Photography by Evaan Kheraj Credits: Photography by Evaan Kheraj
Sandra E. Martin: How are western Canadians different from eastern Canadians—and how are they similar?
Marilyn Denis: I think [your point of view] has to do with how old you were when you arrived. You've got an adventurous mind when you're younger; you're more of a risk-taker. I found, in both places, people are very, very friendly. And in both places, I probably stuck my foot in my mouth many, many times! When I first moved, to Toronto from Calgary, I became quite shy and overwhelmed; it was a weird thing that happened to me. And I wondered, Why did I feel more comfortable in Calgary than in Toronto? Then, when I started risk-taking again, I was fine.
SEM: Before coming to Toronto, you'd been a solo broadcaster. Then, famously, when you, were hired at 104.5 CHUM FM, you were partnered with Roger Ashby, an already-established radio presence. How did you make that career adjustment?
MD: I was very careful—I was partnered up with this man who had been known in Toronto for many years—and that was doing that dance and being able to have the connection and the chemistry with him. Never mind this big city! He was the anchor, Roger Ashby. At the time, Rick Hodge was the sports guy, and I was there to do entertainment and traffic. So the roles were defined. Roger was extremely—and still is—gracious with me on the air; he would say, "Marilyn, don't go back to the newsroom. Talk to me about this!" So it morphed into me staying in the room, then it morphed into Roger, Rick and Marilyn—now Roger, Darren and Marilyn—on Toronto's 104.5 CHUM FM.
SEM: I've read that, within minutes of meeting you at your job interview, Roger knew you were "the one." How important is chemistry with the people you work with?
MD: This is a man who has been in radio for a long time; on his own, he would be a magnificent program director. So he knew exactly what he was looking
for. I think when you've got great self-esteem, you're not worried about having the upper hand with somebody; you're letting them be. You know who you are, so you want to find someone who is going to fit in with what you do. Also, I think he's a born teacher, so when he met me—there's 10 years' separation between the two of us—he understood my passion for radio, my love of music, and the fact that I'd been in radio, at that time, for 10 years. So he knew I didn't just want to be on the radio. And I sensed instant comfort with him; he never let me fall.
SEM: And now, your son, Adam Wylde, is in radio. How do you feel about that?
MD: I feel really good about that because he has been working hard at it for nine years and it has taken him to Barrie, Halifax, Calgary and now back to Toronto. He really enjoys it and that's the important part—that he loves what he does.
SEM: What do you love most about your job?
MD: I love the fact that it changes every day. I love the fact that news drives a lot of what we talk about. I love the fact that, when I get up in the morning—which I don't relish a lot of the time—and I go to work, I'm going to have fun. It's a great atmosphere to be in. With the television side of things, I've got a great group of people, and I'm learning from them. They're a lot younger than I am; they put me in situations I'm not sure of sometimes, but I'm good with that. It makes me feel current. These guys, they know what's out there, what's of interest to them and what's of interest to the viewers, which is number one. And one feeds the other: What I do on The Marilyn Denis Show is great content for CHUM FM. And again, with CHUM FM, I find something and bring it forward to the TV side.
SEM: How in the world do you keep your energy up?
MD: I really love what I do. I like that buzz of being live: live on the radio, live to do a television show. I love that people are listening in their cars, at their houses, while taking their kids to swim practice. I like the fact that I'm standing in front of a whole bunch of people in the TV studio, and I see their reaction right away. That's a high for me. I really get a charge out of that. And I get a charge out of people who come in and are part of the show; I think, I'm going to learn something new from this person today.
Marilyn's True Confessions
1. She doesn't wake up at the crack of dawn; she wakes up well before dawn. "I get up at 3:30; I need time to wake up. I work from 5:30 to 9 on CHUM FM. Then, I go to hair and makeup for The Marilyn Denis Show, which airs live from 10 to 11, and I stay sometimes until 1 or 2. The day isn't long; it's just that the day is earlier than most people's. I go to bed at 7 or 7:30."
2. Her mom and dad delayed their plans to move to the U.S. "My parents wanted me to be Canadian, so they waited until I was born in Canada—I'm a July 1 baby, so I'm a true Canadian." A couple of weeks later, the family moved to Pittsburgh for dad's work (and he wanted to continue his education at Carnegie Mellon University).
3. Marilyn doesn't have the most adventurous sense of style. "Alexis Honce [who is also an expert on The Marilyn Denis Show] is my stylist. She understands I'm not really a dress person; I like to wear jeans. The plainer the clothes, the better! Accessorizing is difficult for me, so she'll encourage me to go into that world a bit more than I'm used to."
Want more Marilyn? Watch her full sit-down interview with Sandra.