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DeDe McGuire: the hardest-working woman in radio

DeDe in the Morning

6-10 a.m. weekdays

KKDA/104.5 FM “K104”

The Doug Banks Radio Show

2-6 p.m. weekdays

Not broadcast in DFW; listen via www.dougbanksradioshow.com or iHeartRadio.

Posted 11:28pm on Wednesday, Aug. 06, 2014

Fueled by an afternoon Red Bull, DeDe McGuire is showing us around her Arlington house, which is already cool enough with its lake views, deck and jazz paintings hanging on the living-room walls. But it’s the upstairs that the KKDA/104.5 FM “K104” morning-show host wants to show us most. That’s where husband Chris Allen’s “man cave” is.

As man caves go, this one’s fun but not over the top. Posters for old drive-in movies — Blacula, Cotton Comes to Harlem, Cleopatra Jones (all bought by McGuire) hang neatly on the walls where the flat-screen TV doesn’t hang. There’s a bar, complete with a roulette wheel for shots and a serving dish modeled after a vinyl Aretha Franklin record. And there’s McGuire’s favorite piece, a foosball table.

“I love upstairs,” McGuire says. “Honestly, I wish this were my room, and not his. Foosball — I love foosball. Me and my sister, we would play teams.” She drops a ball onto the table and begins spinning the little plastic players. “I have to tell my husband to play with me, because I have not played in forever.”

It’s a wonder that McGuire finds time to play at all. For five years now, she’s been doing double shifts, co-hosting and then hosting K104’s morning show from 6 to 10 a.m., then co-hosting the syndicated Doug Banks Radio Show, which she has been doing since 1997, from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. She has a home studio where she can do Banks’ show via an ISDN line — she’s taking a break from it to give us this tour.

McGuire’s colleagues call her the hardest-working woman in radio — and sometimes, she throws in TV on top of it, guest co-hosting The Broadcast on KTXD/Channel 47 or appearing on other local shows and even CNN. Her work with the Banks show also keeps her busy beyond radio: In early August, she was one of several African-American radio hosts who met with President Obama at the White House. She also recently organized K104’s first “DeDe’s Putt Putt Golf Tournament,” which raised $6,000 for Women Called Moses, a nonprofit organization that helps battered women and their children.

But all the hard work wouldn’t matter if she didn’t connect. And, like your best friend over coffee, she does just that, in a way that feels effortless. She can talk to listeners about last night’s reality show — she says they’re her addiction — or about the latest Beyonce/Jay-Z divorce rumors, but she can also get serious, switching to topics such as education and domestic violence.

“DeDe is the listener, if that makes sense,” says Lady Jade, part of the DeDe in the Morning crew along with comedian Michael Shawn. “DeDe has a personality out of this world, and I think that’s what the listeners have gravitated toward.”

In her K104 bio, she calls Beyonce her “(imaginary) twin,” describes her fashion style as “comfy-classophisticated,” and says her chosen superpower would be super-hearing, “Because I love to hear people’s secrets and gossip.”

The vibe McGuire puts out, Jade says, is: “ ‘This girl is me. She eats at the same places that I eat at. She shops at the same places that I shop at.’ She’s had to take a totally different angle from the guys.”

In a male-dominated business, she’s a rare instance of a woman leading a morning show. In DFW, her direct competition consists of big names: Steve Harvey, Tom Joyner, Rickey Smiley. But even though all of the male hosts have Dallas backgrounds, their shows are national; McGuire’s is locally based — and it’s a ratings player.

“Radio used to be a man’s world,” says Jade, who declines to give her full name. “So as a woman, especially a woman that comes and receives a lead spot, you have to work 20 times harder. That’s what DeDe has done. You can’t just sit there and be charming and handsome and expect people to listen. You have to dig your heels in, and that’s what DeDe has done. She’s competing with some legendary names — pretty much everybody has celebrity status — and here comes DeDe, and she’s the girl next door.”

Banks calls her the best partner he’s ever had.

“Anybody who can hold down a top-five morning show in a top-five market in America, and then come in and do an afternoon show and keep that No. 1, too — I don’t think people have any idea at all how hard this woman works,” Banks says.

“It’s really exhausting doing a morning show because there are so many elements. So sometimes she comes home, maybe sometimes she gets a 45-minute nap and sometimes she doesn’t. But I can tell you that she will still take that drive to that [north Dallas] studio and I’ll be like, ‘Why are you here?’ ‘Because I want to come in and be with you.’ 

McGuire has been doing radio now for more than 20 years, seizing opportunities as they came along and building on them. Yet this is a woman who hadn’t planned to go into radio. It’s more like radio happened to her. But from there, she kept the wheels in motion.

Connection to home

McGuire was born in Seattle, the youngest of five children. Her father died when she was was 6 years old. Her mother would remarry twice, but there were lean times for the family in between.

“She had five kids in a two-bedroom apartment,” says McGuire, who has two brothers and two sisters. “I slept with her, and my brothers and sisters slept in the same room and they had bunk beds. We were on public assistance for a while, but she was like, ‘Oh, no, no, we’re not going to do this forever.’ So she got off of it. She became a real-estate agent. She’s semi-retired now.”

Radio had been part of McGuire’s life since her childhood; in Seattle, her mother had a friend with a radio show, and sometimes he would call her mom to do voices or request a song. When McGuire was 9 or 10, her mother married a military man, and the family moved to Germany, where her stepfather was stationed near Stuttgart.

“Here we are away from home, and the only thing we had was Armed Forces Radio Network,” McGuire says. “So we’d listen to that all the time. That was our connection back to the States.”

The radio listening seems to have rubbed off on the children: All but one of McGuire’s siblings went into the business. A sister does morning radio in Connecticut. A brother is the operations manager of several radio stations in Montgomery, Ala. Another brother was once a program director in Killeen, where the family settled after her stepfather was stationed at Fort Hood (her mother has since divorced him and remarried).

The radio bug didn’t bite McGuire immediately, though. She wanted to be a singer. When McGuire’s mother was growing up in Seattle, she was part of a Supremes-style singing trio; one of the people she went to talent shows with was Jimi Hendrix, who went to the same high school. McGuire thought she’d be following that musical path, but her mother had her doubts.

“I started getting involved in speech and drama and choir in high school and stuff like that,” McGuire says. “It was always what I wanted to do, so when I was going off to college [at Texas Woman’s University], I was telling my mom, ‘I’m going to study music,’ and she said, ‘You’re going to be a music teacher?’ I said, ‘No, I’m going to go to Hollywood.’ 

McGuire eventually realized, however, that that wasn’t going to work out. So she decided to major in journalism, with a goal of being a TV news anchor. “I’d tell people, ‘I want to do TV,’ and they’d be like, ‘You’re too silly, your personality — you’re going to end up laughing,’ ” she says.

But financial issues quickly brought her back to Killeen, and a local college there. To help support herself, she got a job as a receptionist at KOOV, a Killeen country radio station.

When one of the KOOV DJs asked her to help describe an item for a silent auction, she went on the air for the first time, and her personality — outgoing, funny, sweet — came through. The owner’s wife heard her, liked her voice and her personality, and said, “You guys need to train her.”

So McGuire started training to be a DJ, and worked hard at it; she’d give up lunch hours and weekends to go into the station’s production room and practice doing a show. But when she overheard the morning DJ say “We can’t put a black girl on this radio station,” she decided it was time to go. She put together a tape, took it to the urban station in town and impressed the general manager enough that he hired her even though she didn’t have any experience.

Less than a year after she started doing the midday shift, the GM called her into his office. She was afraid she was getting fired. Instead, she walked into his office and the entire sales staff was there, applauding: “They said, ‘You’ve got the highest ratings we’ve ever seen in middays.’ 

In Arbitron market rankings, Killeen ranked somewhere in the mid-100s at the time. Relatively new to radio, McGuire vowed that she would be in a Top 10 market by the time she was 25. Nobody thought she could do it.

“I was only on the air there one year, went to San Antonio, and then one year later, I came here to Dallas,” McGuire says. And that’s when I got [to K104].”

She was 23.

Happy meeting

During McGuire’s first round at K104, in 1991, she was the afternoon DJ. She didn’t get to talk much; the hip-hop/R&B station was very music-focused, and she was only supposed to do 15-second breaks. But before she even started, then-program director Michael Spears gave her a launching pad: She was introduced on the Tom Joyner Morning Show.

This was during Joyner’s “Fly Jock” days, when he’d do the morning show on K104 and then fly to Chicago the same day to do the afternoon show on WGCI-FM. Spears (a longtime DFW radio vet who died in 2005) told her that once she got the seal of approval from Joyner’s show, she was golden.

As it turned out, Spears was more right about that than even he expected. Joyner thought she had too much personality to take a backseat to music in afternoon drive, and invited her to become part of his K104 show. So she did “late busting” — delivering doughnuts to people who were late to work — and kept doing the afternoon shift as well.

While she was on the Joyner show, Chicago-radio morning personality Doug Banks paid Joyner a visit; Banks was considering doing the fly jock thing himself, commuting from Chicago to D.C., but all it took was one day of traveling with Joyner for him to realize that fly-jocking wasn’t for him.

But Banks noticed McGuire.

“Here walked up this crazy, funny girl,” Banks says. “She was so funny, and so vibrant, and so sharp. I’d heard her before on the air, but I did not really know anything about her. And that’s the first time we met. I kind of thought I was a bit of a ladies’ man in those days, so I was trying to date her. I asked her for her phone number, and she gave me the phone number of a Domino’s Pizza. Right then, I said, ‘This girl is my kinda girl.’ 

So maybe no romance was in the offing. But that didn’t mean fate was finished with Banks and McGuire.

In 1995, ABC Radio approached Banks and asked him to do a syndicated afternoon show. He came to Dallas, where ABC’s radio network was based (Cumulus took ownership in 2011). About 18 months later, the network told him to work on finding the right mix of people for a morning show.

“I needed to find someone who was a complete stallion that I could ride with no chances of them ever getting tired,” Banks says. “Somebody who really understood the dynamics of radio. And there was only one person, as far I was concerned, who came to mind. And that was DeDe.”

McGuire had bounced from K104 to stints at stations in Chicago and Philadelphia, where she was working when Banks arranged for her to come to Dallas in 1997 for a two-day test run. “We did the first day, and it was absolutely fabulous,” Banks says. “We hit it out of the park. It was great.”

On the second day of the test, McGuire did two hours of the then-five-hour show, took off her headphones and told Banks she had to leave to catch a flight back to Philly. “I said, ‘What are you doing? You’ve gotta stay!’ ” Banks says. “And she said, ‘Nope, they’ve heard enough. They know where to find me.’ ” And she got the gig on the Doug Banks Radio Show, which was by now back to afternoons.

Unlike McGuire’s warm home studio or K104’s logo-festooned studio, the Cumulus studio feels a little antiseptic, a feeling enhanced by the fact that Banks is no longer based in Dallas. He recently moved to Miami — and comedian George Willborn, the third co-host, is based in Chicago. Getting a peek at — or a headphone listen to — the show is fascinating; in between breaks, the hosts banter (during one of our visits, Banks was cussing his recalcitrant computer) and go about their business, sliding seamlessly into their radio roles at a second’s notice when they’re back on the air.

“That show comes from three different cities, and if you’re listening to it, I seriously doubt that you can tell that we’re not together,” Banks says. “But DeDe and I have been together so long that we can finish each other’s thoughts as well as sentences.”

Engaging a crowd

About a dozen years later, morning came knocking.

In 2009, a cast member of K104’s then-morning show, Skip Cheatham & Da Playground, had to be out of town for a few days, and the show sought a fill-in. Gary Saunders, the show’s producer, was a former producer of The Doug Banks Show. He thought of McGuire, who agreed to sub.

That turned into a permanent gig.

At first, her role was small in a large cast; she says it was basically “saying words” and having the other cast members react. K104 had once been a powerhouse in the mornings, with the show that preceded Cheatham’s — Skip Murphy and Company — having had a 10-year run at No. 1. But ratings declined late in the Murphy era; various cast members departed — not always voluntarily.

In 2010, Cheatham’s contract wasn’t renewed. By early 2011, after some shuffling, McGuire was named the host, the show eventually retitled DeDe in the Morning.

“When we brought her in to K104, she was still playing the role of a sidekick,” Saunders says. “You didn’t really get to see what she had then. You saw glimpses of it. But [since] we put her in the big chair in 2011, I’ve seen her, in the past two or three years, just command it more. She’s more in control of her show now.”

Saunders says that there have been struggles, because she had been doing Banks’ show so long that she was used to doing things a certain way. K104’s morning audience skews younger than Banks’ mass-appeal audience, and sometimes McGuire will find herself talking about the same topic in the morning and in the afternoon, but taking different approaches because of the different audiences.

“She has a unique understanding of the audience and an understanding of the marketplace in Dallas, and the audience loves her, so she continues to build her affinity with them,” says Geo Cook, K104’s program director. “Every day, she’s going up against Rickey Smiley, Tom Joyner and Steve Harvey, who are big syndicated personalities, and yet she’s been able to, more often than not, beat them.”

Being local helps McGuire stand out among the syndicated heavyweights — especially when it comes to phone interaction and instigation. It’s often a simple matter of asking a question: When a K104 personality got banned from an Arlington restaurant this week, McGuire brought her on the show to tell the story (it started when the woman felt sick from having too much to drink and brought her husband into the women’s room for support, and escalated from there).

Then McGuire tosses it to listeners: Have they ever been kicked out of an establishment? The question elicited stories about getting ejected from places ranging from Chuck E. Cheese’s to a strip club; for instance, a female caller said she had once beaten up a stripper in a fit of righteous indignation.

When similar things happen to McGuire and her cast, the host feeds the fire. (She and one of her sisters were kicked out of a club after they got into a fight.)

Cook says that if she weren’t on the radio, she’d still be talking about what she talks about on-air.

“I think she would have a great group of friends anywhere,” Cook says. “At a restaurant, at a hairstylist, in her living room, she’d still be telling stories and engaging people, because that’s just naturally a part of her personality. She loves people, and she loves to make them laugh.”

McGuire says her role on the morning show is to serve up information, and to let her co-hosts take it and try to knock it out of the park. She’ll take a few swings herself, she says, but it can be tough to both throw a pitch and bat at it.

Like many morning shows, it’s a mix of the silly and the serious, of discussions of news topics and pop culture, of bits like the “Mad Minute,” in which listeners prank-call friends and relatives, stirring them up into bleeped-out freenzies.

McGuire’s co-host Lady Jade — she declines to give her real name other than saying her first name is Jade — has seen a lot of the changes at K104; she’s been with the station 11 years, dating back to the late days of the Skip Murphy era. Jade was part of Skip Cheatham’s show when McGuire arrived, and wasn’t sure about her at first.

“When DeDe first got on the show, she did not like me,” Jade says. “I didn’t know why. But she’d been in the business so long, and it’s almost natural for women, when they get in, to try to figure out the other woman. [But] DeDe and I had a conversation one time, because I wasn’t understanding, like, ‘What is the tension between you and I?’ Ever since then, it’s always been like we’ve understood each other, like all we have is each other, and me and DeDe have been through so many transitions on the show.”

Now, they both say they have great chemistry together, and Shawn, who has been with the show a little more than a year, adds a male comedian’s perspective to the mix. Jade says that although many radio stations are geared toward female audiences, women aren’t always quick to accept a female host. But, she says, McGuire knows how to make the connection.

Jade adds that morning radio isn’t just a matter of a lot of preparation, but of being on your toes, of paying attention to your co-hosts and the needs of the audience. She doesn’t see how McGuire maintains the energy to do two shows.

“By the time she does that second shift in the afternoon, guess what? I’m ready to go to sleep,” Jade says. “You have to truly love what you do, and love the people that you work with, to be able to do that. That girl does a lot, a lot, a lot.”

Co-host in life

A few months before she joined the K104 morning show, something else big happened to McGuire in 2009: She met her now-husband, Chris Allen. In the parking lot of a north Dallas nightclub called Karma. Allen is from Dallas, but at the time he was a Des Moines-based pharmaceutical rep for Bausch & Lomb, in town on a business trip.

“I went out with friends, and saw her by herself while she was waiting for a valet,” Allen says. “My first words were, ‘Nice night tonight.’ I didn’t get a response. My second ones were, ‘Why are you leaving so soon?’ She still didn’t turn around, and then the last thing I said was, ‘Is it really hard dating out here?’ She kind of turned around and had that inquisitive look, and asked me, ‘Why would you ask that question?’ I said, ‘I was just curious.’ 

From there, the conversation picked up; she invited him to a Grammy-watching party the next day. They stayed in touch, with Allen only learning that she was on the radio when friends called to tell him that a woman on the Banks show was referring to him on the air. When she joined K104, he supported the double-shift move, and when they got married, she talked about him more on both shows.

Allen says he doesn’t mind that McGuire talks about him on the radio; he’s got a great sense of humor, and he doesn’t listen to the radio much anyway, often getting his radio news firsthand from McGuire. She, on the other hand, says that radio is her music outlet — she doesn’t listen to CDs or iTunes, but to K104 and its competition, such as KISS-FM and hip-hop R&B station KBFB/97.9 FM “The Beat.”

“I’m addicted to it, I think, because what I listen for is not just the songs,” she says. “I like knowing what the most popular songs are, but I like hearing how they do promos, I like hearing transitions to and from what the DJ’s saying. I’m a radio geek.”

Allen, who is now a real-estate investor, tries to be away from the house when McGuire is doing Banks’ show from home. With McGuire’s constantly busy weekdays, Allen’s role is to separate her from work. One of their favorite things to do is to take staycations, staying at hotels in Dallas and nearby cities and towns, exploring the surrounding areas.

“I’m up at 4:30 and I jump up and I get out of the house by about 5:05 and I’m gone all day long, so there’s no putting on makeup and doing up my hair,” McGuire says, adding that coffee helps her through the morning and Red Bull through the afternoons. “So on the weekends, when we want to get away, I want to feel beautiful and I want him to find me desirable, so I get dressed up and put on makeup and do my hair.”

McGuire hopes to extend herself beyond radio into having her own TV show; she figures that if Steve Harvey can do radio and TV, there’s no reason she can’t do both. One of her inspirations is Wendy Williams, the daytime TV host, who had worked with Banks and Harvey in the past. But she doesn’t watch Williams’ or Harvey’s shows, because she doesn’t want to inadvertently become too much like them.

She does say that sometimes, doing the two radio jobs can be a grind, and after five years, she’s starting to feel the effects of doing both. But she has no plans to quit.

“I’m getting back into working out, because it’s helping me keep my energy to do both,” she says. “I’ll do them for as long as they continue to pay me. Radio is so crazy.” A pause, and then: “Maybe I’ll do it until the big TV job comes.”

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