Jill Riley Q&A

June 1, 2020
Jill Riley spent years as an overnight DJ but is now queen of the morning.

“I really enjoyed doing the overnight shift. I was a night owl. I loved that idea of being the mysterious overnight voice on people’s radio and it gave me a rare opportunity to develop as a host and gain the experience needed for the more prime time slots. When I worked the night-shift, I was a member of Minnesota Roller Girls (now known as Minnesota Roller Derby), so I would go to derby practice before my on-air shift. Mark Wheat probably remembers me coming in with bags of ice for various aches and pains as I would take over from him to start the night shift.”

When was the first moment that you thought you wanted to pursue a career in radio?

I don’t know that I can pinpoint a particular moment, but my desire to pursue radio as a career really started in junior high. I really loved radio, listening to the radio, connecting to DJ’s and really being fascinated by the ins and outs of how a radio show got from a radio studio to my home radio. I had an outgoing personality as a young person, I enjoyed entertaining people, making people laugh and I found as I was growing up I could verbally communicate with people, without too much effort. I was discouraged from going into radio because of the job prospects, but it made me want it even more.

Most people cringe at hearing the sound of their own voice. Was that ever a barrier for you?

Oh! Most definitely! I don’t hear my voice, my main communication tool, as others hear my voice. I think it’s a pretty natural barrier for most people, even those not in radio. Over the years I’ve become more comfortable with my voice as I’ve really settled in to using it on the radio for nearly two decades. It took me many years to hone my craft enough to be confident in my own voice. It just takes time and patience to get past that barrier. I listen back to a lot of my work so that I can find ways to improve on my own verbal ticks and crutches, it’s a necessary part of the gig, to listen to our own work and improve.  I will never enjoy being air-checked by another person; I find the critical process to be a huge confidence killer. But I don’t think anyone has found a better way to do it, so until then, I accept it as part of the process!

You cut your teeth at KVSC at St. Cloud State, which is one of the top college radio stations in the country. Do you still tune in? Have you gone back to speak to students?

KVSC was the number one reason I chose to go to St. Cloud State. I learned so much at the station, everything from on-air, production, news writing, to being involved in the 50-hour Trivia Marathon. I haven’t been able to participate in the trivia contest since my son was born, but I enjoyed participating as an alum for many years after college and I hope to in the future. I have only been called on to speak to prospective mass comm students, maybe once or twice, but I would love to connect with more students actively in the mass communications program. I’ve done some air-checking sessions and mentoring sessions with Radio K students and I’ve enjoyed passing on some of my experiences as they develop their own voice and skills.

You’ve worked so many shifts in your 15 years at The Current, including the overnight shift, which would probably be hard for some but you’ve said you didn’t mind. Would you go to shows before going to work? 

I certainly have not had a 9-5 kind of schedule in the 15 plus years I’ve been at The Current. I really enjoyed doing a live overnight shift for a few reasons. I was a night owl. I loved that idea of being the mysterious overnight voice on people’s radio and it gave me a rare opportunity to develop as a host and gain the experience needed for the more prime time slots. When I worked the nightshift, I was a member of Minnesota Roller Girls (now known as Minnesota Roller Derby), so I would go to derby practice BEFORE my on-air shift. Mark Wheat probably remembers me coming in with bags of ice for various aches and pains as I would take over from him to start the night shift. Going to a show before work was difficult, but I was able to hit one every now and then. When I started working weekend afternoons, I spent a lot of time at my favorite music venues on the weekend.

You’re now the solo host of the Morning Show. What’s your workday look like? When does the alarm clock ring? 

Being the solo host of the Morning Show is incredibly busy and chaotic, but I get really energized by the fast pace.  It’s a routine that I know well, and executing the show solo is just a different style of doing radio. It’s certainly more stressful, there’s more pressure to succeed, since the successes and failures are riding on my shoulders, rather than multiple shoulders. But, that pressure really fuels my drive to focus and do the best I can and deliver what the morning audience is expecting. The alarm clock goes off at 4:15 a.m., that will never feel “normal,” but I love what I do.  I also heavily rely on my morning coffee.

You have such eclectic choices for your Coffee Breaks – everything from outlaw country to 60s pop. Do you have a favorite Coffee Break?

We recently put together a great list of songs for the class of 2020 that struck an emotional chord with the audience. If someone is touched by something they hear on air, then I feel like I’m doing my job.  One thing I love about the Coffee Break is that one matter the topic, we always hit a wide range of sounds, genres and eras of music.

Interviews are obviously a big part of what you do. Have you found that your interviewing style has changed through the years? What works best for you?

The more interviews I do, the more comfortable I am talking to people. I’m a very nervous person around musicians and I used to be very self-conscious about asking them questions. But, over time I just got more comfortable with interviewing bands. One thing that has added to my confidence is knowing that I’ve taken the time to ask interesting questions and to not be afraid of my own curiosity about my subject. I’ve observed a lot of interviewers who want to prove how much they know about a band or artist, rather than bringing out the story from the artist or letting the band tell their own story.  Also, the more “human” the question, the more open I find that bands are and the more vulnerable their responses. Of course, this is after many years of trial and error and finding my own comfort zone in talking to strangers, and at times, very famous strangers.

How would you describe the Minnesota music scene to people not from here?

The Minnesota music scene is magical. It’s supportive, it’s fertile, it’s exciting.

What advice would you give to publicists?

Pitch something that is close to the ballpark of the format, otherwise I treat it as junk mail.

What are you listening to now to keep your spirits up?

I really love Linda Ronstadt’s album “Heart Like a Wheel.” It’s gorgeous and comforting.