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Radio DJ Ann Kelly still connects with listeners after 25 years

When Ann Kelly describes herself as a morning person, she's not referring to the dawn that greets people with a pleasant sunrise and the crow of a rooster. • No, Kelly arises at 2 a.m. every weekday, armed with a high-protein smoothie and a zeal for her job as morning drive host at WDUV-FM 105.5. • "I adore doing mornings," Kelly said. "Face it, I don't have to deal with Tampa Bay morning rush hour traffic. When I drive to work, it's just me, a bunch of possums and the sheriff's deputies." • Hours later, Kelly hits the airwaves, introducing traffic reports, breezing over the day's news, talking weather and playing songs like the Supremes' You Keep Me Hangin' On, a rather appropriate tune given that she has been hanging on in the Tampa Bay market since 1989. • In an industry that shuffles personalities and formats like a deck of cards, Kelly's tenure of greeting listeners with light favorites and a lively voice has spanned parts of four decades. • With 25 years on the air, she continues the challenge of doing morning drive on WDUV and, with a little radio magic, afternoon drive on WWRM-FM 94.9. • Kelly recently spoke with Tampa Bay Times columnist Ernest Hooper about her passion for being a DJ.

How do you manage to do both a morning drive and afternoon drive show?

It's the strictest schedule I've ever been on. When I tell people I go to bed at 6 o'clock at night, they have to believe it. I'm live in the morning, and if I have to be live in the afternoon, I will be. In our industry, we're doing more with fewer people. When I think about how many people we employed when I started, and how few people there are now, it's very scary. It's a lot of discipline. I have to say no. I can't always do an event or be somewhere.

The radio industry always has been volatile, but it seems even more volatile today than in the past. How have you survived?

I'm very lucky and very blessed to be with one of the best corporations, Cox Media Group. It's a company that has a heart. It understands that not everything is going to be perfect and not everyone is going to be perfect, but they've given me a chance to grow. The fact that they've given me two shows says a lot.

From your perspective, how much has the music changed in 25 years?

I don't think the attitude has changed, it's just presentation. Everybody got upset about Miley Cyrus but, hello, we had Madonna. Miley is doing the same thing Madonna did, just in a different way. I can appreciate all the music, from heavy metal all the way up to the soft stuff. It's what goes into the music. The talent and creativity is there. Do I appreciate a lot of the stuff that's gratuitous? Probably not, but I do appreciate the talent.

Did you grow up loving music and wanting to be a DJ?

I've been a fan of radio for a very long time. I grew up in the Cleveland area. It's so bizarre how we remember things. I remember going to the grocery store with my friends in Garfield Heights, Ohio, because Ronnie Barrett was going to make an appearance. He had the big mic and the big truck, and I remember him buying us candy so we would shut up and he could do his remote. I remember hearing Grant Hudson do the news on CKLW, the "Big 8," out of Detroit and if someone was killed, he would say, "The Motor City murder meter just went up eight notches." I remember Murray Saul doing his rant on WMMF at 5 o'clock and he would slam into Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run to kick off your weekend.

So what was your first job in Tampa Bay like 25 years ago? Do you remember the songs you were playing?

I would hate to go back and look at a playlist. I'm probably playing them on the Dove right now (laughs). It was such an interesting process. It was the first time I was on the air with my then-husband, Read Shepherd.

What made it an "interesting process"?

I think when you're on air with your spouse, you expose a lot of your personal life whether you mean to or not, and you have to live with that 24/7. Sometimes, it can be very hard to turn off. You're letting people in, but we discovered it was an awful lot of fun because you learn that the people out there are just like you.

A personal question: You and Read aren't married anymore?

We were on the air together for 12 ½ years, and married for 17 ½. The greatest blessing is that we're still very close friends. He's working at WGY in Albany (N.Y). When we celebrated my 25th anniversary in the performance studio, they were showing video tributes and they were showing a tribute he sent in from New York. While I watched it, they smuggled him into the room. It was one of the most touching moments of my life. We've known each other since college. We know too much about each other not to be friends. It's safer.

Did you have kids?

No, we weren't blessed with kids. But I had Read, that was enough (laughs).

Who are your favorites?

I love Billy Joel. I live for Springsteen. I grew up adoring Barry Manilow. I just saw him when he was here (at the Tampa Bay Times Forum). I looked at all the people in the crowd and thought, 'Wow, we all grew up together.' That was the coolest thing.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

It has to be the people, the people I work with and the people I get out and meet. I love when I can get out in the community and connect with people who listen every morning. It's fun to meet celebrities, but when you meet someone who says you've made a difference in their life with this one little thing you did, that's what makes it all worthwhile. Those are the people that matter.

It must mean a lot to know you're touching people when you play certain songs.

I love it when people say, "That's my song and have a reason." I know what they mean because certain songs always make me emotional, good, bad or otherwise. That's why I love music. It's so powerful. I love a song that gives me a chill. That's a good song.

Weekend Conversation is edited for brevity and clarity.

Radio DJ Ann Kelly still connects with listeners after 25 years 05/01/14 [Last modified: Thursday, May 1, 2014 3:31pm]
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