Lady behind the mic

Northeast native Marilyn Russell will serve as the keynote speaker for the Greater Northeast Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce Women in Business Conference.

Philly’s voice: Marilyn Russell, an Abraham Lincoln High School graduate, has spent nearly 25 years on the air in Philadelphia. PHOTO: MARILYN RUSSELL

By Tom Waring

Marilyn Russell has been a fixture on Philadelphia radio for more than two decades, but she does more than spin records.

Russell is always representing her station at community events, and she’s well known for her long-running Woman of the Week show.

So, the Northeast native would seem to be the perfect person to serve as a keynote speaker for the upcoming Greater Northeast Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce Women in Business Conference and Luncheon. She accepted the offer after seeing GNPCC president Pam Henshall last October at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women.

“I’m looking forward to it,” she said. “There are a lot of networking groups for women, but the more the merrier. There’s strength in numbers.”

The radio veteran grew up as Marilyn Murphy on Gillespie Street in Mayfair. She attended St. Bernard Elementary School and Abraham Lincoln High School, where she played badminton.

After graduating from Lincoln, she took a couple of years off before enrolling at La Salle University. She eventually earned a degree in journalism.

“I wanted to be a writer,” she said.

In 1988, she was working for an advertising agency when her boss, John Goodchild, remarked that she had a nice voice and should consider doing voiceover work. She went back to school to take acting and voice lessons, and wound up making a good living doing voiceovers.

Though she worked at La Salle’s WEXP and Drexel’s WKDU, she didn’t envision a future in the field.

“I never thought of radio as a career,” she said.

In 1993, she was hired by WDRE (103.9 FM) to make public service announcements and answer phones. WDRE was a new alternative music station that lured Preston Elliot from a St. Louis Top 40 station.

“It was a fun and exciting time to get in the business,” she said.

Later, she served as music director and hosted shows geared to new music and local music. And she came to a realization.

“I love this business, and I’ve never gotten out of it,” she said.

WDRE was sold and changed formats in 1997.

Russell’s next step was Y100, serving as promotions director.

At Y100, she had two stints, most prominently as a morning show host with Preston Elliot and Steve Morrison for four years.

Russell left the station in 2002 for family reasons, but resurfaced the following year at WMGK.

In 2007, she became the morning host on BEN-FM. Her Woman of the Week segment started as a blog before being given a show of its own. It resonated with listeners, according to Russell.

“That was my baby. It was like my second child,” she said.

Russell hosted the show until being laid off by BEN-FM last November.

She wasn’t off the airwaves for long. Since Jan. 9, she’s been part of the Breakfast Club mornings on WOGL (98.1 FM).

While legal reasons are preventing her right now from introducing Woman of the Week on her new station, she vows to bring it back in some form.

Otherwise, she’s loving her new gig with co-hosts Frank Lewis and Bill Zimpfer.

“They’re fantastic guys. They’ve been nothing but great,” she said.

As a bonus, she got to meet Harvey Holiday, the legendary Philly DJ and fellow Northeast native whose show follows the Breakfast Club.

And Russell, who lives in Plymouth Meeting and has a 25-year-old son named Matthew, is really looking forward to WOGL’s 30th anniversary celebration on July 12 at Camden’s BB&T Pavilion. Rod Stewart and Cyndi Lauper will perform.

Russell has an early bedtime so she can get up at 4 a.m. to get to the station in plenty of time for her 5:30 shift.

The early weeknights cut down on one of her favorite hobbies, seeing live shows.

What kind of music is her favorite?

“I like it all,” she said, “but I do love the ’80s. It was a special time.”

Off the air, she attends station-sponsored and nonprofit events. A regular gig is hosting the annual Cancer Treatment Centers of America survivors celebration. She views it as giving back to a city she grew up in and still loves.

Other favorites are wine and dining out. She’s a proud “foodie.”

And to cope with the wacky world of morning radio, she takes yoga classes.

“Yoga is my sanity. It relaxes me,” she said.

Radio can be unpredictable with format changes, station sales and crazy hours, but Russell has relished in entertaining hometown audiences for nearly a quarter-century. Nine-to-five is not her way to make a living.

“I can’t see myself in a suit all day,” she said. “I’m not that girl.” ••

The Greater Northeast Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce’s Women in Business Conference and Luncheon will take place on Thursday, April 27, at the Radisson hotel, 2400 Old Lincoln Highway in Trevose.

The conference and luncheon will go from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., immediately followed by Business After Hours until 7 p.m. For tickets or information, call the GNPCC office at 215–332–3400.