Mix 104.1 morning personality Kennedy Elsey, 47, is co-host of the popular show Karson and Kennedy. Born in Virginia, she was raised outside of Chicago and studied theater at Drake University. She has lived in numerous places around the world (as a former military wife), and worked in Tallahassee, Florida, and Memphis, Tennessee, before moving to Boston in 2009. She lives in East Boston with her dog, Elvis.
Jonathan Soroff: Are you a morning person?
Kennedy Elsey: Yeah. Always have been. I’m obnoxious.
So what’s your schedule? I like to be in bed, under the blankets, by 8 o’clock—so I have no life. And I wake up between 3 and 3:30, or whenever my dog Elvis stands over me, breathing heavily.
Waking up that early doesn’t bother you? Look, it’s something that you never get used to. I don’t care how long you do this gig. Three o’clock is still really fucking early. It hurts. And the older you get, the more it hurts. And if you have to do an event that night, well, it hurts even worse. But mortgages must be paid, my friend, so off to work we go.
Best part of your job? My favorite thing is when you run into someone who listens to the show and they let you know that you make them laugh while they sit in traffic for two hours. Because first of all, I don’t understand how people do that. It blows my mind. I would move, or not take that job. But at the end of the day, we get to make people laugh, and I don’t know any job that’s better than that.
Worst part? Hmm. Well, if you mess up, quite a few people hear it. In this day and age, with social media and instant communication, people let you know the second you say something wrong. When you’re wrong, you know it fast.
What happens if you have to sneeze, or cough, or you have a frog in your throat? We have a little thing in the studio that’s called a cough button, so you push that and it turns off your mic. However, as Karson has yelled at me numerous times when I’ve used said cough button to clear my throat—which is an awful habit that I have—“There are five other microphones that are still on in here.”
What do you think makes you good on radio? I feel like I’m a strong female voice. A lot of the time as co-host, you’re there to laugh at the other person’s jokes, or to do little things and not be part of the conversation. But my name is on the show, and I’m half of this conversation. That’s what makes us so different. That’s what makes Karson such a great partner. He recognizes that. We’re equals in this thing. And I’m able to speak for those women who don’t always get to speak out.
What’s your typical work outfit? So when I first started doing this job, I was like, “Pajamas for life!” But then you quickly realize that this is still a business, and it behooves you to make a bit of an effort. I don’t necessarily put on a full face of makeup, but I put on something cute that I can wear out later, assuming later isn’t a fancy restaurant. [Laughs.]
Favorite genre of music? The ’80s. All that New Wave stuff from England. I live for Duran Duran.
Worst on-air faux pas? This is a terrible story, but it’s the worst thing I’ve ever done. The singer Brandy, if you’ll recall, had a car accident on a bridge. It was years later, but we got to interview her. This was in Memphis, and they had told us not to bring it up. We said, “Of course not!” So we were talking about something completely different, but I said, “Oh, my gosh, if somebody saw me do that, I’d drive myself off a bridge.” I looked at her and she looked at me, with that look like, “Girl, I know you didn’t mean it. We’re cool.” But I wanted to crawl under the desk—under the building—and stay there.
Anybody you’d never have back on your show and why? There’s nobody I wouldn’t have back, because there’s an opportunity there, especially if you had a really bad interview before. You can either fix it or make fun of it. But one person I know who won’t come back is Nicolas Cage, which makes me very sad. We did an interview with him, and Karson asked him questions about Superman, because he named his kid Kal-El (Superman’s real name from Krypton). Nicolas Cage got really pissed off at us for some reason, hung up the phone, called the PR person and said, “I never want to be interviewed by them again.” It makes me sad, because my phone case is Nicolas Cage’s face.
Top 5 things to eat at 3 am: An Awaken 180 chocolate shake, half a head of lettuce with Italian dressing, Kraft Easy Mac & Cheese from the vending machine, grapefruit with salt, not sugar, leftover steak from Del Frisco’s or Davio’s
Pop star who had you completely starstruck? Well, he’s not a pop star, but Dan Aykroyd had me completely starstruck. I’m a huge Blues Brothers fan. I was raised in Chicago, and the first year I was here in Boston, he opened the House of Blues. He walked into the studio, and I just stopped talking and didn’t get it back together for at least five or six minutes. It was very embarrassing.
Craziest stunt you ever pulled on air? [Laughs.] I have two. When I ran the Boston Marathon for Children’s Hospital, I said that if we could raise $10,401, I would shave my hair into a mohawk. So we did, and I did. But back in Memphis, or Tallahassee, we decided that it would be very funny for me to get pierced live on the air. So I got my nose and my lady parts pierced live on the air. [Laughs.] By all accounts, I made some very strange noises that day.
Top three artists in heavy rotation in your music library? Well, I’m on a Sinead O’Connor kick. And my friend just made me watch a chick flick and Erin McCarley had a song on the soundtrack, so I downloaded the album the other day. And Duran Duran, always.
Go-to karaoke song? “Separate Ways” by Journey. And I kill it. I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but I crush it.
You’re super open about your struggles with depression and bipolar disorder. What one thing do you want people to know? That you don’t have to be scared of it. That I’m not going to break. And that anyone who’s like me isn’t going to break, either. You can live a happy and full life—there are just moments when you think you can’t. And to have people around you, supporting you, is so very important.
Favorite spot in Boston? Castle Island and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
What stations do you listen to, besides your own? I flip through all of them, quite honestly, because it’s nice to hear what your peers are doing. But truth be told, I also have satellite radio, and I’ve gotten really into alternative rock.
Someone you’re dying to meet and haven’t? Well, I’ve interviewed her over the phone, but I haven’t met Lady Gaga. I think she is a powerful force in this universe, and we can all learn from her.
How much do ratings matter? They’re all that matters. [Laughs.] It’s how they dictate how much they can sell commercials for, how they dictate bonuses, how you measure yourself against your competitors. They’re super-important.
Is there a trick to being the seventh caller or whatever? Speed-dial and persistence.
Tell me a secret about Karson. That’s tough, because he literally will tell you anything about himself. Nothing is sacred. But let’s see. I’ll go with…he has the worst tattoo I’ve ever seen. It’s the Bad Boy logo from surf things back in the ’80s. Karson’s is faded, and it looks awful. It’s terrifying. I’ve begged him to get it removed a million times, and he won’t.
Does your dog Elvis come to work with you? He used to, until he peed in my boss’ office, and he hasn’t been back since.
Tune you sing in the shower most often? It depends on my mood. Am I mad at a boyfriend? Am I happy, or in a good place? But if I’m really feeling myself, I’ll sing “Independence Day” by Martina McBride.
Musical crush? Pink. And Ke$ha. I would walk through fire for her.
Where is your favorite place in the world to vacation? Any all-inclusive place that brings you drinks with umbrellas in them.
American Idol or The Voice? I would say American Idol. I don’t understand the whole Blake Shelton and Adam Levine crush thing. I just can’t get past that. I don’t find either one of them charming.
What radio commercial just bugs the living shit out of you? I refuse to answer that question, cause it might get me fired. [Laughs.]
What makes for good radio? Realness. Honesty. No bullshit. What we do on our show is our real lives. What you’re hearing is what happens to us on a daily basis. We don’t make things up, and the things we talk about are real. If we’re not having fun, neither is the listener. No one wants to listen to someone complain, so we have fun. We want people to think, “I want to sit around in my kitchen with these people. Or have a beer with them after work.” ◆