A confessed ‘carpetbagger’ from Portland, Maine, Molly Adams is now peddling her radio producing talents at Vocalo.org, Chicago’s next-generation public media outlet targeting younger, culturally diverse audiences. She co-hosts The Morning AMp, a fresh news/pop culture morning radio show, with Brian Babylon, a Chicago stand-up comedian and frequent panelist on NPR’s Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me. Together, they’re the key ingredients to the show’s winning recipe.
According to Ms. Adams, the show is appealing “because we keep it real, listen to cool music and are very accessible to callers and commenters.” She also believes being a public radio program gives The Morning AMp an advantage in quality over mainstream morning talk shows on television or radio. “We don’t have to play commercials and we have firewalls between advertisers and editorial,” she explains. “We have an express mission to have genuinely diverse voices on air.”
Case in point is the diversity of the co-hosts themselves. Ms. Adams admits, with amusement, that she and Mr. Babylon “couldn’t be any more different on paper.” She’s a white millennial and often takes up the liberal mantel, whereas he’s black, graduated college before she was a twinkle in her parents’ eyes and is Facebook friends with Condoleezza Rice. Their differences may drive conversations, but for Ms. Adams, “our clear friendship and affection for each other really highlight how easy it is to get along with people with differing opinions.”
Ms. Adams is whip-smart and outspoken with a wicked sense of humor, an adorable chuckle and a highly developed sense of world consciousness. She’s also a beast in the studio. Five days a week, she masterfully juggles on-air guests and live listener commentary, all while delivering deep coverage with exacting detail on a variety of important and provocative topics. Part of what makes Ms. Adams special is her natural ability to break down issues for the lay-listener in a clear and unbiased yet compelling way. She does it so effortlessly; you’d think radio production is in her DNA. Well, it’s certainly steeped in her history.
Ms. Adams cut her teeth at 14 working with The Blunt Youth Radio Project, a weekly community radio call-in talk show staffed by free and incarcerated Portland teens. There, Ms. Adams cross-trained in radio production: interviewing, hosting, reporting, editing and engineering. By 17, she had her first paying gig producing a series on the 2004 Presidential elections. Her media pursuits continued at Colorado College, where she produced and reported local news for the student-run station and helped establish the school’s student-run digital music channel. She broke into Chicago’s public radio market in 2008 as the host of YouthCast, Public Radio Exchange’s youth radio podcast and blog, and she was a curator for alt.NPR (a series of experimental podcasts distributed by NPR).
Today at Vocalo, in addition to producing, co-hosting and directing The Morning AMp‘s live broadcast, Ms. Adams manages the show’s live social media interactions, oversees the master calendar, pitches guests and story ideas, mentors interns and cheerfully participates in pledge drives and other marketing events for the station. “It’s a lot,” she admits. “But we have complete creative control over what we do and really know how to surround ourselves with a good team and manage our time.”
Vocalo is capitalizing on the success of Morning AMp, as well as the station’s other popular shows – The Mix Tape with Luis Antonio Perez, The MusicVox hosted by Jesse Menendez, Beat Latino with Catalina Maria Johnson and The Barber Shop Show hosted WBEZ’s Richard Steele, to name a few. The public radio station threw its first fundraiser gala, hiply dubbed #hatersball, to raise audience awareness and money to support programming and their free storytelling workshops for Chicago’s young aspiring media makers.
So what’s next for Ms. Adams? “Who knows? I love media in general: radio, TV, comedy (look for her stand-up comedy recommendations in The Reader), writing fiction and non-fiction. But I’m still dedicated to and passionate about Vocalo. I believe passionately in our mission, and there’s still a lot more work to be done in changing Chicago’s media landscape.”
Speaking of landscapes, although Ms. Adams’ true East Coast opinion is that “if Chicago were on an ocean, that would make it perfect,” she admits, “I love it so much regardless. I love the work ethic, friendliness and complete lack of pretension in the Midwest.” And we’re happy she calls Chicago home.
Catch The Morning AMp on 91.1 FM (CHI), 90.7 FM (CHI) or 89.5 FM (NWI), Mondays through Thursdays, 8am-10am and Fridays, 8am-11am. You can also live stream at www.vocalo.org/player. To learn more about supporting Vocalo public radio, visit www.vocalo.org.
Main photograph courtesy of Andrew Collings.