly what I was created to do. Every so often I send out a note to my staff labeled “Why We Do What We Do,” and attach a letter or e-mail from a listener who has been impacted by the show, so that they too know what we do is of value.
Here’s another example. Since losing my son Zack to suicide and talking about the negative impact that anti-depressant drugs had on him, dozens of young people have reached out. They say hearing Zack’s story helped them to seek help for depression and anxiety outside of dangerous prescription medication.
Radio Ink: Do you believe radio today still has that connection with the listener?
Delilah: Yes. Yes, yes, and yes!
Radio Ink: What advice do you have for young women interested in getting into broadcasting on the air in 2021?
Delilah: That’s a good question. My opinion is that if the industry leaders don’t stop insisting that we play just to the meters, our platform could disappear. That said, people are always going to want great content on whatever platform is popular. So develop your listening skills. Learn good diction and communication skills. Take acting classes, speech classes, and any time you have a chance to be on a microphone, take it!
Radio Ink: How long do you plan to continue being on the air?
Delilah: I love being on the radio. It’s not so much what I do as who I am. I have no plans to retire. I’ll just keep doing what I do until the Lord tells me it’s time for something else. My youngest child is 5 — so gotta get him through high school yet!