EDMONTON RADIO: Marriage on the air

There is no longer any such thing as “too much information.”

Just listen to the radio for proof. Most of the popular announcers are expected to share EVERY LITTLE DETAIL of their fabulous lives, because making human, personal connections is so important these days. For marketing. So in Edmonton, we learn about Terry Evans’ luxurious house, Lesley Primeau’s dog, the misadventures of Paul Brown and daily bickering Bickersons banter from not one, but TWO married morning show couples. The only limit to what most of these folks reveal about themselves on the air – aside from the CRTC code of conduct – is that you can only hear what’s going on. For those not satisfied with leaving the rest to the imagination, there’s always Facebook.

Crash and Mars, the morning crew on Now! 102.3 FM, are an engaged couple whose impending marriage seems to be the topic in another of the station’s relentless billboard campaigns. Will they or won’t they? Do they or don’t they? Should they or shouldn’t they? It’s clear they’re gearing up for some reality show-style public matrimonial spectacle – and just watch their ratings go through the roof when that happens.

No one at Rawlco Radio (operating Now! and Up! radio stations) is talking about the nature of the big “reveal,” or when it’s coming. They spend a lot of money on those billboards, and it works. Now! is the No. 1 station in town. Program director Mark Hunter didn’t return calls to talk about this story, though perhaps that has to do with an article we published last fall called Up! Yours! that was somewhat critical of the two stations’ programming direction.

It doesn’t matter. What’s clear is that these lovely couples are selling portions of their personal lives to their listeners, in exchange for popularity, in exchange for ratings, in much the same way as reality TV stars like Kim Kardashian sell themselves because they have nothing else to sell, no creative work apart from themselves, nothing to offer the public beyond their own fabulous lives that are continually made more fabulous in the sale, and let us marvel at the great circle of life.

Old people used to keep a few things to themselves, you may remember: their sex lives, their income, that time dad didn’t come home one night; it was a matter of decorum that one didn’t air dirty family laundry. Times have changed. We live in an age of brutal honesty and transparency. The Internet hasn’t made human interaction more impersonal. Quite the opposite. It’s made people eager to share every little detail of their lives with friends and strangers alike, the more the better – and that’s the new reality of radio.

Reality radio

Jamie and Dan, hosts of Lite 95.7’s morning show, are for the moment Edmonton’s only on-air married couple. They’ve branded themselves as such for most of their married-broadcasting career, having met as teenagers when they were working at a radio station in High River.

They’ve since shared quite a bit of their personal lives on air.

“That’s what radio is these days,” says Dan. “You’re bringing your life, your stories, to people. If you’re not sharing your own personal stories, you’re not really doing your job.”

During a recent in person interview, Jamie and Dan are eerily EXACTLY like they are on the air. People apparently say that about them all the time. There’s no façade here, no secrets, no characters. They say one of their most popular segments that listeners still talk about was at a station in North Bay, Ontario, when Jamie was coming off six weeks maternity leave and doing the show from home. Her husband Dan, meanwhile, was on location in Antigua. So while Dan was sipping Margaritas by the pool, his better half was making breakfast, tending to the baby and trying to get the older kid off to school while trying to do the morning news all at the same time. Tears were shed. Jamie says, “I would joke and say, moms aren’t multi taskers, they’re hyper taskers – and the moms related. That’s what we do on a day to day basis.”

It made for good radio, anyway. That’s as close as Jamie and Dan have come to actually installing cameras in their home and taping a reality show, which they both agree would be “10 times funnier” and “10 times more tragic” than the radio show – with lots of careful editing, of course. They admit they do have arguments from time to time that don’t make it on the air.

Asked if there’s anything they won’t share with their listeners, Jamie replies, “What do you want to know?”

Dan says, “My vasectomy was fair game.”

Jamie laughs, “That was fun.”

They’ve always been this candid, they say, come from families that talked about everything. Moreover, both Jamie and Dan are in their mid-30s, and so were impressionable children when Donahue first appeared on TV, and he was the guy who started this whole “no secrets among strangers” trend. Thanks a bunch, Donahue.

Not all local radio announcers are open books. Sonic’s morning man Garner Andrews talks about how he liked the “mystery” of radio. Back in the day, for instance, the only thing you knew about a DJ like Wolfman Jack was his voice.

Andrews says, “I don’t share a lot of my personal life on air. I might talk about eating at a certain restaurant, going to folk fest or seeing a certain movie, but the personal stuff doesn’t come up very often. The listeners likely know that I’m married, and they may know that I have kids; but as far as the stuff that’s really important to them goes, their spouses, their kids, their friends, my stories can’t compete.”

He’s hit on something here. Jamie and Dan aren’t out just to talk about themselves. They’re sharing with the goal to encourage listeners to share, too, and to help people with their troubles. One recent topic was about the idea that a lot of people who want to get divorced don’t do it because it’s too expensive, prompting a female caller to tell her story of splitting up to become a broke single mom, “and her telling her real story can change someone’s life,” Jamie says.

She says she takes inspiration from her cousin, noted aboriginal film director Georgina Lightning, who came from tough times.

“She decided to change her life, to break the cycle of violence, and she made a difference,” Jamie says. “But it was only through people she could talk with, sharing their experiences that she could feel strong enough to do that. It’s all through talking! Talking can change people’s lives.”

Jamie and Dan do have some boundaries. “We’re radio people,” for one thing. They won’t be doing a TV reality show in their home any time soon, not unless an “astronomical” amount of money is involved. And they won’t say anything on the air that they wouldn’t say in front of their kids – the general guidelines for what’s appropriate for five- and nine-year-olds being roughly the same as Lite 95.7’s core listenership. It’s not Terry, Bill and Steve, in other words.

“Just remember my kids are in the back seat,” Jamie says. “I don’t want my kid blurting out something they heard on a radio show.”

Crash and Mars, meanwhile, have been mum on their marriage – devoting most of their shows, as they tend to do, to reading listener texts and laughing about them. Little bits of their married life come through here and there, often as mundane as any married life. Apparently, it was learned recently, Mars spends a lot of time playing a bubble popping game on her iPhone because “it makes me not think,” which Crash, her future husband, seems to find amusing. There’s lots of material in their future.

Short answer to the million dollar billboard question: They will, they do, and they should. No word on whether they’ll be live tweeting their wedding night.