Tuned In: Rick Jensen, Susan Monday Go Statewide
The WDEL hosts bring more than 40 years of experience to Delaware’s “trusted source for news.”
Susan Monday and Rick Jensen talk the talk at WDEL and WXDE. (Photo by Joe del Tufo)
Most Delawareans are familiar with the notion that the C&D Canal is more than a geographical marker. It’s the unofficial line in the sand between upstate, downstate and stereotypes of the two.
But the line between NoDel and SoDel has been blurred a bit, thanks in part to a programming shake-up by Delmarva Broadcasting, owner-operator of nine radio stations in Delaware. In March, the company removed a longtime personality from the weekday airwaves of WDEL 1150AM (and 101.7FM) to bring on a new voice from WXDE 105.9FM in Lewes.
That voice belongs to Susan Monday, a longtime broadcast journalist with Delaware Valley ties. She and WDEL veteran Rick Jensen now bookend Allan Loudell’s longstanding “Delaware News at Noon,” bringing with them more than 40 years of experience to Delaware’s “trusted source for news.”
Monday began her radio career at WDEL in 1999, after serving as a high school English teacher and corporate training and development coordinator. After a short stint with the station, Monday moved to WMAL in Washington, D.C., where she learned from seasoned reporters such as Sam Donaldson. A native Philadelphian raised in South Jersey, Monday says she’s excited to be back on the airwaves in New Castle County.
Her “Susan Monday Show” had been airing on WXDE in Sussex County for more than three years before replacing the “Al Mascitti Show” on WDEL statewide. The change at first met with some backlash upstate, due to Mascitti’s popularity.
“Of course there was going to be some negative reaction, because listeners liked the previous host. I’ve been through that before, so it wasn’t a surprise,” Monday says. “But I think I have a lot more diversity in my callers, so it didn’t take long for me to turn the audience around and get people on board.”
Most would say Monday offers a liberal viewpoint in the morning that counters Jensen’s conservative take in the afternoon. Mike Reath, vice president and general manager for Delmarva Broadcasting, says balance wasn’t a deciding factor in the programming change, but rather an attempt to serve the entire state with news, talk and information.
“Our job—and it has been since this company was founded in 1931—is to serve the state of Delaware,” Reath says. “But yes, Susan’s show is less political overall, which was attractive to us. While she’ll talk about politics, she’ll also touch on many other topics that can attract a more diverse audience to the station.”
Since Monday’s arrival on WDEL, the station has received more calls from areas like Dover and Georgetown and more calls from women. Monday might offer a contrast to Jensen’s conservatism, but what matters most, she says, is that she facilitates conversation.
Though not “overly political,” according to some, Monday took her show on the road for two of the year’s biggest political events: the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. What she experienced on radio row was some engaging and eye-opening debate.
“I may lean to the left, but impartiality was key,” Monday says. “We had to cover both parties, and we wanted to have people like [Democrats] Chris Coons, John Carney and other Delaware delegates on the show. I was surprised that the RNC wasn’t solely focused on doom and gloom, even though it may have been presented that way in mainstream media. It opened my eyes to the fact that, if you’re not surrounded by people of different viewpoints, trying to understand where they’re coming from, you’ll never get the whole picture. I think it was good for our audience to experience that.”
Jensen, on WDEL’s airwaves for more than 15 years, is arguably the most widely recognized voice in the First State. “Al [Mascitti] and I are friends, so I was sad to see him go, but I’m happy to say that this new model is working well for the listeners,” Jensen says. “Before the switch, I filled in for Susan one day and was broadcast statewide, and I think the powers that be liked the model. Having voices from around the state, I think, makes us a more well-rounded news outlet.”
For Jensen, being on the radio is more about serving the listeners with news that concerns the state—a very small state where news travels fast—than about worrying about on which side of the aisle the host falls. He feels tremendous pride when it comes to reporting the goings-on in each of the three counties.
“I know it sounds corny, but I have a lot of respect for the people at this station,” Jensen says. “I’ve worked with a lot of the people here for a long time, and overall we have a great team up and downstate, and they’re all dedicated to reporting the news and producing great radio.”
But what constitutes great radio? Jensen says it’s continuity.
“Great radio keeps people listening. If you’re sitting in your car in the parking lot and are late for an appointment because you have to hear what Rick Jensen is saying, that’s good radio,” he says. “But if you leave your car, go straight to your cubicle and turn on the stream at WDEL.com to continue hearing what we’re talking about, that’s great radio.”
Neither he nor Monday have producers at WDEL, and because the 24-hour news cycle has been replaced by an instant flow of Twitter-driven bits and pieces, great radio can’t be scripted.
“I feel like I’m prepping for my show 24 hours a day,” Jensen says. “I have a notepad with me at all times in case news breaks or an idea pops up in my head. But each morning, I read about 40 or 50 news sites around the state, country and the world and decide on some topics. But all it takes is one call about something happening locally, and it’s all chucked out the window. The golden rule is if it’s happening in Delaware, we’ll talk about it.”
Monday’s strategy is similar: scan the news, pull audio clips, determine talking points. After that, it’s up to the listeners. “If the callers want to change the topic, we allow it to happen organically. After all, they are the ones who move the conversation. They’re the stakeholders, so to speak.”
Satellite radio, podcasts and the Internet all offer a variety of ways for people to get their news, information and entertainment, so how does local radio keep up?
“More people are listening to terrestrial radio on AM and FM now than ever in the history of the country,” Reath says. “Our platform has the single largest reach in the U.S., above TV and the Internet, and it’s growing. There’s mass appeal to free broadcast radio.”
One thing that has helped Delmarva Broadcasting stay connected with listeners is its willingness to stay on the cutting edge. WDEL’s website, which saw 1.8 million unique visitors in 2015, is part of the approach. Satellite, though feared at first, has not turned out to be the juggernaut most thought it would become.
“The edge we have and will always have is that we offer local news on local sales, local school closings, local road closings and local politics,” Reath says. “Satellite can’t touch that. When people want to know about the big accident on I-95, hear the Phillies game or learn about the race for local politics, they come to us.”
Reath also touts the WDEL mobile app. Though many news outlets at first resisted offering free news via smartphone, Delmarva Broadcasting embraced the technology. Reath believes that forward thinking combined with engaging programming and news are what will keep WDEL and its sister stations relevant and prospering.