Kentuckians in Music
Radio Program Director Stacy Yelton
Who Inspired by a lifelong love of music, Stacy Yelton began a career as a radio broadcaster at International Broadcasting School. She has worked in radio since 1981. At WOXY in Oxford, OH, she developed the station’s alternative rock format. She worked as a DJ and music director at WKQQ in Lexington from 1984 to 1989 and as a DJ and news director at WOFX in Cincinnati from 1990 to 1993. After returning to Lexington and WKQQ in 1995, she began working at WUKY, the University of Kentucky’s public radio station, in 1997. For the last ten years she has hosted various programs and served as program director while being named “Lexington’s Best Disc Jockey” in ACE Weekly’s poll. You can hear her weekdays from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. on WUKY’s Adult Rock program, “spinning tunes that make listeners dance, think, laugh, or call the station to ask, ‘Hey, what was that song?’”
“My earliest musical memory is of putting my toddler-sized foot through my parents’ hi-fi record player. It had a ten-inch speaker behind its fabric covering, and I could perch there and reach the spindle and tone arm to play my records. I committed this horrible crime in a rush to play my favorite song, “California Dreamin’” by the Mamas and the Papas. I was eventually forgiven, though the hi-fi was never repaired.
“When transistor radios made their way to our house, I was hooked. I would strap the radio to my bicycle handlebars and listen as I rode. I sneaked the radio to school in the winter and listened all day long at the community swimming pool in the summer. Once I got my first portable cassette player, I was playing DJ non-stop. Around this time, I was so obsessed with Elton John that my friends called me ‘Yelton John.’ It was also during this time that my infatuation with music turned into deep, true love. I fully realized its power to influence my moods and emotions. Music moves me like nothing else.
“I fell into radio quite accidentally. Coming from a long line of doctors, attorneys, and nurses, I thought I would eventually follow one of those paths. In my mother’s office one day, I was literally in the middle of applying for nursing school when the owner of a broadcasting school walked in. I stopped what I was doing and introduced myself. Born salesman that he was, he told me I had an incredible voice and that I ought to consider broadcasting. The more I thought about getting paid for sitting in a room playing records all day, the more the idea appealed to me. So off I went to broadcasting school. Two weeks after graduation I got my first job, and I never looked back. I’ve been in radio for 26 years now.
“Musicians certainly influenced my career, since it was their work that I so wanted to champion, and still do. I’ve always had a soft spot for local musicians in any city where I’ve worked. There are gifted local people whose work might go unnoticed if not for radio stations that are willing to play their music. One of my favorite things about working at WUKY is how much local music I’m able to program.
“As far as other broadcasters go, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the entire air staffs of WSAI in Cincinnati and WAKY in Louisville. The jocks who worked at those stations in the late 1960s and early 1970s were just plain fun to hear. Their energy was amazing.
“The person who inspired me the most was Robin Wood, who did mornings at my favorite rock station in Cincinnati, WEBN, in the 1970s and 1980s. She was smooth, smart, and in love with the music. I remember so well how she insisted on working Christmas morning every year, and how every year she played ‘River’ by Joni Mitchell. It’s a powerful song that really resonates in Cincinnati, where the Ohio River so defines the city. I still aspire to Robin’s unique style, though to do this radio bit properly, you need to be yourself, and that’s actually harder than playing a role behind the microphone.”
“Our departments at WUKY include programming, marketing and development, engineering, news, accounting, and operations. As a department head, I work closely with the other managers, as well as my programming staff, who are the people you hear on the air every day. I also work with people at our networks: NPR, PRI, and APM.
“The single biggest challenge now is staying relevant in a world where people have so many ways to receive news, information, and music. Rather than shy away from emerging technologies, we embrace them here. WUKY was the first Lexington radio station to go high-definition. The digital signal is amazingly crisp, and we have the opportunity to stream multiple channels. Last fall, I assembled a very creative team to completely revamp our web site, www.wuky.org. The site now features on-demand audio, podcasts, and our first ever web-only show, Tonic, an arts and music magazine. These are all good things, but they aren’t the heart of what we do. We believe that for radio to survive, it has to be live and local and give its audience things it can’t get from the Internet or satellite radio.”
When “I never really stop working. I’m usually at the station for about eight hours a day, Monday through Friday. My time there is a mix of being in the control room when I’m on air; the boardroom during meetings; and at my desk listening to new music, analyzing ratings, or working on our web site. I also work from home when I need solitude and silence to write. People don’t realize how much writing goes on in radio. But before you can say it, you have to type it!”
How “My most useful resources are a CD player, a powerful computer to run ratings software and conduct research, and lots of humor.”
Why “Hearing from listeners and musicians that what we do really matters is the most rewarding aspect of my job. The calls and e-mails from people telling me that the song I played at 9:00 a.m. was the perfect start to their day, the musicians who come in to play and are genuinely grateful that WUKY plays their songs ... Those are my day-makers, and the reason I keep showing up.”
“Depending on what you want to do, you may not need a degree. Good disc jockeys don’t necessarily get that way by going to classes. You learn the craft best by doing it, and most of the talent is innate. However, if you want to work at the management level, especially in public radio, you very well may need at least a bachelor’s degree in telecommunications or journalism. There is no mental or physical prep for radio I can recommend, but a sense of humor is absolutely required.
“Program directors may program a news/talk station, a music station, or a mix of both. You need to know your format inside and out and be able to make sense of ratings. You also have to be able to work with your staff, as in any job. Writing skills are a must, as are computer skills. You must be inordinately creative. Oh, and of course have a nice speaking voice and unique personality. Almost anyone in the business will tell you radio is not what they do, it’s who they are. It doesn’t pay well, you can expect to be fired at least once, and technology has taken a lot of the fun and spontaneity out of it. You have to love it, even though it doesn’t always love you back.
“Patience and persistence are musts. Jobs are few and far between, and it’s a hard career to enter. You will most likely have to start at a tiny radio station in a tiny town, and you probably won’t be doing what you want to do there. It’s good to intern at radio stations. It’s a nice way to get a feel for it and meet some broadcast professionals. After that, you may just walk out and apply for medical school! Again, radio is a tough profession, but it is a very rewarding and fun way to make a living and a life.”