The radio business is not for those to whom planting roots is important. It's pretty much the norm for on-air personalities to have called multiple towns and cities home.
And then there's Marilyn Russell.
Russell, who since early 2017 has held down the 5:30-9 a.m. shift on oldies outlet WOGL-FM (98.1), has certainly moved up and down the dial. But the Mayfair native, a twice-divorced mother of a 26-year-old son, has defied industry convention by never working anywhere but her hometown.
A Lincoln High School alum who studied journalism at LaSalle University, Russell started — pretty much by accident — in 1993 at the fondly remembered alt-rock outlet WDRE-FM (now the hip-hop outpost Boom 103.9). She went on to another defunct station, Y-100 (now soulful WRNB-FM, 100.3), where she sidekicked for current morning-drive titans Preston Elliot and Steve Morrison of WMMR-FM (93.3) and subsequently to WXPN-FM (88.5), WMGK-FM (103.9), and BEN-FM (95.7) before landing at OGL. This year marks her 25th anniversary on the local airwaves.
I went to work at an ad agency because I wanted to be a copywriter. But [executives there] constantly said to me, 'Why aren't you doing voiceover work?' I said, 'Tell me more.' That singlehandedly changed the track of my career. I went back to school for acting and voiceover — this was 1988 — and I started getting work as a voiceover talent. I did an enormous amount of work for Comcast, who was just coming into the market.
In 1993, a little radio station landed in my neighborhood in Jenkintown. It was WDRE. I went over and said, 'Do you need anyone to do anything? And they said, 'Yeah, we need somebody to answer phones in the afternoon, and we need somebody to do [public service announcements].' That was it. The minute I got there and started working, it felt like that's where I was supposed to be. My first morning show was in the summer of 1993.
Hy Lit, Harvey Holiday. I used to record Ed Sciaky's Sunday Night Alternative show on WYSP. And I used to tape Michael Tearson's Guerilla Theater [on WMMR in the early 1980s].
I've never had an offer. I did interview in New York once. I thought it would be an incredible experience that would either kill me or make me stronger. But if anyone is reading this in Hawaii or San Diego, I am more than available [laughs].
Having a voice and being able to share great stories of positive things happening in our world. We're surrounded by a lot of negative craziness right now, and I think what helps me is knowing if somebody's having a bad day, I can maybe put a smile on their face. We're going to jam together to the music that's cranked up.
But for me, it's about the community. I've gotten to meet leaders of nonprofits that I never would have known, that have filled my heart with great energy.
I got to sit in a room with Liam Neeson, and that wasn't too shabby. He looked fantastic, smelled even better, and has that beautiful accent, and was really funny. Russell Crowe for me was a big deal because everybody said, 'He's so difficult, you're never going to get him to come around.' And he was difficult, but I did get him to cheer up. I'm very, very proud of that.
No, because I never went to broadcasting school, so I was never that 'W-OHHHH–G-L!' girl. I was always just a person who was lucky enough to talk on the radio for work.
It would be voiceovers and publicity, too. If I wasn't on air, I'd be on the back end [of radio], doing programming or promotion. I would just avoid sales because they make you dress up. That would be the hard part for me. I always had an aversion to pantyhose; working in a bank was not going to be for me.
I do feel terrestrial radio is very healthy. I do an enormous amount of endorsements, so I know our [advertisers] are reaching their audience. But do you have to add in a social-media component? Yes. So that's 1.4 million listeners plus a bazillion online people that are also connected to me. I think that's a win-win.
Prepare. Prepare, prepare, prepare. It's so much healthier to know what you're going to say. Be ready. And say something that's worth hearing, not just mindless chatter. That's what I would tell her, because Marilyn Russell was so bad in the beginning.