Q&A with Dolly McCarthy
Naperville resident and radio show host on WCKG AM 1530
"It's nice to be important, but it's more important to be nice" is a saying Dolly McCarthy tries to integrate into every aspect of her life. A well-known face around Naperville for the last 20 years, the mother of five grew up on the northwest side of Chicago in a family of 14 kids. After attending Northern Illinois University to study Broadcast Journalism, she went on to anchor for WCIU, CLTV and NCTV17 covering everything from traffic and local stories, to business and national news. She recently took her online podcast, “The Dolly McCarthy Show,” to AM 1530 WCKG, where each Sunday from noon to 1 p.m. she does interviews with singers, authors and other Chicago-area notables. McCarthy particularly likes to talk with leaders of area non-profits to learn about their organization’s respective missions and the various services they offer. She also likes to lend a helping hand when possible by emceeing events for such local charitable organizations as P.A.D.S, Operation Support Our Troops, 360 Youth Services, and many others. A huge country music fan, McCarthy is also a lover of poetry, history and her adopted hometown of Naperville.
What sparked your initial interest in journalism?
Dolly McCarthy: I had a newspaper route growing up when I was 12 years old delivering papers to about four blocks on Chicago’s northwest side. So every week I would get the paper delivered and there were great stories. I always wanted to be the informed kid, the one who knew it all. But I think what really inspired me was Chicago TV news, which back then was awful — just blood and gore and shootings. At least these days there’s some happy news too — people you should know, interesting features. Back then, it was pretty rough, but for some reason it still interested me. Then I started writing for my high school newspaper. I worked my way up to editor my senior year. So I thought I was going the newspaper route when I got to college. Due to a health
issue, I ended up going to Wilbur Wright Community College because it was close to home. I thought I was only going to be there for a semester, but I ended up going the full two years. While I was there, I took my core communications classes and we had to do a radio piece, which I thought was kind of fun. My professor at the time asked me if I ever considered going into broadcast news. Then he gave me a list of colleges that offered those programs and helped me zero in on schools that matched my strengths. I ended up going to Northern Illinois University which had its own TV station, and I was a reporter there. It was very hands-on. You were assigned your stories at nine in the morning and you went out to shoot them, edit them, and they were ready for the 9 p.m. news. Then I started anchoring and from there, I got my first job at WCIU Chicago as a producer.
Who were some of your early mentors or people you looked up to then?
DM: Walter Jacobson, Bill Curtis. I was thrilled because one of my first internships was at CBS working in the Channel 2 newsroom. That’s where I met them and helped them research and cover stories.
You’ve covered so many subjects, from traffic and local news to politics and business. What are some of your favorite types of stories to cover?
DM: People stories, without a doubt. In college at NIU, I did tons of stories on farmers, and I loved that. Then I went to WCIU and I was doing business news, and that was fun and interesting. But what I love most are people stories, especially inspirational ones. Everybody has a story.
How did you end up at NCTV17 and become such an integral part of the Naperville community?
DM: After my run at WCIU, I got married and then pregnant and was able to stay home with the kids. I wasn’t one of those super driven “gotta be the anchor” woman. All I set out to do was tell stories, be able to be in the media world, and be able to contribute in my own way. I never wanted to be a star or celebrity or anything like that. I just wanted to get people’s stories told. I was fortunate to be able to stay home, and then (she laughs), all of a sudden it’s five children later. Fortunately, the local TV station in Naperville had heard about me and they asked if I would be interested in hosting a part-time show. I had the news bug again, so that show morphed into the Naperville News 17. Then people started asking me if I could emcee their events. Through that, you can gain such an appreciation for the needs of our society and the people that you don’t hear about every day on the news.
Is that what prompted you to become such a passionate ambassador for the local non-profit community, both on your radio show and through your personal involvement with so many different charitable organizations?
DM: That’s part of it. But its also because, looking back, there have been some bumps in my own road. I don’t typically talk about my personal life in much detail. So not many people know that, yeah, I’ve been through divorce. I’ve also lost two houses to foreclosure and I had to go to food pantries and get government aid. This was as recently as in the last few years. I needed to survive. I have five children. It was one of those things that I didn’t want anyone to know. I didn’t want anyone to see me suffering or to think that I was failing. Now, I’m starting to become comfortable talking about it because, in life, it’s something that we will all go through. We’ll have ups and downs and sometimes we’ll have really deep, deep downs, and it will be tough to get back up on our feet. Thank God I was able to do that, although I had help. I remember, for example, doing an event for Naperville Cares and one of my friends leaked it to them that, “You know, Dolly is here doing your event, but she’s the one that needs help.” At that point I was living paycheck to paycheck and trying to hold everything together on my own. When they approached me, things had already begun to fall apart. And I realized it’s okay to acknowledge that you need help and accept that help. For so long I was the one helping people, and now all of a sudden I needed help. It just didn’t seem right. But I was at a point where I was rock bottom. To their credit, they didn’t just hand it to me. They said, “OK, where do you need help? Lets make a plan.” They looked at everything in my life and figured out which organizations could best help me. And now, I am planning a fundraiser with WGN where they’ll be able to get back way more than they so generously gave me. I’m starting to be more open about my life with my listeners because you’ve got to be real with people. I want to be positive, but you don’t want to be phony positive. Every now and then, people need help. I’ve been so lucky to give, but also to receive. And now, when I do these events and talk about these organizations, I really feel it. I also know where not-for-profits can improve because I’ve seen both sides.
What advice would you have for someone that is looking to get involved or give back to their community?
DM: Oh gosh, just do it! Find something that you enjoy or something that impacted you. There are so many awesome not-for-profits that I would love to be a part of. I would love to be a CASA Kane County volunteer. I have so much respect and admiration for what they do — it’s like a full time job! But also, don’t overcommit. Just do what you can. When I was a stay-at-home mom, the kids and I would make desserts for the PADS shelter because I had the time. We would drop off these fancy desserts because they deserved it! So find a group that means something to you personally, and do what you can. Every volunteer matters and it all adds up to making a huge difference.
So how did you get into podcasting?
DM: A couple years ago, longtime Chicago radio host Catherine Johns invited me to be on her podcast. And that’s when podcasting was new and I thought, “This is fun, I’m going to do this.” At that time, I was anchoring on WCLTV news, so it started as a half hour show. Within six months I bumped it to an hour and I was getting so many emails about people who wanted to be on the show. Every week I feature a not-for-profit. Today we interviewed the owner of a bakery that supports developmentally disabled adults and trains them to work there. It’s called Blue Sky Bakery in Lakeview. This was a woman who started out with the passion to make a difference, and hopefully the listeners will support that. So that is my passion — helping connect people for the greater good. That’s what we’re here on this earth for. To make a difference by doing small acts of kindness. So I’m proud of the radio show because I hope it’s making a difference.
While the podcast started out as a hobby, it was a somewhat natural progression. I realized that on TV news I didn’t get to interview people for very long, and that it would be nice to have that person that I just interviewed on TV on my radio show and really get to know them, their story and how we can help. I think that’s why most people get into journalism. You want to make a difference in the world and telling those kind of stories is one way to do that.
What do you like about working in radio versus TV?
DM: I love both, but I have to say the radio side is awesome because the interviews are so much longer and in-depth. I really get to know the subject and I get to be more relaxed and myself. As a news anchor they say, “OK Dolly, you have three minutes to interview Robert Bennett.” And I would think, “How are we going to get to the meat of all of it?” And I always thought there was so much more that the listener wanted to hear. But that’s the great thing about radio. You get the headline on TV news, but if you turn on the radio, you get the whole story.
You’ve recently taken the show from a podcast to a broadcast on WCKG. Tell us about working with a podcast versus radio broadcast?
DM: To have it on broadcast radio, that says to me there are people who want to hear about what’s good about the world. Because on the show, I want to feature all that’s good. I’ve even nicknamed it “The Good Show.” When I had the podcast online, I could see how many people were listening and the first couple times it was maybe 20 people. But I was thrilled! Because one thing about the Internet is that people are more deliberate in their listening. They’re more purposeful. When they click on my show, they’re listening. It’s not like they’re flipping around the dial and listening for a little bit. They’re actually going to the site, clicking on the link, and listening for the full hour. They’re very engaged. But now being on WCKG, I’m excited that there are more people listening.
How have your listeners and the community contributed to the show?
DM: My listeners are amazing people, they really are. When we have fundraising efforts, like a school supply drive or something, and I mention it on the show, my listeners show up to these events and it’s wonderful! I have listeners from all over, too. There’s a lady in Arizona, and I have listeners all the way in Italy.
How have you seen things like social media and the Internet changing the way that broadcasters work?
DM: Oh, they go hand-in-hand now. Even TV news. You’re tweeting, your Facebooking. Social media is where it’s at and I don’t think there’s any turning back. That’s where people get most of their news now, on the Internet. Besides promoting the show on social media, I’ve started posting clips of my show so people can get the stories that way.
I saw that you recently performed at the Arthur Murray Medal Ball. Tell us about that experience.
DM: The Community Career Center in Naperville helps people find jobs and for a couple years they kept asking if I would be in their “Dancing With the Celebrities” fundraiser, and I kept saying no. But I finally decided to do it, and it really motivated me to become more healthy and mindful of my body. I didn’t set out to beat anyone, but when I do something, I give it my all. And I won! Everyone was so positive and it really was great fun. That was a time when I was going through a lot of trauma, but I held tight to all the good around me. When you go through loss, you have to focus on what’s fun and good and positive in the world. I always tell my kids, “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.” If I can raise nice kids, that’s like my greatest accomplishment. We’re not here to accumulate wealth, we’re here to accumulate love. A simple act really does make a difference.
Growing up Catholic and one of 14 kids, I always wondered what my life purpose would be. But it was never, “What are you gonna do with your life?” It was always, “What’s the good that you’re going to do with your life?”
1. Your favorite spot to eat in Naperville?
Braconi’s. I go there a lot. Really good Italian food.
2. If you could interview anyone, who would it be?
I’ve interviewed a lot of people, but it would be my dad. I lost him way too soon and there’s so much that I would love to ask him. He’s someone I miss horribly. He was the head of 14 kids, he was the boss. When he was gone, it was such a huge void.
3. Favorite place to go in the western suburbs?
Naper Settlement. It’s one of my favorite places on earth! It’s great to take the kids, but also to go by yourself and walk the beautiful grounds and go in the old buildings. And the trees are huge!
4. What is something most people don’t know about you?
I love poetry. My house is like a shrine full of books of poetry and about American history. And I love to golf! I go every week.
5. What do you do in your free time?
I love going to sporting events. I love all the Chicago teams. And to lay on the beach!
6. If you had to live somewhere other than Naperville, where would it be?
Nowhere else. I love Naperville. If I ever did leave it, I’d be back here all the time.
7. Favorite summertime activity?
The Naperville Jaycees Last Fling festival in September. And I love to go to Lake Geneva!