Although she's still reeling from a car accident that nearly claimed her life and the lives of her radio co-workers earlier this year, Kelly Ford is back on the air, as feisty and funny as ever, but with a new perspective on life, work and the people she considers family. And now, she has a big honor to look forward to. Ford, who co-hosts Cumulus Media's nationally syndicated Ty, Kelly & Chuck Morning Show, will be recognized with a prestigious Gracie Award by the Alliance for Women in Media Foundation at a June ceremony in Beverly Hills.
It's an honor she cherishes. As the mother of a teenage daughter (coincidentally also named Gracie), Ford has been an advocate for women in broadcasting throughout her career, which included stints at KYGO Denver and WNSH New York before her move to Nashville in January 2016.
The Kentucky native, who calls bourbon her "spirit animal," is glad to now be close to home. She has settled into her job and is focusing on raising her daughter (she also has one son in college and another planning to attend law school in the fall), as well a pen full of chickens she has given country music names like Hennifer Nettles, Loretta Hen and Chick Wick (the latter named for her morning-show partner, country singer Chuck Wicks). Reba Cluckentire, sadly, fell prey to a bobcat.
At a time when the industry is starting to lose its top tier of female talent like WMIL Milwaukee's Karen Dalessandro, who retired March 9, and WYCD Detroit's Linda Lee, who died March 31, Ford has emerged as one of the most high-profile women in country radio: Ty, Kelly & Chuck is heard on 50-plus stations.
But the industry nearly lost her, too. While driving to New Orleans on Feb. 27 to participate in a Mardi Gras event for an affiliate, the car that Ford, Wicks, co-host Ty Bentli, and producer Glenn Johnson were traveling in hydroplaned during a rainstorm and rolled over twice before landing in a water-filled ditch. The car was pancaked, and all four ended up hospitalized, although only Wicks sustained serious injuries. He's back on the air now, too, while recovering from a fractured skull and cervical vertebrae. Ford, who was in the front passenger seat trying to Snapchat a photo of the rain when the accident happened, sustained a head injury as well as airbag bruises to her face.
The accident was so serious that Ford says she's "truly shocked" that they all lived. "It really was one of those 'holy cow' perspective moments where you go, 'Wow, everything can change in a second.' I can still see the crash in slow motion and hear Ty saying, 'Is everybody OK?' " And while she says the accident has made her want to slow down a little, it also made her feel "appreciated" because of the huge volume of sweet messages she received afterward from people in the industry.
One recent morning, while driving herself to work in the rain, Ford had what she calls "a true post-traumatic stress disorder moment." But she says the accident has fused the team - which has only been working together since last fall - like family, although she jokes, "We could have picked a more effective way to bond." On a more serious note, she says the accident allowed her "to see what people are made of" and says of her team, "They're all good people."
Bentli, who joined the show in September to replace former host Blair Garner, has quickly emerged as the "favorite guy" Ford has ever worked with. "I respect him immensely. I respect his work ethic. He knows himself really well. He stays true to who he is, and he works really hard." Similarly, she calls Wicks "an amazing talent" who manages to keep one foot in radio and the other in his career as a country artist, and do both well. His latter career gives the program "a perspective that no other radio show has," she says.
But not every male co-worker has been a winner. Like many women, Ford had to deal with moments of casual sexism in the early part of her career. During contract negotiations in which she asked for a raise, a male boss responded, "Your husband has a good job. You don't really need that." A different manager once wrote in her job performance evaluation that she was "a really good mother."
"Empowering women, especially now, is something I feel really strongly about," says Ford, "It's just not me to be the giggly girl in the background," she says of her on-air persona. "It's really important for me to be a strong role model and to be courageous and not afraid to say things, but also to be thoughtful."
Her advice to young female radio personalities is: "Find people, particularly women, and ask them to root for you. I tell my kids this, too. When you ask someone to root for you, most times they will." And one day - although not any time soon - she plans to tell those future female radio stars, "Come visit me in the old broadcasters home. Bring me Jell-O."
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