In the nearly 16 months since Mandy Connell first hit the airwaves of WHAS-AM as its 9 a.m. to noon weekday talk show host, she has already been embraced by many Bluegrass residents, particularly in a time of growing political dissidence, economic uncertainty and a U.S. president who faces decreasing ratings.
That’s because the self-described “recovering dirty-foot hippie liberal, conservative libertarian” Florida native strikes a chord with fans and non-fans, including a handful of the latter who contacted this writer when they heard I was working on a story about the media maven. Although they only wanted to talk about why they disagree with Connell’s views, each one finally confirmed they do, in fact, tune in to hear her almost everyday – if not more. And that should tell you something.
Connell grew up in Lake City, Fla., a neighborhood where “everyone knew your mom and daddy,” and a city where the then-youngster learned to hunt and appreciate the outdoors, hence the reason she explains that she grew up a “suburban redneck child.”
Connell attended Florida State University to study theater before dropping out to become a flight attendant for Delta Airlines. Spend a few moments with Connell, and her quick wit will evoke laughter; her intelligence and keen eye will be immediately evident. She’s sharp and Dick Robinson, founder of the Connecticut School of Broadcasting, noticed that immediately after she took care of him and her fellow passengers on a flight.
“This older gentleman told me I need to be in radio and TV,” recalled Connell, who shook off the suggestion for a variety of reasons. (Alumni of the school include Rita Cosby, Rush Limbaugh and Artie Lange.)
Connell met Robinson again while working another flight. This time, she let herself be convinced, after all, she’d traveled aboard Delta for five years and seen the world, so why not?
She was a natural and worked every genre of talk radio. Then Sept. 11 happened, “and it was a big paradigm shifter for me. It awakened me. It was a big deal,” she said. “A really big deal.”
Connell quit radio for a time, finally coming back to help turn around a small station – and she did in a major way, which was gratifying, considering the post-Sept. 11 era and the ability to connect with people via airwaves.
“There’s a level of intimacy there that doesn’t exist in any other medium,” she said. “I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I pretend to be well-informed, but I don’t have all the answers.”
Being thick-skinned is de rigueur for the role, said Connell. “I get constructive criticism and it gives me something to think about. The more successful you are, the more you have to deal with it.”
And that’s all right with Connell, who had to deal with a quick, albeit tough, firestorm in August 2010 when she called President Barack Obama a “half-breed” while trying to issue a compliment about his beginnings.
During the end of the day’s program, Connell said: “America has allowed poor people like Oprah Winfrey to come from nothing and create a billion-dollar media enterprise. At the same time, it has allowed a young half-breed man — and I say half-breed not in a derogatory way, it was just the first thing I thought of — to become president.”
Although Connell issued an apology the very next morning, she face continued criticism. The experience is still tough to talk about today. “That was the worst day of my life. I was sick over. I was sick,” she recalled. “It was not indicative of who I am. It was horrible. … It aggravated me because I don’t like giving (critiques) such an easy target.”
When this writer – who is multiracial – remarked that the controversy seemed to have persisted far longer than was perhaps fair, Connell was quick to disagree. “You have to be prepared to get as good as you give” – even when you say something you didn’t intend,” she said. “I’m in the business of slings and arrows. This (was) an arrow.”
Nowadays – a full year later – Connell continues to throw many of her own, particularly at topics that fill her with passion. Among them: politics (“I’m fiscally conservative, but I really don’t want the government in my personal life.”); football (“I love Charlie Strong. I think he’s awesome.”); the Jefferson County Public School system (“We have an inexperienced system. … I’m not going to be part of someone’s social experiment. … This is the issue I’m most passionate about); and remaining an on-air voice that affects change, or at least people.
While Connell joked – I think – that her goal is to “make a crap load of money and retire by the time she is 55,” the sardonic contemplator has fallen in love with Louisville, like so many other transplants, and would only leave if a mega-offer came her way. “It’s probably one of my favorite cities in the world,” she said.
Mandy Connell doesn’t hold back on-air, so why should her Facebook page differ? Here are some of our favorite comments she’s recently posted to her fan page. For the full context, you have to go to www.facebook.com and LIKE her – we did.
“The President rewrites history. Again. But I guess when you think there are 57 states, anything is possible.” – Aug. 11
“Okay guys, how hot is a Playboy Playmate packing heat? Discuss.” – Aug. 10
“The President’s speech stunk. Different day, same nonsense. And JCPS is using your money to campaign, imo (in my opinion). Check it here.” – Aug. 9
“Mandy Connell is no longer arguing against the debt ceiling deal. But will be patiently awaiting the results of the debt committee. Prediction: we will hear cries of ‘leadership lied to us’ from GOP members who voted for crap sandwich.” – Aug. 2
“Need help Facebook peeps … thinking about putting The Q (her daughter) in preschool. Suggestions that aren’t in the East End? She’s only 2, but I still want a learning environment, but not preschool college either. Suggestions?” – July 11
“Did you get caught in traffic going to the (NASCAR Sprint Cup) race? Who’s more to blame … the track for not having the parking worked out or YOU for not leaving early enough???” – July 11
Q&A with Mandy Connell
Family: Husband Chuck Ley; “inherited sons” Ryan, 21, and Phil, 20; and 2-year-old daughter Quinlan who is most often called “The Q.”
Blackberry or iPhone: “Neither – Android, but I still miss my Blackberry.”
Shop talk: “I love to shop for The Q, but I hate to shop for me. You will know I have made it when I have a personal shopper. Einstein allegedly had seven sets of outfits so he didn’t have to expend energy on what to wear. I would wear the same clothes every day if I could.”
Show prep: Mandy peruses 30-plus websites on a regular basis to keep up on politics, news, entertainment and everything in between. Among her favorites: The Drudge Report, Bluegrass Institute, The New York Times, Washington Post, Washington Times and USA Today.
Louisville love: Mandy arrived in Louisville in April 2010 to interview for the morning radio talk-show host position left vacant after much-revered personality Francene Cucinello died suddenly on Jan. 15, 2010, at the age of 43. To give Mandy a taste of what the River City had to offer, her friend Marsha took her on a whirlwind tour. “I went to Jack Fry’s, Lynn’s, Uptown Café and Wild Eggs – in one day. … This is special here. The people are wonderful.”
Totally boss: “I have the best boss in the world. He doesn’t ever tell you anything you don’t need to hear. Kelly is also rare in the industry because he supports women in radio.”
Tune in: Join Mandy Connell 9 a.m. to noon weekdays on 84WHAS or online at www.whas.com.
About the Author (Author Profile)
Angie Fenton is Managing Editor of The Voice-Tribune, a Blue Equity company. She is also an entertainment correspondent for WHAS11′s new morning show, “Great Day Live!”, which debuted August 22 on Louisville’s ABC affiliate. Additionally, Angie is an entertainment correspondent for the Saturday Morning Show with Ron ‘n’ Mel Fisher on 84WHAS (840 AM) and has served in the same capacity for Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks; Breeders’ Cup; and Circuit of the Americas during the Formula 1 U.S. Grand Prix in November 2012. Angie also serves as an emcee, host, voiceover professional and on-camera commercial talent.
Angie has a bachelor’s and master’s in English from Central Michigan University and began her career as an adjunct professor at her alma mater. She is the youngest of five — four of whom were adopted, including Angie, and none of whom are biologically related. She is also a Michigan native who moved to Kentucky in June 2002. Angie is owned by two dogs — Herbie and Yoda — and feels lucky to have loved and been loved by many more, including Pooch, Jessie, Onyx, Jack and Big Bud, who took his last breath on Christmas Day 2012.