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Shelly Hulce

President, Southwestern Ohio Public Radio

This week meet the president of Southwestern Ohio Public Radio, WSWO 97.3 FM, in Dayton Ohio, Shelly Hulce aka Gladgirl Shelly. Southwestern Ohio Public Radio is a Low-Power FM, (LP-FM), community radio station, 100% listener supported and 100% volunteer staffed. Their format is rock and crossover from the 1950’s, ‘60’s & ‘70’s celebrating their 20th anniversary in September of this year. Besides her leadership role, Shelly hosts a weekly, deep cut, album rock show, “The Wax Carnival.” 

Shelly's day job is Director of the Radio Reading Service of Goodwill Easter Seals Miami Valley in Dayton, Ohio. This 24/7 broadcast is free for the blind and handicapped. Listeners access the RRS via stream and on SCA, (Subsidiary Communications Authorization), signals, also known as a “subcarrier.” Programs are an hour long and range from local and international news publications, books, educational publications and entertainment. Programs are broadcast from our Dayton studio with a mix of live, on-air readings and pre-recorded materials, all read by volunteers.

When not working Shelly enjoys playing guitar, making collage art, and producing local rock shows and creating rock reenactment shows, "...think “Civil War” reenactment, only with moments in rock history. My standout production was of the last show that David Bowie performed as Ziggy Stardust. We made the costumes, used the same set list, bought all the right wigs, had two sellout shows!" When there is time, she also writes rock reviews and interviews performers for various online outlets, and is currently studying to become an “Audio Describer” for the blind.

How did you get into your industry / What motivated you?

In the mid ‘60’s my older sister was in a high school garage band, one day she took me with her to downtown Dayton, we walked by a radio station featuring live DJ's in a large storefront window. She explained how the DJ's played the music that we hear on the radio. This blew my mind. It was like seeing the wizard behind the curtain in Oz! From that day on, I pretended to be a DJ. It always pained me to be told that girls can’t be DJs but I kept on making my pretend shows on a portable reel to reel tape recorder. I was a super lonely kid growing up on a farm, my best friends were my radio and my record player.

In my teens, I was a fan of WKRP in Cincinnati, being just 30 minutes south. It wasn’t until I was in my 20’s that I actually heard a female dj on local radio, and she was MAGIC! I was in love with the voice of “The Real” Mary Peale and was a devoted fan, wherever she moved on the dial. I was too nervous to seek her out and ask “how did you break the rules?” Not long after, another female voice entered my world, Barb Abney, via one of the top alt / collage rock stations in history, WOXY 97x Oxford, Ohio. It was still a mystery to me, how to “break” into radio. I believed I had to go to broadcasting school and there was no way I could afford that.

Fast forward to 2006. I was in my mid 40’s and helping out with a local music festival. The emcee for the festival was a local radio icon and rock promoter, “Rev. Cool” from the Antioch College station, WYSO 88.1 Public Radio in Yellow Springs, Ohio. I asked if I could be a volunteer contributor for his listener newsletter. He invited me to the station to visit with him during his show. I had no idea it was going to happen but he put me on the air. I couldn’t believe it! I told him of my desire to do radio and asked what I needed to do for that to happen. He said, “what are you doing on Friday nights?” and invited me to just come hang out. I became a volunteer at the station, serving however I could. I assisted a friend of mine who began hosting her own weekly show and that was a fun 3 years of learning and sometimes on the mic.

Someone I worked with on my day job asked me if I had heard of this all volunteer station that had been on the air a couple of years. He had his own show there and invited me to come check it out. After hanging out there for a few months, they asked me if I wanted to be a volunteer DJ and the rest is history! I have been with WSWO for 14 years! The theme here is like anything else; show up and volunteer! After having these experiences of volunteering, I now had a media resume and that helped me land my day job eight years ago. 

What is a day in the life like?

My day job in the Radio Reading Service for the blind is a mix of being on air, managing volunteer readers and doing outreaches in the listener community. Many times I am doing admin work from home and assisting my paid staff. In the evening, I am writing or doing art, and each Wednesday night, I host “The Wax Carnival” on WSWO 97.3.

In your opinion what has been your favorite / the coolest thing you've worked on?

I love producing local rock shows and house show events! One of my favorite things to do is build soundtracks for events, like firework shows and parties. Recently, I did a live soundtrack on WSWO 97.3 during the total eclipse in our region. It was really cool to hear friends report back that people were playing it in the cars and at public parks during the path of the eclipse. I had a track ready, based on the weather service timeline from the start to the total eclipse, to the corona and then back to light. I cued the songs up to cover certain stages of the event. I would cue the song, run out and check the sky, run in and check my times… this went on for about an hour.

Another highlight in my audio life was having Ira Glass (This American Life), critique my first “ComVox” (community voice) pieces during my production training at WYSO 88.1.

Another dream was realized through WYSO when “The Moth” brought their main-stage production to Dayton. I had worked towards that goal, creating and hosting my own story slams  for 13 years, and the station made that happen! 

What has been / is the most difficult part of your job?

Definitely learning the language of nonprofit law, labor law, FCC regulations and general administrative requirements of managing a license for the LP-FM. I have been president of the board for the last eight years. I love people and, having been blessed by my own volunteer experiences, I have a heart for volunteers.

Managing and observing best practices for a large group of people can be daunting at times. With the community radio station, we have had to deal with a number of traumatic events. In 2019, a total of 15 tornados hit our region on the night of Memorial Day. Three months later on August 3rd, a mass shooting hit our most popular entertainment districts, killing nine and injuring many others. Keeping our listening public informed and giving attention to the needs of our community was difficult at times. In 2020, we had to let all of our volunteers go. We came up with ways to keep them on the air, formulating plans for remote work and training over the phone.

I ran the Radio Reading Service without a staff for 2 years from my house. I was lucky to have enough volunteers willing to build home studios and work remotely so the broadcast wasn’t interrupted.

What advice do you have for someone wanting to get into pursuing what you're doing?  

Show up, learn, and be patient. The connections you make are priceless.

Three words. Volunteer, volunteer and VOLUNTEER! Show up, learn, and be patient. The connections you make are priceless. And from those connections, other great things happen. You have to have an attitude of service, not to “be” served. If you experience social anxiety, make that need known to the person providing your volunteer opportunity. Any good leader will recognize that and do their best to assist you. If they don’t, keep looking for the best fit somewhere else. If a volunteer position stresses you out, don’t agonize over it, move on. 

What types of things are happening in your industry / with vinyl that you're excited or worried about?  i.e. innovation, or trends you're seeing.

I am excited about young people discovering records, either through re-issues or at thrift stores. Here in Dayton, we are blessed to have several amazing independent record stores. They are vital to our music community and are well supported by music lovers. Vinyl is my first love but I am supportive of other mediums. I don’t like the way artists are ripped off my certain streaming outlets. I have a really hard time dealing with the price of concert tickets too. Hopefully there will be some big corrections to protect artists and fans. 

Credit Erin Volk-Gabbard, Howler Hills Farm

Are you a vinyl collector yourself?  

I had two older siblings that were in high school and played in bands when I was a child. This was when the Beatles came to the states and then the hippie years. I loved seeing their friends come over with records. When a new album was released, they would run to the record store and then run to the house of whoever had a record player and didn’t have strict parents. I loved the chatter and excitement as they passed the record jackets around and studied the art. The smell of the tubes warming up in the Zenith console stereo, it was so entertaining and left a huge mark on me. I saw my sister’s band on a local tv talent show and I thought for sure she knew the Beatles (she played drums)!

When she and my older brother graduated and left home, they left all those glorious records behind. I was grieving them being gone and I would play their records to feel close to them. I still have them! When I got old enough to carry my own lunch money to school, I would hoard the money for records. My system for sneaking these purchases was pretty smart. At our local grocery store, they sold records by the check out. I would sneak to the front of the store, buy a record and then take it out to the car and hide it under the seat. I would sneak it in the house when the coast was clear. I never stopped loving records and have bought them all of my life.

My husband is 10 years older than me and he had a good collection too. When we got married (nearly 33 years ago) our records multiplied. We continued to buy vinyl and have a personal collection of about 2,000. WSWO 97.3 collected vinyl donations and had an annual record sale as a fundraiser. At $2.00 an LP, I couldn’t stop buying. I keep a lot of duplicates so I can supply anyone that doesn’t have an essential. Our daughter was raised loving vinyl and would sometimes give friends the duplicates. Listeners of my show are also very into it and that makes a nice little community of music nerds. 

Who has been influential to you and your growth as a professional in this industry?

I never dreamed I would meet “The Real” Mary Peale (her name is Mary DeCioccio) my biggest influence in radio. I used to call her show and she invited me to come hang out at the station. We really hit it off and became friends. She still has a huge local following and I created a fanpage for her on Facebook. She’s a huge influence on me as a friend and mentor and has appeared on The Wax Carnival a few times.

I have to shout out to the guy that made all of this possible, Rev. Cool, host of “Around the Fringe” on WYSO 88.1. His show is in it’s fourth decade! Also at WYSO, music director and host of the weekly shows “Kaleidoscope” and “Alpha Rhythms”, Juliet Fromholdt. I was lucky to work with her during the first three years of “Kaleidoscope!” I learned the most from her and we learned together as well. She is a mover, a shaker and much beloved by the music community. I wouldn’t be doing any of the things I do today if not for her.

Another woman in the industry that has paved the way for a lot of public radio folks is Neenah Ellis. Before her move to Yellow Springs to become the Program Director, she worked alongside many NPR producers and air talent. She was raised in radio as her father ran a small radio station in Indiana. She never knew a life without radio so it was second nature to her. She built a great deal of programs to give people like me the opportunity to become producers. She brought her life experiences to us and invested in anyone that had the desire to serve through the media. Our local classical station, Classical 88.1FM, was also led by an influential female director named Georgie Woessner. I admired her work but never met her.

Anything else you’d like to add, if not tell us who you're listening to right now: 

I love prog rock no matter what the era, everything from Pretty Things to Yes, to Amon Duul to The Flaming Lips. I am a loyal and devoted fan of Dayton’s best export Guided By Voices, that band is the source for my moniker of “Gladgirl.” I am also devoted to the other biggest Dayton exports, The Breeders and Brainiac. All of these band members still live here in Dayton and it’s fun watching them go out and do huge things and then see them at a local show, taking a walk or shopping at the grocery store. There is something in the Dayton water! It’s a great place to live and create.

Find Shelly

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