Elizabeth Kay, 99.1 WMYX morning host, has some big shoes to fill. Not only is the 28-year-old Bay View native one of the youngest -- if not the youngest -- morning personalities on Milwaukee FM radio, she took the reigns from an industry veteran, Jane Matenaer, who was let go by the station this spring.
After a four-year stint in Green Bay morning radio, Kay moved back home -- without a job -- to support her husband as he trains to become a firefigher. Fortunately, Kay was friends with WMYX's music director and morning producer, Tony Lorino, who suggested she do some fill-in work at the station.
A few months ago, Kay was hired as half of the "Morning Mix," a position that occasionally causes her to pinch herself to make sure she's not dreaming. "I still can't believe it's really happening," says Kay. "I grew up in this city listening to this radio station, and now I actually work here."
We caught up with Kay for this latest Milwaukee Talks to discuss her career, pop culture and the chemistry that developed naturally with her on-air partner, Kidd O'Shea.
OnMilwaukee.com: I have to ask. How has it been replacing Jane Matenaer?
Elizabeth Kay: It's an honor to come after someone who I literally grew up listening to. When I was a little kid, I used to "play radio," and one of the stations was The Mix. I used to call into The Mix. It's really come full circle, working with such a good team. I listened to Kidd O'Shea growing up, though oddly enough, we're the same age. I had no idea.
OMC: How is the chemistry between you and Tony and Kidd? Did you slide right in?
EK: I'm one of the lucky ones who was able to form a friendship with Tony long before I worked for the station. Imagine working with one of your friends. It feels very natural, and working with Kidd O'Shea has been great, because we feel like our lives have just been missing each other over the last decade. We fell into place right away. We just laugh all the time, and both of us are working toward the same goal. We're very determined.
OMC: What kind of feedback have you gotten from listeners? I find that people in Milwaukee tend to be a little stuck in their ways when it comes to local media.
EK: One of the nice things about coming in full-time is that I had been here part-time for a year and a half, filling in on the morning show.
OMC: So people kind of knew who you were?
EK: A little bit. It was sort of a gradual transition. They took it really slowly in marketing the new show, but now that I've been there for a few months, the feedback has been really positive. People want to know what happened, because people start their day with you. You're like their cup of coffee, and when you change it, they can get upset. But people are giving it a chance, and we've gained a lot of new listeners, also.
OMC: What's it like to be working in your hometown again?
EK: It's unbelievable. There are good things and bad things. The good things are that you know the city inside and out. You know what it was like to be at County Stadium before there was a Miller Park. You know what it was like to grow up and think the Hoan Bridge was called the "Home Bridge." It's great to talk to people who have walked in the same path that I have.
One of the cons is that I find myself talking about things and remembering that my grandma is listening and my dad is listening. All my neighbors know exactly who I am. I will go to a party or a wedding and immediately I get drilled with questions about what I say on the air.
OMC: I assume you use a "radio name," right?
EK: My first name is Elizabeth, but Kay is close to my real last name.
OMC: So not everyone you went to high school with knows it's you on the air?
EK: Right. However, this is a small city.
EK: What's awesome is that I was addicted to pop culture before I got into radio. It used to distract me from school and my other responsibilities, but now it's my job. Now I get paid to sit on people.com and TMZ. I love RSS feeds, so I can quickly get up to date. I can't tell you anything I learned in math and science, but it's a blessing that I can read all that pop culture stuff and watch reality TV and use it for my job.
OMC: Do you think all the social media tools you work with are part of the changing face of commercial radio?
EK: It is one of the best things that could've possibly been done for radio, because we are in a studio where our audience is somewhere we can't see. People are so interactive and connected right now. Four years ago, you'd put something out there and think to yourself, "Does anyone care? Is anyone listening?" Now, we're so connected that we hear from people immediately. In a way, it's turned listeners into the third person on the show.
OMC: Do you envision doing morning radio for the rest of your career? And would you like to stay in Milwaukee?
EK: I used to be someone who had a five-year plan, and I wanted to get married at this point and have kids at this point; the house, the job, the career. But media is changing all the time, and so are the opportunities. I'm someone who will never say "no" to something without seeing both sides of the coin.
If there's an opportunity that will help me and my family, I would take it. What is it? I don't know. I'm happy where I am right now. I love what I do, and I still feel like this is too good to be true. I have quite a bit of competition, from people who have more experience on them than I have years living on this earth. But I'm being myself, and I can't not be myself in my home city. Right now, it's great.
OMC: Speaking of being yourself, how much of your on-air personality is an alter ego, and how much is genuine?
EK: There was definitely a radio version of me when I was in Green Bay. I was able to do that because it was a different city, and it was kind of fun. My radio name up there was Holly. There were times when I thought, "Man, Holly is so much cooler than Elizabeth." But then it got old; it got to the point where my poor husband would say in public, "Who are you now? What should I call you?"
When I came to Milwaukee and started talking about going full-time, I said that I would really just like to be myself. The best thing they said to me is, "That's why we want you." Now, it's me, through and through, the good and the bad.
OMC: What do you do when you're not on the radio?
EK: I love wine. My husband's family makes wine, and we won a few times at the State Fair. Any time we can go to wineries, we do. We're huge sports fans, and I love the Packers. I love working out, and my dog is one of my favorite pastimes. And I'm a total reality TV junkie. I absolutely love "Survivor," it's a show I should be on.
OMC: You're a Bay View girl. What are some of your favorite restaurants and bars and places to go?
EK: I love going to At Random. I've been going there since the second I turned 21. And we go to the White House.
OMC: You know the bathroom is haunted, right?
EK: Is that true? Don't tell me that, now I'm not going to want to go to the bathroom there!
OMC: I think it's a nice ghost, though.
EK: Maybe it is. We also love grilling and Friday fish fries. That's me in a nutshell.
Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.