Early in November, radio station 106.9 PLAY flicked the switch, and – for the next seven weeks, through Christmas Day – the station is playing nothing but holiday music.
From 5:30 to 10 every weekday morning, MJ Stevens has been spinning holiday tune’s along with her on-air partner, Jesse Rasmussen. Then she’s back on the air for the midday show, 10-3 in the afternoon.
We all know the drill: “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “Santa Baby.”
For Stevens, that’s more than eight hours a day of continual Frosty and Rudolph and Mommies Kissing Santa Claus. If she didn’t like the seasonal music, it could be combat duty for her. But Stevens loves it. All music, in fact. After all, she was raised on the radio in her Evansville, Ind., childhood home.
“My mother always had the radio on,” she recalls. “She said I started singing before I started talking. My dad played some guitar and piano, and loved blues, country, R&B. He would strum air guitar on the steering wheel, along with the radio, when we were out in the car.”
"My mother always had the radio on. She said I started singing before I started talking.”
“And he was convinced he could dance like James Brown.”
She was a “choir geek” in high school – “I lettered in choir” – and was part of a madrigal group hired for local office parties and open houses during Christmas.
Was she good? “My mom thought so.”
And, in fact, she went to the University of Evansville to study music therapy, but sat in on a sociology class one day, fell in love with it and switched majors.
However, she also started an extracurricular campus activity that would surface years later into a career.
“I thought it would be cool to volunteer for the campus radio station, WUEV,” she says. “They were looking for someone to do a blues and urban show. It wasn’t real mainstream at the time. I was the only candidate who watched BET [Black Entertainment Television], so I did the show all through college. Two turntables, one CD player and me.”
She found she liked the ability “to talk to people without actually talking to people. Like being on stage, but also sitting in your living room.”
Upon graduation, she put radio aside and worked for a domestic violence shelter in Evansville, but found that the work followed her home. “It affected me too much.”
So, she moved about 700 miles, and pretty much 180 degrees, away from what she’d been doing, becoming an activities coordinator for a resort in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
“There are worse things than playing volleyball and hosting wine and cheese parties,” she says.
“But I began to think that there are not that many 50-year-old activities directors. I might want to think about getting a real job.”
Turn the radio back on! She found an opening as a morning co-host at WYAK, a Myrtle Beach station, and got the job because “they liked my Midwestern accent.”
Radio became her life again, followed by a husband, Matt Stevens, and, in 2004, son Zack.
In 2010, they thought maybe Zack ought to have a real life, and live closer to her family. Louisville was near enough to Evansville, a city they’d often visit with her parents for vacations and holidays. But radio jobs were not hanging from trees.
“It’s a tough market,” she says, “because radio people who are here don’t want to leave here.”
She met with the program director at 106.9 (LITE at the time), but all he could offer was a job in sales administration and on the reception desk. She took it. “I figured it would get my foot in the door.”
It did, of course. When she landed the midday show on sister station 107.7 The Eagle, “People said, ‘They got so desperate, they put the receptionist on the air!’ They didn’t know I had 13 years of experience.”
Eventually, she got the midday shift on 106.9, then the morning show with Jeff Ramsey, then two years ago, a new partner, Jesse Ras.
Music is also a way of life at her home, just as it was for her growing up. Son Zack, now 13, is heavy into sports, but also developing his own diverse music library. “I’ve tried to give him a well-rounded exposure,” Stevens says. “My husband gave me acombination record player/CD player for my birthday, so I could play my father’s extensive vinyl collection. I had to explain to Zack how albums work.”
She put on Waylon Jennings and Aretha Franklin, not a bad introductory tutorial, “and he was down with both of them. I thought, ‘Okay, that’s a good start.’"
MJ’S FIVE FAVORITE HOLIDAY TUNES
Of course, MJ Stevens has to listen to them all on 106.9. These are the ones thatget her excited.
“I Wonder as I Wander”
“A beautiful song, sung by any tenor.”
“Do You Hear What I Hear?”
“My son heard it at Christmas, and used to ask me to sing it to him at
bedtime all year. Whitney Houston’s version is a good one. The classic
Bing Crosby/David Bowie duet is hard to beat, too.”
“Santa, Bring My Baby Back to Me”
“By Elvis. One of my all-time favorites. My son gets embarrassed
when I sing and dance to that one.”
“Mary, Did You Know?”
“The Pentatonix version is really popular right now. I’m also sweet on
Kathy Mattea’s version.”
“I’ll Be Home for Christmas”
“That’s a classic, by any performer. It’s hard to mess that one up