“I grew up on cheesesteaks. I say yo”. In an interview with Marilyn Russell, morning host for WOGL in Philadelphia, these were about the first words out of her mouth. As the reddish-blond, long haired, middle-aged woman sits comfortably in her sound studio, she looks out from her large black framed glasses to proudly speak about her job, her life, and her Philadelphia. She speaks memorably about her white collar upbringing in Mayfair, PA. “For me to be blessed enough to be working in my hometown is everything,” says Russell. She’s a self-described street kid who grew up on playgrounds that had cement instead of grass.
All these years later, she stills lives and works in the area as she prepares to celebrate her one-year anniversary working with 98.1 WOGL. This year, she will combine that celebration with another milestone, 25 years of work in the radio industry. She’ll be celebrating with a planned annual luncheon focusing on what she calls “her girl baby,” her Remarkable Women program. Originally a blog, she invented the concept of showcasing women with exceptional achievements. She brought the concept to radio when she worked with Ben FM, and now continues to run the program with WOGL. “It’s my second child,” says Russell. “I have a beautiful son at home, but this is my girl baby.” She makes it clear that she is proud of her twenty-five-year old son, proud of her job, and proud of her city.
It seems that Philadelphia, may have one John Goodchild to thank for its’ native radio host. After graduating with a journalism degree, Russell began work writing for an ad agency. She said she wanted to be “Peggy, from Mad Men.” But it was Goodchild, one of the executives of the agency she worked for, that mentioned to her that she had a great voice and should do voice-overs. According to Russell, this changed the course of her life. She returned to school for training in acting and voice which eventually landed her in radio.
Ms. Russell let her heart show just a little bit on her sleeve when we spoke of her thirteen years with Ben FM. She was laid off in early 2016 after a management change. She admits that after working there for so long, it was a difficult thing to go through. “I couldn’t talk to anyone for a couple of weeks. I was thrown right into a depression. I was in shock.” But then she went to see the Disney movie, Moana with a young relative. She describes the movie about Moana, the princess who has to be strong to save her part of the world. “That’s me,” said Russell. “I’m Moana. They’re not gonna break my heart. My heart will go on. I will come back stronger than I was before. “
It seems, that’s exactly what she’s done with her new digs at WOGL. Regarding her private life, she says she has no regrets. “In hindsight, when you look back, perhaps I should have put my husband a little further up on the rung than my career, but I didn’t, and you live with those consequences, and you hope you meet someone else you can share with. I would love to have a great guy to share it all with.” But she says she’s glad that she can stand on her own two feet. “I like myself,” she says with a balanced but modest amount of self-esteem. Also looking at her past, she states that she’d like to eat a few less Tasty Cakes. “I do have a relationship with food…I dine out for a hobby,” says Russell. She says she has a relationship with food instead of a man and hopes to change that in the near future.
Russell has interviewed Bradley Cooper, Russell Crowe, Kevin O’Leary, and Anna Kendrick just to name a few. After interviewing such notables as Maya Angelou, who made her emotional, Madeleine Albright, who she felt was truly special, David Bowie, who she describes as a “love bug,” and Liam Neeson, who she says looked and smelled nice, she goes on to describe Bette Midler as the one person who she learned from the most. Ms. Midler was the keynote speaker at an event for Virtua Hospital in New Jersey. Ms. Russell was the host and moderator for the event. “What I learned,” said Russell, “is that every detail matters…from meeting the person who will intro you and host your Q&A session, to which microphone sounds better. To this day I still check any/all microphones prior to deciding on which one I like the best before opening a program.”
“Rehearse!” exclaims Russell. She says she never rehearsed until seven or eight years ago when she met Bette Midler. Russell says Midler ran through her program letter for letter and slide by slide to prepare. She goes on to describe what she recalls as one of the funniest moments in her life. Russell says she watched “Bette” check the microphones. When she decided which mic she preferred, Ms. Midler said “I don’t like this one so much, let the moderator use this one.” At the time, Ms. Russell, Midler’s moderator, said she didn’t think Midler was aware that she was right in front of her. When the time came for Russell to head up on stage to meet Midler prior to her performance, Russell introduced herself by saying to Midler, “Hello, it’s such a pleasure to meet you. I’m Marilyn, your host and moderator today. I’ll be the one using the shitty mic.” Russell claims that Midler laughed, appreciated her candor, and that they immediately warmed up to each other. Russell believes that Midler probably never thought about the moment again, but says the moment has stayed with her because she learned more from her than she’d ever learned from anyone about preparedness, utilizing humor, putting up a confident front, even if your shaking in your boots, and “making the most out of whatever mic anyone hands you.”
Russell makes it clear that she’s still just a Philly girl at heart. “I want to be authentic. I don’t change. I can’t change. Maybe I made some modifications, but I’m always gonna be that little girl who grew up in the Mayfair section of Philly. Authenticity is everything.” Her dream would be to buy a beach house somewhere warm, and be able to write and blog. Perhaps in that dream of hers she’ll continue to watch Disney movies throughout her life, because as she puts it, “a good Disney movie can help you overcome just about everything.”
Catch Marilyn Russell on 98.1 WOGL Breakfast Club, weekdays from 5:30 a.m. to 9 a.m.