As co-host of Great Day Live and the voice of WHAS for over thirty years, Terry Meiners’s heart belongs to Louisville and the city’s hearts belong to him.
When I first met Terry Meiners, it wasn’t in a professional setting. At least not for me. I was a fourteen-year-old sophomore at Sacred Heart Academy and he was half of the legendary WLRS morning radio show “Morning Sickness” with Ron Clay. I had been caller nine (I believe?) for a Beatles trivia contest and had answered the question I can no longer recall. But the prize package was The Beatles Blue and Red albums. I already owned them. And when I mentioned that in a slightly high-maintenance move on my part, Terry didn’t say, “Too bad, kid,” but instead invited me down to the studio to find a suitable substitute prize.
I was so excited during that trip downtown in my mom’s station wagon that you’d think I’d been invited to the Hollywood Bowl, not the humble offices of our local radio station. Once we arrived, Terry insisted that we choose four single albums to replace the two double record sets. I scored Rubber Soul, Revolver, Let it Be and Abbey Road in one memorable, adrenaline-fueled afternoon.
My celebrity encounter in the Eighties says a lot about the man who has been a constant, clever, cunning fixture in our city’s media landscape for almost forty years. If it seems random that this specific editor would have such a memorable interaction with this specific subject, I suspect that it’s not. There have to be hundreds if not thousands of those stories in the hometown Meiners has covered, conquered and chosen to make his audience for life.
“People say phenomenal things to me every day,” he says. “Every time I get out of my car to get gas, someone will walk up to me and say, ‘Do you remember that time...?’ They’ll connect me to something that happened to them. I receive an inordinate amount of attention.” Unlike some members of the media who become jaded or exhausted by the pressures of being perpetually pleasant, Meiners seems genuinely moved by these exchanges.
“It’s very rewarding,” he says. “I love people, so it’s been easy. For me, my career is an extension of my personality. I get to be who I am for a living.”
Who Terry Meiners is just happens to be a man who knows how to create memorable and meaningful broadcast moments, interviews and experiences for his audience and subjects. His local broadcast reign began with “Morning Sickness” with Ron Clay on WLRS in 1981, continued with Clay on “The Show with No Name” on WQMF in 1985 and then evolved into the WHAS AM Terry Meiners Show and the co-host spot on WHAS Great Day Live. His radio broadcasts have always effortlessly interwoven satirical characters with pointed interviews and gut-busting laughs. “I’ve broadcast from a building wearing a woman’s bathing suit. I’ve broadcast while skiing down the slopes in Utah, broadcast live from the US Thunderbirds Air Force jets while they were taking off from Louisville International Airport,” says Meiners. “They had me wired up and everyone laughed at me because I had a little freak out… I was saying, ‘We’re going down the runway… and now… we’re… going... stra-a-a-aight up!”
The sometimes wacky on-air antics belie a workaholic work ethic and obsessive preparation that allow every moment on the air to seem effortless and spontaneous. “I spend at least three hours a day prepping the three hours of radio,” Meiners says. “You’re constantly inhaling information. I read news every night and every morning. You’re collecting information all the time.” He views social media as both a tool and an extension of his job. “Sometimes I’ll tweet topics the day before to get responses and feedback. It’s easier to retweet and look at my twitter feed,” he says. “I like expressing myself and I make my living off expression so social media is just another form. I love the visual medium and the eclectic avant garde ideas that are interesting to consider.”
If Meiners juggles it all masterfully, it may be because he settled on a career in broadcast at a very young age. He grew up in Germantown going to St. Stephen Martyr, the wisecracking fifth son of a truckdriver and a teacher in a family of fourteen. “I knew what I wanted when I was a little kid,” Meiners says. “I would see the guy on TV talking about the news and I would think, ‘I can do that.’ Or I’d hear my dad laugh at the guy on the radio. He loved Bill Bailey. And I’d think, ‘That’s cool. Maybe I can make my dad laugh.’” His parents loom large in his world view; Meiners credits them not only with fostering both his people skills, but his sense of service and it’s obvious that he has deep respect for the people who raised him and thirteen siblings and welcomed children from St. Joseph’s Orphanage into their home every summer and Christmas.
He shares a story about his father, calling it “one of the great affirmations of my life.” “Often, when you walked into my parents’ house, you would hear Frank Sinatra and smooth jazz and you had to be quiet because it meant dad was sleeping because he had driven a truck all night,” he says. “So, one day, I had just come back to Louisville after working in Lexington briefly and I was filling in and doing occasional commercials for WLRS. I went to my parents’ house and opened the door and what do I hear but Pink Floyd. While he was trying to get some sleep, my dad was listening to the music he hated on the off chance that he would hear his kid on a commercial.”
Talking about the city he cares about to the listeners he cares about has always been more enticing than a bigger market and bigger paycheck. “I’ve had offers,” he says. “I had a flurry of offers from Atlanta, Seattle, Phoenix, Boston… in a seven to eight-year period when I was in my thirties which is when you get those offers. I flew to those places. And I didn’t take any of those jobs. This is my home. I know Louisville like the back of my hand. It’s in my bone marrow.”
And, quite likely, in the DNA of his two adult sons, Max, 30, a producer at WHAS and Simon, 27, a writer. “They are men of integrity and I am so proud of them,” says Meiners. “They are doing what they can to move society forward. But, you know, the youngest one just texted me yesterday: ‘I have a shirt that needs to be cleaned.’ He wants me to run over to the Highlands and pick it up before I go to the drycleaners.”
It seems likely that Meiners will make the trip. “When you become a parent, it’s like a set of antennae click into gear and never go off,” he says. “It’s thirty years later and it’s still always on.” That’s been especially true since Meiners became stepfather to Aidan, 14, and Grace, 12, when he married Mary George (TOPS General Sales Manager) in 2012. “Adding Aidan and Grace to my life has just added another incredible dimension,” he says. (He had just picked up Subway with Aidan before our chat.) “Aidan is fourteen now, so I still have a little bit of time,” he says. “My interaction with him is limited to when I can pin him down. But when I have him in the car, that’s when I can talk frankly about life and challenges and how to be the best Aidan he can be. Those are the best talks… when we’re riding in the car.”
And he is sentimental about his time with Grace, the first girl in his family. “I remember the first time I babysat her,” he says. “We were dating and Mary had some kind of shoulder surgery and it was Christmastime and it was snowing outside. She was looking out the window and I picked her up and put her in my coat and put her little hat on and took her outside. She was just talking about the lights and the decorations and we have been locked into each other ever since.”
Their blended family life is harmonious and there’s a close bond between Simon, Max, Aiden and Grace. “We’re not all together often, but my older boys consider Aiden and Grace their brother and sister,” says Meiners. “They will take them to play laser tag or they’ll come by to visit and do puzzles with Grace.” Or perhaps to play with new “fancy-pants designer dog,” Johnny Fever, three-year-old Golden Doodle. “They all begged me for a dog and, well, we bought this Park Avenue creation that costs as much as a house payment,” he says. It’s important to note that walks with Johnny are a daily ritual for Meiners: “Every day, I come home and walk Johnny Fever and pick up his poop and just laugh at myself.”
But when he really needs to unwind, Meiners either heads to the Parklands or he hits the golf course. “I took up golf twenty years ago,” he says. “That’s where I spend time with my friends.” His friends are a rotating group of twelve that meet at different local courses. “It’s a good four hours of walk and talk,” says Meiners. “You get to talk to your friends about the important things in life. It’s not all just flipping nonsense. If our kids are having issues, we bounce things off each other. A buddy’s wife died recently and we were able to talk him through it,” he says. “It’s a support group, but you’re swinging sticks and hitting a ball so it’s okay. It’s group therapy; you can share your whole life and cheer for each other and pull each other out of the challenge. Then you line up some shots. That’s what golf does.”
While Meiners is obviously grateful for every day spent in a career that has spanned four decades and allowed him to become deeply immersed in the civic life of his hometown, he is quick to come up with an answer when asked for his most memorable moment on the job: “It happens every year. It’s the Crusade for Children,” he says. “I come home and tell Mary that it restores my faith in humanity. Twelve years of soaring highs and some painful challenges in life and once a year everybody meets at the community dinner table and says, ‘Let’s take care of our special needs children,’” he says.
“It moves me so much when I hear the firetrucks blaring through the streets and each person donating from different walks of life. Each person setting aside their own struggles and thinking about these kids. Every year, after the Crusade, my batteries are completely recharged and I’m left feeling great about human beings.”
The Crusade isn’t the only charitable endeavor Meiners supports. The man who was raised by parents who emphasized service is involved in The Lawrence Foundation, The Petrino Foundation, Rick Pitino’s Angel Foundation to name just a few. “When I first started out, I was hosting every charitable event in Louisville,” he says. “I’ve come to learn I can’t do everything and there are other talented people who can take care of moving a message. So, now, I tend to get involved with foundations run by people and families I know because it makes sense. I’ve walked into places with a check for $10,000 dollars from Rick Pitino from his Angel Fund. There have been times when I have heard about a family being burned out of their house and I can pick up the phone and call Rick…. And I’ve walked up to people without them having any idea where it’s come from and said, ‘Here you go.’”
This ability to do good, to have an impact, to make the city where he grew up a better place, is clearly part of what motivates the man with the microphone whom we all know as Terry and why he belongs in an issue that celebrates what makes this city great. “These are the parts of my life that are incredible,” he says. “Having been fortunate enough to know these people who can raise money and to be able to help disperse it and make a difference. It’s humbling. And it’s about living a life properly. We’re all flawed human beings. But the one thing we can do is be of service. If you are of service at least then when you leave this earth, you’ve contributed some kind of gift that uplifts others.”