A song ends, and a familiar voice enters the radio airspace. In dulcet tones and a mellow, deliberate cadence, Katie Gorham recites the names and performers of the last several songs her listeners heard, occasionally peppering her relaxed chatter with a comment on a song or an artist’s tour update. If you’ve listened to her evening show on WEXT before, you can sense the moment when she’s about to pause and identify herself: I’m Katie G., thank you for joining me tonight, I’ll be here with you until 11 o’clock . . .
Gorham (whose radio handle is actually spelled KTG) at first reacts with innocence to the question of whether her on-air voice is a “character” she gets into for her shows, deliberately slowing down her delivery and drawing out her clearly enunciated words to enter a carefully crafted comfort zone for her listeners. She asks if she sounds any different in person, and the answer is, no, not really . . . except that it’s hard to compare a private conversation with the on-air performance of a radio show.
And finally, she admits to being conscious of her vocal delivery—and how it seems to affect people. “I don’t think I’m in character,” she says, “but you’re right, I do maybe mellow things out and slow things down a bit.”
And although Gorham is only 24 (she turns 25 later this month), she is hardly new to radio—she worked at the Ithaca College radio station all four years she attended there—or to people commenting on her voice.
She has a Twitter follower who frequently refers to her “golden voice,” and, she says, “throughout college and even now with my close friends, they always refer to it as my ‘sexy radio voice.’
“Being sexy on the air has never been my intention,” she continues, telling a funny story about working summers as a receptionist in her mother’s H&R Block office. “While answering the phones at H&R Block, my mom would tell me I needed to tone it down, that it sounded like she was calling a [sex chat] hotline or something. As I mentioned before, I never intended to have my voice come off that way.”
And not everyone describes her delivery as come-hither sexy. “In college,” she says, “I had a friend tell me that if all else failed I could always record relaxation tapes for money. That I had a smooth, calming voice.”
Gorham, whose job at WEXT (Exit 97.7) is full-time, has a second, part-time job as a server at City Beer Hall in downtown Albany, where customers sometimes hear a familiar tone in her voice—or at least, a quality that sounds radio-friendly. “Three different people [at the bar] have asked me if I have another job, because they recognized my voice,” she says. And “I’ve had people compliment my voice and say, ‘Oh, you should work in radio.’”
The outgoing Gorham enjoys this kind of interaction: “It’s a way for me to meet listeners.”
Katie Gorham grew up in Harpers Ferry at the easternmost end of West Virginia. At Ithaca College, she majored in radio and television communications. Although she had no opportunity to get involved in radio in high school, she knew before she even got to Ithaca that she wanted to be part of her college station. “When I decided that I wanted to major in communications,” she says, “my goal was to be heard, and to have a positive impact on people. . . . And I was a big music fan.”
At the time, her focus was on jam-band music, and she attended as many of that genre’s festivals as she could afford to. Her tastes now are more eclectic, a word often used to describe the format of the radio station she works for.
After graduation, Gorham stayed in Ithaca and did some work for Cayuga Radio Group until her apartment lease ran out, when she moved back home to West Virginia to begin the process of job hunting in earnest. Via the Internet, she applied for “between 60 and 100 jobs. . . . It was very frustrating.”
One job she applied for was at WMHT Educational Telecommunications in Troy. “The description was for the classical radio station,” she remembers. “It didn’t even allude to WEXT.”
But when Chris Wienk, a vice president for radio at WMHT and also the Exit 97.7 program director, e-mailed her to invite her up to Troy for an interview, she did more research and found out about WEXT. Excited about the possibilities, she did the interview and felt that it went well, and went back home to wait.
“Chris called me,” she recalls. “He said he checked all my references, and they were awful.” He was kidding, and he offered her the job of radio operations and production assistant. She and her mother found her an apartment in Albany, she moved in on New Year’s Eve 2010, and began work on Jan.3, 2011. In addition to her on-air shows, Gorham also produces two weekly shows (Hello Pretty City and My Exit), manages and schedules underwriting, assists in pledge drives, does some television development work, and conducts, records and produces interviews with musicians.
“I do like interviewing musicians, especially artists that I am really fond of,” she says. “Preparing for an interview with a band/musician that I am a fan of is much easier for me. . . . When I already know a lot about an artist it makes the interview sound more like natural conversation, which is what I want. . . . I don’t like feeling as though I’m prodding answers out of people.”
She did a well-received interview recently with Grace Potter, who was in town to play the Egg—and Gorham says that to date, it is her favorite interview, “hands down.”
“It may have been the fastest 10-minute conversation I’ve ever had, but it was also one of the coolest opportunities for me, as I have been a fan of hers and her band since 2006,” says Gorham. “She has got to be one of the coolest and most bad-ass chicks in music right now. There was a lot of anticipation for this interview. We had to wait quite a while before she met up with us. I was so incredibly nervous, Chris and Dave [Michaels, a deejay and producer] probably thought I was a whack job, but as soon as she came into the room I was totally calm and it was really natural.”
Gorham also enjoys the part of her job that sends her out into the community, attending events like LarkFEST, Art on Lark, Alive at Five, etc., and various WEXT-sponsored benefits. “Meeting listeners for the first time at these events is really nice,” she says. “There’s always someone new approaching us at our tents.”
And ultimately, she says, the most rewarding thing about working in radio is connecting with people, “knowing that there is a listener out there who I am having a positive effect on. I mean, that was one of the reasons I wanted to get involved in radio in the first place. I may not talk about an awful lot, primarily just the music, but someone’s listening and connecting with me and the music.
“There have been several listeners who’ve e-mailed the station . . . telling us about a hard time they may have been going through and that they discovered WEXT and it’s been one of the things that’s continued to bring joy into their life. I remember there was an e-mail from a guy who had lost his wife somewhat recently and was having a hard time being happy and finding joy in the simple things, but he said that WEXT has helped to bring him those things, and that he hasn’t turned the station off.”
Gorham is quick to give credit to the station as a whole and not single herself out for making these connections. At the same time, she knows that she is doing her part by trying to create an on-air environment that is warm and welcoming to her listeners. “I know how powerful something as small as a smile or laughter can be to someone who is having a hard day or time, she says. “That can make a world of difference for someone, getting a genuine smile out of them. It can change their whole mood.”
And Gorham, who sometimes calls herself a “dork” and insists that “in my daily life, I’m goofy as hell,” is content with the on-air persona she has created—or is still creating.
“I listen to other radio stations and hear voices that are harsh, and to be quite honest, annoying,” she says. “I guess my whole ‘character’ is that super-chill evening deejay who has a smooth voice, may be slightly goofy, and loves music.”
Tomorrow (Friday, March 8), in honor of International Women’s Day, WEXT will celebrate by going “babe city”—pushing the male personalities aside and letting KTG, Joyce Jackey, Aja and Laura Glazer (Hello Pretty City) be the deejays for the day. They will count down the Top 200 Women Who Rock. The countdown will begin at 6 AM; KTG will deejay her regular time slot (6-11 PM) and bring listeners No. 1.