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Riding the Waves

WPOC fixture Laurie DeYoung, recently inducted into the Country Music DJ Hall of Fame, found success in an unexpected arena

February 28, 2010|By Chris Kaltenbach | chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com | Baltimore Sun reporter

From her father, DeYoung would get her enviable ability to put people at ease. "My dad was a really good communicator; he was lovely in front of people," she says. "He was one of those guys, everybody who ever met him felt like they were his best friend."

From her mother, who largely remained home to raise the couple's five children (a sixth, Paul, died as an infant of spinal meningitis), young Laurie developed her love of music. "Mom was a piano player by ear, a fabulous musician," DeYoung says. "I grew up with a lot of music all the time."

But not, she notes, country music, about which she was largely ignorant. "I grew up in Michigan, and there just wasn't a lot of country music. We would see 'Hee Haw' on television, and for a lot of people, if you didn't grow up with country music in your home, that was your image, that was it - popping up in overalls out of a cornfield, cracking really lame jokes."

Shortly after graduating from Western Michigan University in 1977 as a communications major with a minor in theater, DeYoung got her first full-time radio gig, doing a little bit of everything at WSHN in Fremont, Mich., about 45 miles from her Grand Rapids home.

"You played everything from the Rolling Stones to Perry Como.," she recalls. "You did car-deer accidents, you talked about people's funerals. It was a very small town."

DeYoung would later land a job at WLAV back in Grand Rapids, with leeway to play pretty much what she wanted to play. So what would the future Country Music DJ Hall of Famer have on her playlist? Todd Rundgren, Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Yes.

In fact, it would take six more radio stations and two major relocations before country music and Laurie DeYoung would finally make each other's acquaintance.

DeYoung had migrated to San Diego, where she and partner Rocky Marlowe had a morning show until financial difficulties forced the station to shed much of its on-air staff. Out of a job after just five months, embarrassed about having to head back to Grand Rapids after the people there made such a fuss about her leaving for the big time, DeYoung was happy to listen when Marlowe called about a job waiting for them at a country music station in Baltimore.

DeYoung took the plunge. "I figured I had this partner who did know a lot about country, so it was like going to school for a couple of years."

Her timing, it turns out, couldn't have been better. "I spent a couple of years learning, and then, all of a sudden, Garth Brooks hit, and everything opened. I was basically new to the format when everybody was new to the format - when Vince Gill, the Judds and Mary Chapin Carpenter, all these people, were flooding into it. All of a sudden, country was the hot thing. And I just happened to be there."

She and Marlowe remained partners for two years. Then he left, and DeYoung was teamed briefly with Bill Bailey, an established old-boy country DJ from Louisville, Ky. The result was a disaster - WPOC's program director at the time, Bob Moody, a member of the affiliated Country Music Radio Hall of Fame since 2007, winces at the memory. "On paper, it looked great," he says. "In practice, it was a train wreck."

Recalls DeYoung, "They brought in somebody they felt would be a total opposite. I was 31, he was 60. They thought it would be such a fun thing, to have this young woman and this older kind of gruff guy. It wasn't anybody's fault it didn't work. It was just bad chemistry. It was no chemistry."

Within months, Bailey was gone and DeYoung was on her own - where she'd still be more than two decades later.

"It was obvious to me pretty early on that Laurie was a big part of the attraction of that show," says Moody, who stayed at WPOC through 1996 - and was chosen by DeYoung to introduce her at last week's induction in Nashville, Tenn. "When people would call the show, they would ask to speak specifically with Laurie."

Just as Baltimore has embraced her, DeYoung says, she has embraced the city. She and Ed, married for 32 years, live in the Towson area with their daughter Paris, 17, a junior at St. Paul's. They have two grown sons: Graham, 27, is a musician living in Los Angeles, while Taylor, 21, is a filmmaker now living at home but getting ready to leave soon for L.A.

"When we came to Baltimore, it felt different to me," she says. "I felt like the people were friendly. All those things you hear, about it being a big city, but like a small town - it is that. ... I feel very comfortable."

And country music? DeYoung embraced that long ago. "One of the things I love about the format is that there are so many kinds of country. You can get very traditional, like Miranda Lambert's latest CD, where she was singing very traditional country-sounding songs, like her new single, 'White Liar.' Or you can get Taylor Swift, or Rascal Flatts, or Keith Urban, who makes a lot of inroads into more of the pop format.

"I still love music," she says, "the power of music and a good song and a good lyric and a well-written [melody] to transport you to a different place. I'm listening to Keith Urban's new song, 'I'm Going to Cry,' or hearing Carrie Underwood sing about a 'Temporary Home' - that's still pretty cool, to be a part of that. That's pretty amazing."

Laurie DeYoung chooses her perfect 10-song playlist:
• Lyle Lovett, "Nobody Knows Me"

•Mary Chapin Carpenter, "Only a Dream"

•Keith Urban, "Days Go By"

• LeAnn Rimes, "What I Cannot Change"

•BeBe & CeCe Winans, "Stand"

• Dave Matthews Band, "The Space Between"

•Taylor Swift, "Fifteen"

•Jason Aldean, " Johnny Cash"

• Andrea Bocelli, "Con te Partiro"

•Lyle Lovett, " North Dakota"

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