Last year, we announced a partnership with London Broadcasting, which owns KTXD, a local channel that, with our help, is about to get a whole lot more local. On February 18, we are launching a morning show called D: The Broadcast. It will be co-hosted by four ladies whose names you’ll likely know. Think The View — only not. This week on FrontBurner, I’m rolling out a new Q&A each day with a different host. On Monday, Courtney Kerr engaged in a little afternoon delight. Yesterday, I talked Fifty Shades of Grey with Lisa Pineiro. Today, we spend some time with a broadcasting legend, Suzie Humphreys.
Tim Rogers: Alright, are you ready for a hard-hitting Q&A?
Suzie Humphreys: Yeah, I hear you’re a toughie.
TR: My reputation precedes me. Who’s called me a toughie?
SH: I’m not saying.
TR: [laughs] That’s because you just made that up.
SH: No, I didn’t. We were talking about you yesterday around the table at the meeting that we had at KTXD, and one of the girls said, “I didn’t know he was taking everything down. I mean, right out of the gate, man, everything I was saying, and I said something that was kind of strong. And, boy, he just put that in there.” But we were all laughing about it. It was real cute.
TR: We’re going to talk a little bit about the show and about your relationship with these other ladies, but first I want to ask about your work with Ron Chapman. You were his co-host for 20 years, but you never broadcasted from the studio with him, and that blows my mind. I want you to explain to me how that worked.
SH: Because it is more irreverent. When you face him, you’re intimidated a little. And when you’re out in the van where I was traveling, it was just like talking to a friend. I was irreverent to him. And he liked me to be irreverent because the listeners liked for him to get nailed. [laughs]
TR: But, Suzie, this was from ’75 to ’95, so we’re talking pre cell phones for the most part.
SH: Yeah, you’re talking pre cell phones, and the first three years I was with him, I was in the helicopter. That’s how I started. The traffic reporter had gone on vacation, and Ron said, “We think it’d be interesting for you to do the traffic report.” I did it and it was the worst traffic report known to man. But it was very funny. And it was so funny that people were pulling off the road. This is the truth, because I had no idea where north or south was, I had no prep time, I couldn’t tell where I was. So I screamed, “There’s a wreck!” I was so excited to find something. And he said, “Where is it?” I said, “It’s across from a little brick house and a Texaco station.” And he said, “Well, this is a big-time radio station. We need you to be specific.” I said, “Listen, if you’re in it, you know where it is. And if you’re not, you don’t care.”
TR: You’d had no experience, and he just threw you up in a helicopter?
SH: Yeah, but I’d had a TV show, see. I was on Channel 8 for five years. And that was no teleprompter either. That was an hour and a half show, five days a week. You flew by the seat of your pants. You produced your own segments. You know, an hour and a half live, five days a week back then was really fun television.
TR: But there’s a little difference between being in a studio and being up in the air in a helicopter.
SH: There was a lot of difference. But it was magical. It worked. And there were not any other female helicopter reporters, no traffic reporters. So then what happened was, right after I went to work for that station, I remarried. And three months later, at 40 years old, I found out I was going to have a baby. Well I thought, OK, you’re not going to want me being a helicopter reporter if I’m pregnant. I didn’t know how to break it to them, so I just did it during the traffic report.
TR: You just had your baby during the traffic report?
SH: No, I reported I was pregnant during the traffic report. And Ron missed it. Then a listener called in and said, “Did you just hear what she said?” Because I said, “I’m flying over LBJ, I’m pregnant, and if you’re going down Stemmons freeway –” Because I thought, OK, well, if I announce it on the air now, they’re not going to get rid of me.
TR: Right. Oh yeah, because all the listeners will be in your side.
SH: That’s right. And they were. So everybody lived through that pregnancy, and I flew until I think the final three weeks of the pregnancy. You know when things come together, you know when everything aligns? Well, that was exactly what happened between Ron Chapman and me. Boy, what a great ride it was for me to work with him.
TR: OK, but you have to explain to me, Suzie, when you were driving around in the van, you would just go about your daily morning routine, right?
SH: Yeah, I carpooled my son, I took kids to school, I’d pick up maids at the bus stop and take them to their jobs. The van became a stage, and all kinds of things went on in that van.
TR: But how did you communicate with Ron back in the studio?
SH: On a two-way radio.
TR: Man, that’s fascinating. There’s no one doing anything like that anymore today.
SH: No, there’s not. It was magical. Do you remember—I don’t know how old you were—but do you remember the magic of radio? Do you remember how you lived in your mind just by listening to radio? And you could see pictures, you could see people and it was so magical. And now they just killed radio because I guess it’s all about the bottom line.
TR: For me, Suzie, I think my radio consciousness probably starts with Bo and Jim, the guys who did the morning show. Yeah, that’s who I listened to every morning on the way to school. Bo and Jim – that was a big deal for me. My mom would always want to listen to NPR or KERA or whatever, and I was a Bo and Jim fan.
SH: They were great.
TR: OK, my crack team of researchers says that you’re a motivational speaker, and one time at the National Speakers Association, you spoke to a group of about 2,500 people in Palm Springs. And I’m told that you received one of the longest standing ovations on record? Tell me what that means.
SH: Well, it just went on and on. And it was so off the wall, I think that’s what got it. I’m a speaker, but I don’t write speeches out. I only talk about things I know. So you don’t need notes. I talk about my life and getting fired and being broke and being down and how the best things in my life came from those very things. I’m by nature a very positive person, and I believe that out of every devastation there’s a celebration. You know, you just keep going. Anyway, it was really amazing. And when I stepped off that platform, a man came up to me from New Zealand and said, “You’re going to New Zealand.” And when I spoke at the National Speakers Convention, I didn’t even have a brochure or a business card. I mean, I had to sign up, I had to become a member, and they said, “We want you to speak in the luncheon spot where Norman Vincent Peale spoke the year before.” And I went, “Oh, sure!” [laughs] It was just like the helicopter. It was just a new experience. And what do you do, Tim? When something comes your way, you say yes to it. You see where it leads.
TR: So how long was this ovation, Suzie?
SH: I think it was about three minutes. And the people there are the ones that told me it was the longest one. Now I’m sure since then there have been more. But anyway, they later inducted me into the National Speakers Hall of Fame.
TR: Alright let me ask you about a couple bits of trivia I have about you. You’ve shot rifles with John Wayne? What was the context?
SH: I was interviewing him at Gordon McLendon’s ranch in Cielo, around Lewisville. He was my hero, John Wayne was. I grew up with John Wayne, and I don’t think there was ever anybody better. And there I am, going to meet John Wayne, and he walked into the saloon. Gordon had an old movie set there.
TR: Gordon McLendon, for those people who don’t know, was a legendary radio guy who started The Mighty 1190, KLIF.
SH: Yes, Gordon McLendon was on Cliff Radio, and he was also known as the Old Scotsman. He did a lot of baseball. He was always in the throes of the entertainment industry and, oh, he was just legendary. So I got to interview John Wayne, and the whole morning I spent about two and a half hours with him, if you can believe that. And to me, that’s just one of the greatest things that’s ever happened to me was to meet a man like that, that I admired so much. And then one day I pinch myself and he’s walking into a studio to sit down and talk to me! How does that happen?
TR: So who was the better shot, you or John Wayne?
SH: John Wayne [laughs]. But we were shooting bottles with colored water.
TR: Oh, OK.
SH: I grew up hunting as a girl.
TR: You’ve also danced a polka with Lawrence Welk? Tell me about that.
SH: That was at a ballroom dancing, big international concert. He had been on the show and he said, “Come with me to the international ballroom dancing thing at the Fairmont.” I said OK. So we go over to the Fairmont Hotel, and everybody’s applauding and they all stand back along the wall. It’s a huge dance floor. So somebody said, “Lawrence, polka for us!” And he picks me to polka around that huge ballroom.
TR: You knew how to polka, I hope.
SH: No, I didn’t. But here’s the deal. He was so strong, his lead was so strong, you couldn’t mess up.
TR: How many people were you dancing in front of, do you think?
SH: I don’t know, maybe 400 or something. You just get up one day and—bam. There you are, you know?
TR: So now you’re getting up and you’re working with these three ladies on the new show, The Broadcast, which starts February 18. Do you ever look around at these little girls and say, “These girls don’t know what they’re talking about”?
SH: No, because they are so smart and so savvy and so much fun. And I’ll tell you what, I was speaking in Philadelphia, driving my rental car back to the airport when the phone rang. It was Brian Joyce at KTXD and he said, “Suzie, this is Brian Joyce with London Broadcasting,” and I replied, “What do you want?” And he said, “Well, we think you need to be back on television.” I said, “What, did Betty White die?” And he said, “Now that’s why we think you need to be back on television.” So here I am. I mean, who would have thought that? It’s been since 1975 that I was in television, and here I am with these three wonderful women that are just so much fun and so energetic and vibrant and building their lives and their careers and their families. You know in that old song from Sweet Charity? If they could see me now, I landed in a pot of jam. That’s exactly what I feel like.
TR: Suzie, I hope this doesn’t sound rude, but compared to these ladies, you’re a veteran. Do you kind of feel like the mother of the set?
SH: No, the grandmother.
TR: [laughs] I mean, you’ve done so much more than these other girls. It’s almost like they’re going to school to learn from you.
SH: No, they’re not. Listen, they’re so advanced, these women. Lisa’s been in broadcasting, and she knows the game. Courtney, this girl is skyrocketing right now. You know, she’s doing the Bravo show. I mean, she’s skyrocketing and she knows no obstacles. And my gosh, [woman who will be revealed tomorrow] is one of the most beautifully gentle, wonderful, fun women. I’m telling you, it’s just a trip to be with these girls.
TR: Come on, you’re reading from a script right now aren’t you?
SH: I am not. I’m a speaker. What are you reading from?
TR: Oh, I’m reading from a script, definitely. I mean, I’ve typed out every single word I’ve asked you, verbatim. No, I don’t leave anything to chance.
TR: Alright, listen Suzie, I look forward to seeing how it all turns out. And I trust that you’ll keep it clean and you won’t, as you once did famously, use the word [redacted] on the air.
SH: Oh, my gosh. Don’t you dare put that in there.
TR: OK. I’ll redact that word and no one will know what I just said.
SH: I thought I was fired. There was five minutes of dead air.
TR: That was in the early ’80s, wasn’t it?
SH: It was. Oh, my gosh. I was having my hair done in the van.
TR: What did Ron Chapman say to you after the mics were off?
SH: Oh my, nothing! He never said a word. We were having a blow dry, do you understand? Oh my gosh. Oh, Lord. Anyway, as Ron Chapman always said, my friend, the beat goes on.