Exit interview with Vikki Locke: “I don’t want to do this anymore”

As she departs the airwaves today, the veteran morning show host reflects on changes in radio, her legacy

As B98.5-FM morning show host Vikki Locke clicks off the microphone for the last time this morning after a 28-year run on Atlanta’s airwaves, she’s leaving behind a radio industry much different than the one she entered as an Ohio State University journalism graduate back in 1985. During her nearly 20-year reign at Star 94 with partner Steve McCoy, you could invite a superstar listener like Elton John, who lived down the street from the station, on air for an extended chat and to spin his favorite songs. In 2013, morning show talent is advised to keep the chatter to under two minutes, edit your interviews in advance and spin Train’s “Hey, Soul Sister” ad nauseam.

Over sushi at Steel Restaurant & Lounge last week, Locke reflected on the industry she departs from today. “Radio isn’t the same as when I started in the 1980s,” she says, “In 2013, radio is a cookie-cutter, numbers game. It’s all about how much money you can make. It’s really not about the content anymore. Personalities don’t matter anymore. It’s cheaper now to run a syndicated morning show, which wasn’t the case when I was a kid. It was all-local, all personality driven. The whole landscape has changed so drastically. The young people getting into the business now don’t have that perspective and I’m sure it will be fine for them. But for me, I remember working in radio when it was great. When I couldn’t wait for that alarm to go off at 3 a.m. I don’t feel that way anymore.”

Earlier this month, Locke made the difficult decision to exit her job at B98.5 in order to spend more time in Ohio with her 80-year-old dad, Charles Thomas Locke, who has recently been diagnosed with colon cancer. Says Locke: “When you find out your dad has cancer and your boss says, ‘You can’t take time off for six months because we’re in a ratings period,’ your priorities become very clear. I realized I didn’t want to do this anymore.”

Locke credits the residents of her adopted city, some of whom have been listening to her since 1985 with McCoy on the old Power 99, for her success. “Our listeners made it so worth it,” she reflects. “They were the stars of the show, not me. They made me better. They embraced me in this city when everything was foreign to me and I didn’t know a single soul back in 1985. They helped me get acquainted to the south, even after I opened my mouth on the air and said that NASCAR drivers weren’t really athletes! I didn’t even know what sweet tea was. I didn’t know what grits were and I thought the word was singular, grit!”

While she keeps in touch with her longtime B98 and Star 94 partner Steve McCoy off air, Locke says reuniting together on the air for a fourth time isn’t an option in 2013. “That era is over,” she says simply. “That kind of morning show doesn’t exist anymore. Steve is doing all this voice work now. He just got paid an insane amount of money to provide the voice of a drunken goat. He just did something for the new Daft Punk album! He leaves me these hilarious messages on my phone. He’s spending time with his grandkids. He’s in a really good place. Plus, we still spend time together. It’s just not in public, on the radio anymore.”

Locke has a single regret. As she departs the station today, her current on-air partner Kelly Stevens has received his two-week notice from the station as well. Stevens made headlines in 2012 when he was almost killed by a wrong way driver on the way to his morning show gig. “He just signed a new contract so I thought he would be OK,” she says. “I resign and then they let this guy go who almost got killed coming to work. He just got married. His wife just quit her job to be a full time mom. And now he’s out of a job. For the station, it’s a business decision. But if I could do anything to help this guy, I would do it in a heartbeat.”

Between trips home to visit her dad, Locke will remain in Atlanta to embark on a new media consulting business, LRK, with pals, veteran Atlanta publicist Meg Reggie and former CNN anchor and “Hot Topics” host Kimberley Kennedy. “I wanted to make a difference for women and I wanted to go out on a high note,” she says. “I feel like I accomplished those things. Much like the way I thought before I died there would be a woman president, I always maintained that before I left this industry I would have a female boss. It never happened. But I want that next generation to get into those management roles, those roles my generation aspired to but never really accomplished. Maybe now, through our work at LRK, this female-owned and operated media consulting business, we can help that next generation accomplish those goals. Plus, working with Meg Reggie and Kimberley Kennedy, I’m working with two role models I’ve idolized for years. That’s a really nice place to be. I’m looking forward to the future.”

Reggie says her new business partner had one request: “No early meetings, she’s already laid down the law. No meetings before 10! After 30 years of getting up at 3 a.m., I think we can make that work for her.”

This week, Atlanta magazine reached out to some of Locke’s biggest fans in the radio industry for their thoughts on her exit today. Here’s what they shared with our readers.

“Vikki is a loyal and fierce friend, a champion of women, and a lover of family, friends, and her listeners. She is true blue. What you hear on the radio is how Vikki is – your BFF, your sister, a mentor, a supporter. Vikki is fun, fun, FUN! I have been so happy to get to know her well these past few years we’ve been working together at Cox. I know how much I’m going to miss seeing her on a daily basis. I can’t imagine how much her listeners are going to miss her on the radio after so many years of waking up with her. LOVE that girl!” — Kaedy Kiely, morning host The River 97.1 FM

“She’s been the voice of morning radio for 25 years, the contagious irresistible laugh of Atlanta, a friend, mentor and one of the most down to earth people I have ever met. Vikki has broken barriers of women in media and set the bar high for those who wish to follow in her footsteps. I have never met someone so passionate, creative and intelligent. I’m proud she took me under her wing years ago as a friend and a mentee. You Vikki Locke, are radio royalty.” — GPB executive producer and former B98.5 morning show producer Jessica Forkel.

“I learned the important connection of community service and being a radio personality from Vikki. I couldn’t tell you when that Eureka Moment happened, but during my time at 99X I heard many people express their admiration for her commitment to the people and causes of Atlanta. That seemed far more attractive to me than spending time in my new career worrying about ratings and endorsements. Since those days I have had the pleasure of becoming her friend, and showing other women that being rivals on air doesn’t translate negatively into your personal life.” — All News 106.7 FM afternoon host Melissa Carter.

“I can’t say enough about Vikki Locke. She’s beautiful, honest, genuine and has been a career mentor and friend over the years. She always has the best attitude and has never let success get to her head. There are very few industry leaders in radio that are women. I will miss her terribly on the radio. She’s a true talent and a gem of a person.” — “Atlanta Eats” correspondent and former Dave FM midday host Mara Davis.

“When you look at the time, effort, talent and years my friend and partner Vikki has put into this city, it is nothing short of amazing. Not many broadcasters are talented enough to be able to do that. To be honest, I only wish I was by her side today ending a career with her because when she was by my side, she only made me better. We had some great times on the air that people still remind us about and we’ll continue to have great times together off the air. She’s family to me.” — Former B98.5 FM and Star 94 FM morning show partner Steve McCoy.