Country Music DJ Hall of Famer Laurie DeYoung Reflects on 30 Years at Baltimore's WPOC
Laurie DeYoung admits she has never been much of a self-promoter, a surprising trait for a morning radio air personality. "Every boss I've ever had always has to remind me to say my name [on the air]," she says. "I'm just terrible at it, and I always feel awkward and uncomfortable."
Knowing that, her co-workers at WPOC Baltimore largely took control of her show for one day on Sept. 29 so they could properly celebrate her 30th anniversary with the station -- all of it spent on the morning show. There was a proclamation from Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake declaring it Laurie DeYoung Day. There were call-in and video messages from multiple A-list country stars, including Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood, Tim McGraw, Luke Bryan and Rascal Flatts, plus numerous flower deliveries (including some from Taylor Swift) and a party in her honor later in the day. Perhaps more important, there was also the validation of a statement from her boss, iHeartMedia market president Dennis Lamme, who said they "look forward to many more years to come" of DeYoung's show.
The modest host calls the tribute "meaningful and memorable," but admits that if her morning show team members hadn't taken over, she likely would have worked the whole shift without once mentioning the milestone.
She should be used to honors and accolades by now. DeYoung was inducted into the national Country Music DJ Hall of Fame in 2010 and the Maryland D.C. Delaware Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame in 1994. She has earned 11 Country Music Association personality of the year nominations and won twice, in 1994 and 2014. She calls winning the CMA Award 20 years apart "a significant thing, just because it was nice to know that your show is still relevant and that people still care about it."
But DeYoung says she was raised to believe "you don't ever talk about your own accomplishments … You don't ever wave a flag for yourself. So that, I think, is where that uncomfortable part comes [from] for me."
At the same time, she recognizes that it comes with the territory in radio. "People are so used to talking about themselves, taking pictures of themselves, sending tweets about themselves." Before posting, sometimes, she says, "I have to still ask people, ‘Is this kind of a silly thing to speak about, or would this be something someone would be interested in?' … I definitely see the value of doing it, and I know that it's just a generational thing. There's a lot of people that really communicate that way, so I think you've got to do some of it."
While a 30-year radio career seems more rare than ever, three decades at one station is even more unusual, not to mention that WPOC has been housed in the same physical location the entire time. The building is currently being renovated, and DeYoung jokes, "It's about time."
"To think of just going into that building for 30 years is interesting, but there's something really sweet about that," she says. "I like history with things. I like history with people and places. I have a tendency to go back and vacation in the same places. That kind of thing is important to me."
Her loyalty extends to her personal life as well. Married to her husband for 38 years, the couple has raised three now-grown children.
"I know it's a rarity," says DeYoung, who started her radio career at age 19 and spent the first 10 years of it in a more typically transient pattern, working at eight different stations before settling in at WPOC. She thinks her milestone anniversary demonstrates that it's still possible to have longevity.
"I have enjoyed being at WPOC and being in Baltimore," she says. "It's a place that's really been kind to me, a town that's embraced me. I've been in different markets where it wasn't that warm and fuzzy … I really felt embraced pretty early on here in Baltimore."
Some of her funniest recollections about her career at WPOC involve interviewing stars, and the accessibility of the artists has long been one of her favorite things about working in country. June Carter Cash once told a very pregnant DeYoung that "having a baby hurts." And Dolly Parton confessed during an interview that children frequently reach out and touch her breasts.
"There have been a lot of great moments like that over the years of just having people being very honest about something, or just giving intimate details, but in a very fun way," she says. "I was never out to try to make someone look bad or anything like that."
She has earned the respect of artists who appreciate her interviewing skills, something she attributes to rooting out obscure or little-known facts about her subjects and "a natural curiosity" that leads to good conversations.
"I try to get a few personal stories from people besides just your most recent accomplishment or project," she explains. "I think that makes you more human to other people, and that's interesting -- if there are certain things you struggle with, or certain ways that you like to spend your time [during] off hours, or something you find hysterical. That's when people kind of come alive, and you really get an insight into who they are."
Most importantly, interview prep is key. "The first thing I tell people is, if it's a musician, know their music. If you're interviewing somebody, listen to the CD, or if somebody's written a book, read the book. Actually value the work that this person is doing, because [they] know the difference," she explains. "They sit through a lot of interviews and they go to a whole different level if they understand that you cared enough about what they're doing to embrace it."
However, her most poignant career moment had nothing to do with celebrities. It happened when she met two young women in Baltimore who told her they had grown up listening to her show. Despite being raised in less-than-ideal family circumstances with an alcoholic, drug-addicted mother, they told DeYoung that she always felt like a mom to them over the airwaves, and she made them feel hopeful that there were mothers out there who cared about their children as they got themselves ready for school each day.
"It was just so moving," recalls DeYoung of the conversation. "That's the nature of radio anyway. It's just such a personal medium, and it really feels very intimate to people." Many fans tell her they feel like they have known her their whole lives.
Radio has obviously changed a lot in the last 30 years, but one positive development has been the extended reach personalities and stations can achieve due to streaming. DeYoung's show is heard via iHeartRadio, and she often hears from Baltimore natives spread as far away as Afghanistan who can listen to their hometown station online.
"That's pretty cool to think that your community has gotten so much bigger that way," she says.
This article first appeared in Billboard's Country Update -- sign up here.