On the air with Mackenzie Dodge
April 1, 2013
It's hard to believe that anyone can be so animated at 5:30 in the morning, but when Mackenzie Dodge welcomed me to the 99.9 KEKB studios in Grand Junction, Colo., she was both wide awake and highly animated — and she doesn't even drink coffee.
"I usually get here at 5:00," she says, gesturing to her ball cap, "which means there isn't any time to do hair or make-up. Luckily, we live just a few minutes away." When asked how she's able to juggle such impossibly early hours with a 2-year-old, son Dalton, Mackenzie beams and admits, "I have a highly supportive husband (they've been together nearly 18 years) … plus we have a really amazing babysitter!"
As writer, producer and announcer for her own show, "Mac in the Morning," Mackenzie is constantly moving, even during our interview. Peering intently into the three, high-tech computer screens that are set up in front of her, she simultaneously makes notes on a daily schedule sheet; types (like lightening) messages onto three Facebook pages, which must be updated every hour; works the levers on a sound system; and occasionally snaps her fingers at a monitor, muttering "C'mon! I need this now!" Pushing a sheet of paper towards me, she explains, "I follow an outline that's been fine-tuned over the years. This one is from yesterday." Scanning it, I can understand why the pace is so frenetic-yet-controlled: at times, she has barely 30 seconds to fit a commercial, a daily Brain Teaser, or a general message out between segments. A lot of them, particularly the news, must be pre-recorded "in case I mess up on some of the bigger words," which means she is also repeatedly hitting the Play Back button, condensing something down, and digitally adding it in the day's line-up. "I try to stay ahead by about an hour," she explains, "while only doing introductions to about half of the country artists. People want to hear the music, not the talk." Slipping on her earphones and clearing her throat moments before going live on the air, Mackenzie grins and adds, "Every now and then I have a second to enjoy a song."
Born and raised in Denver, Colo., as a kid she was so addicted to the radio that she'd call local stations "10 times an hour, wanting to know how this whole thing worked." After a phone had been installed in her room, she would gab with the DJ's (or Disk Jockeys, named after the flat, black vinyl albums they originally played) every night before going to bed. "Once I got my driver's license, I started fetching them sodas, cigarettes or food. It made sense because they were stuck in little rooms and couldn't leave, plus it was a great way to get my foot in the door. I watched. I paid attention and learned how to push buttons, eventually becoming something of a station pet." One memorable weekend, a DJ up and quit, so another employee went directly to the manager's office to put in a good word for Mac. "Since I already knew how to do everything, I got the job." A year later, in what she refers to as "the worst decision of my life," Mackenzie left, first to explore television options and then to try her hand at banking. ("THAT was a joke. I learned that I couldn't add.") So how did she manage to get back into broadcasting? "I entered a Girl Next Door contest," she says with some relief, "and was interviewed over the air. Another DJ heard it and hired me to be his morning show partner." And although that didn't last, she was in, and in to stay, for listeners had quickly learned that she had something really special (beyond raw determination): The Voice.
It's an unmistakable blend of rich, fluid and surprisingly deep tones, especially when one considers that the person behind it is actually quite petite. "I can't go anywhere," Mackenzie admits a bit sheepishly. "All I have to do is start talking and somebody will come up and ask how they can get tickets for something." Ever loyal to her fans, the 36-year-old always tries to take the time to visit with people both on and off the air — especially children. "They'll come over to hug me when I'm announcing at public events, telling me that they listen to the show." (She also enjoys giving kids tours of the studio.) Mac has such a devoted following of fans that some will check in every day or so, while others want her to recommend babysitters, hairdressers, tree-trimmers or "anything else you can think of. They trust me. But it's hard not to get attached to some of them, especially the elderly callers." For a moment, her eyes grow sad. "You hear from someone who has age-related problems, or cancer, or is homeless, and they'll keep in touch for a while and then suddenly, it stops. They're gone." A little wistfully, she adds, "And I cry."
These days, KEKB is riding high having been nominated for three awards from the Colorado Broadcasting System. It's something Mackenzie is extremely proud of, knowing full well that listeners like the consistency the station offers. From state, local to national news to contests to an endless variety of country music, they get it here — as well as an interested, caring ear from the opposite end. When the phone starts flashing, indicating yet another caller, Mackenzie quickly readjusts her headphones and flips a switch that makes the on air sign light up in the hall outside of her soundproof room. After taking down yet another song request and asking a few friendly questions, she enthusiastically reminds that person to "Have a KEKB day" before switching to another.
Glancing over to the wall that faces us, I read a sign that says, "I love my audience and I'm going to give the best that's in me." That, she definitely does. ❖