By Andy Tarnoff Publisher Published Jan 17, 2012 at 9:03 AM

Whether it's behind the anchor desk or standing in a blizzard, WMTJ-4 reporter Melissa McCrady has made a career of being versatile. The Cleveland native is comfortable in any role at her station, and she says she's proud that viewers have noticed, too.

In her almost six years in Milwaukee, the 31-year-old McCrady has covered some very serious stories, but if you follow her on social media, you'll also know her silly side. She calls it her "split personality."

We recently caught up with McCrady over coffee to talk about star power and prison letters, her favorite Milwaukee restaurants and her decision to stay in town. Enjoy this latest Milwaukee Talks. In this turnover-heavy industry, you've been with your station for nearly six years. That makes you somewhat of a senior reporter, doesn't it?

Melissa McCrady: Yeah, it seems amazing to me that I've been here as long as I have, because the time has flown by. When I started at TMJ-4, I started with everyone who's now left. So of course it's kind of a bittersweet moment. It's kind of sad to see all my friends who I've worked with for the last five and a half years go on to whatever they chose to move on to, but on the other hand, it's kind of nice because I do have more seniority, and I'm able to move up the ladder a little easier. Now that Diane Pathieu has gone to Chicago, I get to take over her noon anchor position, which I'm really excited about. But I was sad to see her go, because she's one of my best friends.

OMC: Is it hard to start working with a new crop of really young reporters?

MM: It's weird to look around, and instead of seeing Heather Shannon, seeing Keller Russell. Instead of seeing Mick Trevey, seeing Cody Holyoke. I will say we've got a good group of new people. They're all extremely dedicated. Even though they may not know Milwaukee that well, you can see their potential and that they're trying. The nice thing is that they ask questions.

OMC: You worked your way up from two smaller markets. Did you learn lessons in those experiences that have prepared you for job job in Milwaukee?

MM: Yes. Even though I thought I was ready for a Milwaukee-sized market after my first job in Sioux Falls, S.D., I wasn't ready. I think, personally, you need at least two TV markets before you come here. That's not the case for everyone, but I want to feel comfortable here, to come in and shine and not to learn from my mistakes (on the job).

OMC: Back in the day, people had to work their way up to Channel 4.

MM: I think it's just the way the entire industry has changed, it's not just Channel 4. You see it all the other stations, as well.

OMC: You're from Cleveland and worked in Toledo before this job. How is Milwaukee different than Cleveland? How is it the same?

MM: I the latter is more of a question. It's very similar. The people are very nice, outgoing, friendly. We have Lake Erie, Milwaukee has Lake Michigan. The only difference is that Milwaukee is a better city. I really believe that. Everyone loves where they grew up. I loved Cleveland, I always will. But I will hands-down say Milwaukee is a better city. It's cleaner, nice, safer. Even my friends who came to visit said, "Wow, I thought people in Ohio were nice, but people in Wisconsin are much nicer."

OMC: Every time I see you on TV you're in a blizzard or it's the middle of the night. Have you developed the reputation as the go-to reporter who's willing to do anything?

MM: I think that's fair, and I'm not saying it as I pat myself on the back. I think the community notices it, too. I can't tell you the number of e-mails and Facebook messages I get with people saying, "Melissa, I feel like you work 24 hours a day. I see you everywhere." I don't mind it, I enjoy my job. The hours are tough, but I choose to work these hours.

OMC: You told me that prisoners send you letters, too.

MM: Yes. I used to joke that people said that being on TV makes you a local celebrity. My line was always, "No way, you're not a real celebrity until you get a prisoner letter."

OMC: And now?

MM: Now I'm a real celebrity. One morning, I checked my mailbox and I saw the letter from some correctional facility. I held it up and jokingly said, "I've really made it, you guys." The first response was from Vince Vitrano, who asked if I wanted to read it. We all gathered around as he read it. I saved it. I have a file labeled "viewers." I've saved the mean, rude letters saying my hair is awful, to prisoners, to nice letters.

OMC: Actually, I wanted to ask you that. As a woman journalist, are you subjected to feedback that your male colleagues probably don't get?

MM: Yes. I wouldn't say I get a lot, but a decent amount, more than what you'd think. It's surprising that someone would be that upset enough to call me and leave a long-winded message about my hair. The two biggest complaints that I get are my hair and my voice. You have to have thick skin working in this business. Everyone handles those voicemails different. I usually listen them, forward them to my friends for a good laugh, then leave it alone. I find humor in just about everything, so I usually laugh and move on.

OMC: Speaking of humor, what's the "quadbox," and why does it warrant a hash tag on Twitter?

MM: I did it to be funny. Now it's got a following. Our producer wanted to make some changes to "Live At Daybreak," and wanted to hit the news hard. We came out of a commercial with Vince and Kim in one box, something weather-related in another, myself, and video of another big story. "Time to sprint you into your Tuesday!" People asked all these questions on Twitter about it, so I created the hashtag, and it started gaining some attention. It's slightly embarrassing when people don't understand I'm just being silly.

OMC: Well, you are kind of a silly person, but you're working at a not very silly job. Is it hard to dial it down, or do you ever get a chance to let some of your personality shine through?

MM: I wouldn't say I'm a different person on TV, but you just see my serious side, because you have to. I think when I anchored the weekend morning show, anybody who watched that got to see more of my silly side. I've always been more of a hard news sort of reporter, and that's serious, so I have to be serious. I always joke that I have a split personality. It's starting to wear on me – covering bad stories never used to bother me, but within the last year, it's starting to get to me.

OMC: What do you attribute that to? Getting older?

MM: Getting older and relating to the people in my stories. I'm 31, and I've reached a different point in my life. Once I get out of work now, I don't want to do anything serious.

OMC: You're active in social media, and you talk to your competition and your viewers. That would've never happened 10 years ago. Do you like that aspect of Twitter and Facebook?

MM: I always try to put myself in someone else's shoes, no matter what the situation. I think to myself, when I was younger watching the news, when there's someone you enjoy or admire, you want to get to know who that person really is. What most people see of me is a serious person spinning out factual information. I do like that people get to see the real Melissa McCrady.

OMC: Are you recognized around Milwaukee?

MM: I would say so. Is it every day? No. But with Channel 4 being such a big and legendary station, every if people don't see my face, they seem to recognize my voice.

OMC: So what do you like to do in your vast amounts of free time?

MM: Sleep, number one. I enjoy golfing. I'm not a very good golfer. I enjoy going to the gym. This was the first summer I didn't work weekends, so it was nice to be able to go to Bradford Beach and hang out and stay out past 6 p.m. on a Saturday and Sunday night.

OMC: Can you bounce back from your crazy hours?

MM: I can, but it's challenging. I can't stay out very late at all.

OMC: So when you do get out, what are some of your favorite places?

MM: I love Crazy Water and Charro. Plus, they're very good about gluten-free foods. I was just at Distil.

OMC: Do you live Downtown?

MM: No, I used to. I miss Downtown, but now I live in Wauwatosa. It's safer when I'm walking my dog at 2:30 a.m.

OMC: Can we expect you to stick around Milwaukee for a while?

MM: I want to. I came her almost six years ago on a three-year contract, and said, "I'm leaving in three years. I want to go home to Cleveland. I want to get my experience and move on."

Then, my three years came up once the recession hit, and I got an extension on my contract. I have another year and a half on my contract, but regardless of it, I now consider Milwaukee home. I got an offer in Cleveland and Columbus a year and a half ago, before I signed my contract, and the grass isn't always greener. You always think it's greener, you always think it'll be so nice going home, but I'm happy here. I don't plan on leaving anytime soon.

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 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.