By Bonnie Bucy
Mary Jean Lucas says she wanted to be in radio from her earliest memories. She also says her mother remarked over and over that from the time she was a mere three years old, she was making believe she was on the air as a deejay by using a spoon from the kitchen, a hair brush from the bedroom or whatever she could pretend was a microphone.
“I don’t ever remember even thinking about anything else I wanted to be when I grew up,” MJ said with a smile on her face. “I don’t remember what started it or why I was intrigued with radio, but it was there from the beginning.”
Born an only child in Ocalla, Fla., a “town about the size of Lebanon and popular for horses and Silver Springs Theme Park,” MJ received all her elementary schooling there and graduated from Forest High School where she rooted for their Wildcats. She had started working at age 14 at the Ocalla Saddle Shop where she worked her way up to store manager.
“When I graduated from high school, I attended Central Florida Community College for a short time, but I was working full time and couldn’t do credit to my school work. That’s one of my goals is to go back and finish,” MJ said.
Besides her constant pretending she was a deejay while growing up, MJ admitted she would go to the local radio station when she got a bit older and with her nose pressed up against the studio window, would watch deejays at work.
“The job I had at the saddle store was a blessing and ended up bringing radio right into my life,” MJ remembered. “Part of my job for the store was to buy advertising time on the local radio. I happened to mention to the sales person from the station I was working with, that I had always wanted to work in radio. She was surprised, but said the station had an opening for a person to deejay on the weekends. I got the job at WMOT in Ocalla and went from weekends to the morning show. I stayed with them for 10 years.”
MJ’s mother died of cancer in 1996. Prior to that time, both being country music fans, they would talk about coming to Nashville where they could be in the middle of it. When her mother died, MJ figured it was time to make a change. Even though most of her family still lived in the Ocalla area, she got in the car and headed to Music City.
“I started working for Warner Bros. TV in Nashville,” she said with a laugh. “Michigan J Frog was their mascot and I even had to don tights and sub for him once in a while. Then, one day I was just driving around Nashville flipping through the dial when I came across WANT Radio. It was so similar in content to my Florida format that I called station owner Susie James and asked if I could come out and take a tour of the facility. Susie said to come ahead.”
After meeting, Susie informed MJ that WANT needed a part time person. MJ started doing some live broadcasts for the station and eventually moved to the Morning Show where her on-air personality has been sparkling now for 16 years.
“This group is one of the most welcoming I have ever run across,” said MJ. “I don’t have any blood relatives here, but the people at the station and the people of Lebanon and Wilson County are super, so giving and like my family. Any time I am at a charitable event, I get caught up in the feelings that prevail here like no place else I’ve ever been.”
She loves doing interviews! In fact, when she sat down to do this interview, she commented that she was nervous because she’s always on the other side of the conversation, doing the questioning instead of being questioned. (She did great!)
She said some of her memorable interviews included Dr. Phil McGraw.
“He was just starting his TV show then, so of course, we talked about it and what he would be doing with it, relationships, and so forth,” she said.
Then, there was Gretchen Wilson.
“That was about her Music at the Mill concert which she was promoting and we talked about her launching her new label,” said MJ.
When it came to the classic country recording artist, Gene Watson, MJ said, “He was such a mainstay and respected artist in the music field for so many years, it was just an honor to get to talk to him.”
Regarding Trace Atkins, MJ said, “We talked about his new music coming out, where it came from, etc.”
Regarding her super hero, Ray Stevens, MJ said, “I’m a huge fan. I love comedy and some of his songs just crack me up. He’s been my regular Friday feature.”
Josh Turner came and talked about his teaming with Cracker Barrel. Erika Jo, Nashville Star winner, was interviewed while she was competing and again when she won. Jay Bush and Duke the dog of Bush’s Baked Beans, came by. Jay talked and entertained. For some reason, Duke didn’t talk that day.
MJ and country singer Chad Brock of “Yes” fame in the 90’s went to high school together and later reconnected at a Fan Fair. Dr. Elmo of “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer,” is from MJ’s hometown and they talk every Christmas. Then, there’s interviews with such notables as Henry Winkler, “Dukes of Hazzard” cast member Jon Schneider and Tom Wopat and others.
“We’ve had race car drivers, authors, Tennessee Titans, the list goes on and on. I love talking to the old traditional country artists and they are the ones I normally invite to come be on our show,” she commented. “With our listeners, we go through happy times, sad times, birthdays, anniversaries, you name it. I love people and getting to know them. I love to laugh and this show gives me a chance to do that plus the uplifting things we do.
“I also try and use my position here at WANT to give back as I can because it gives me a chance to step up,” she went on. “I’m going to be emceeing the upcoming Hits for the House fundraiser for Brooks House. My favorite subjects are kids, animals and senior citizens.”
In the meantime, MJ serves on the board of New Leash On Life, and with the Beautification Commission and March of Dimes, where she has served since 1986.
“My folks were never really open to new ideas, but my grandmothers were responsible for the faith side of my life,” said MJ. “But, moving to Tennessee really made me grow up. I attend Faith Lutheran Church here. When I’m not deejaying, my Florida heritage comes back because I love the beach and the water and have to go back at least twice a year. Water has always been so relaxing to me. So, I bought a 17 foot Bayliner ski boat which I take out every chance I get and spend from morn til night time on the water.”
MJ says she also loves to go hiking and just recently hiked to Burgess Falls following the heavy rains, which “was absolutely beautiful.”
She still proclaims herself as a Gators fan and any other free time she has is devoted to her two “children,” Brewster, a terrier mix and Truffles, a toy poodle who doesn’t take any guff off the larger Brewster.
WANT will be celebrating it’s 20th anniversary next year which they are gearing up for.
“I have been so fortunate,” said MJ. “My longevity of 10 years in Florida and then here for 16 years at WANT is almost unheard of because the radio business is usually short lived. I hope I will be continuing here for a long time to come.”
Her fans in this area hope the same thing!