Growing up in Detroit in what Linda Lee calls a “Ford Family,” it was no surprise that after high school she followed in the footsteps of her father and several other family members and landed a job on the assembly line at the Ford Motor Company. Perfectly content with her career and the income it afforded her as a single mother, Lee was thrown off track a decade in when she developed bilateral carpal tunnel as a result of her job. That unexpected ailment thrust Lee into a completely different career path: that of an award-winning country radio air personality.
Lee, who celebrated her 20th year on the air at WYCD Detroit earlier in July, says, “My workplace injury became a blessing in disguise in every sense of the word.” According to the station, her two-decade milestone makes her the longest consecutively running female country air personality in Detroit history, but Lee thinks she may actually be the longest-tenured local country personality of any gender.
She marked her special anniversary on July 1 when Rob Stone, her co-host on the station’s afternoon show, lined up congratulatory calls from stars including Keith Urban, Justin Moore and Frankie Ballard. Big & Rich sent her a video message.
When she was first sidelined with carpal tunnel, Lee discovered that, as part of its worker’s compensation plan, Ford would pay her to retrain for a new career. That included reimbursing her tuition when she enrolled in an eight-month broadcasting school, where instructors hammered home the point that students would most likely have to begin their careers in tiny markets and work their way up to the majors. Not Lee. She interned on the morning show at WYCD (then known as Detroit’s “Young Country” station) all through school, then landed a job just a week after graduation at crosstown competitor WWWW (W4), despite being “as green as the grass and nervous as heck.” After just a few months doing weekends and fill-ins, the W4 night shift opened up and she found herself hosting her own show.
But after a year she was still considered part time, despite working seven days a week, so she jumped at an opportunity to join the morning show at WYCD full time. Four years later, she moved to afternoons, where she hosts what she describes as “basically a morning show in p.m. drive” that is music-intensive. Through most of that time she was teamed on the air with Chuck Edwards, a partnership Lee calls a “magical pairing” that earned them the Country Music Assn.’s major-market broadcast personality of the year award in 2011, among other accolades. Late in 2015 Edwards moved to mornings, and night jock Stone was bumped up to afternoon co-host.
While she says she recognized Stone’s potential early on while he was still in nights, Lee was initially a little nervous about being paired with a partner who, at 30 years old, is a little younger than her daughter. But her fears dissipated quickly. Not only is Stone “really hard-working,” she says they quickly discovered they had a lot in common, including what Lee describes as their “bit of a redneck lifestyle” that includes hobbies like camping and fishing. “Rob enjoys all the same things I enjoy,” she says. “We’re living the country lifestyle, the lifestyle of our listeners.
“As soon as me and Rob got together we just rocked it out,” she continues. “I’ve been doing this a long time and I know how to win … He was onboard, had all these great production skills … and is more Internet savvy, so he was great with our social media. Rob has just stepped right up to the plate.”
Lee and Stone are Detroit natives, so they play up their hometown credentials with daily benchmark features like “Real Detroit Trivia.” She says their local ties “definitely make us more relatable. People really enjoy the local aspect of our show. Our sense of community is of the utmost importance. These people are not only our listeners, they’re our family, our friends and our neighbors.”
Despite all those congratulatory calls from country stars, Lee is still pinching herself into believing her career at WYCD has lasted 20 years. “They’ve flown by, right here in my hometown,” she says. “I’ve been blessed beyond measure. I am having as much fun today as I had 20 years ago when I first got into the business. Every day is exciting. I can’t believe I get paid for it.”
This article first appeared in Billboard’s Country Update — sign up here.