In Arts & Entertainment

Dori Zori is a Milwaukee all-star.

Milwaukee Talks: 88Nine Radio Milwaukee's Dori Zori

Both on and off the air, Dori Zori is down to earth, smart, funny, not afraid to be wrong and as equally compelling a story teller as she is an attentive listener.

Since the late '80s, Zori has brought personality, warmth and great music to Milwaukee radio listeners. For two decades she had a weekly show on WMSE and in 2012 she joined the 88Nine Radio Milwaukee team as a co-host of the morning show with longtime friend and colleague, Jordan Lee.

Zori recently moved to the weekday from 9 a.m. to noon slot and also DJs on Sunday mornings.

During the interview – scheduled for an hour but stretched into four hours of conversation – Zori chatted about her bust-a-rhyme name, clubbing in the '90s, radio, music, voice recognition, the Sydney Hih building and more.

OnMilwaukee.com: Is "Dori Zori" your real name?

Dori Zori: It is! I was born Dori Wenzel and when I married my husband, Milan Zori, my name became Dori Zori. It's 50 percent of the reason why I chose to marry him. Everyone thinks it's a fake name, though. It's silly and goofy, but I totally embrace it. I am starting to do some web interviews for Radio Milwaukee and I am thinking about calling them "Dori Zori Stories."

OMC: That is hilarious. I am a little envious of your rhyming name. Also, how and when did you two meet?

DZ: I interviewed him on WMSE. He had a magazine called "Tastes Like Chicken" and he and two of his friends came on my show. They were hilarious. They brought me presents – weird swag like a backstage pass from an LL Cool J show – and we talked about wrestling and music and dumb movies. Guests usually stayed for five minutes and they were there for over an hour. We become fast friends and eventually dated and got married in 2008. Thanks 'MSE!

OMC: Where did you get married?

DZ: We got married at the Hide House. It was pretty non-wedding. More like a party, with a lot of food and free booze. I attempted to DJ my own wedding which might have been a mistake.

OMC: Did you have a wedding song?

DZ: We did. "Such Great Heights," the Iron and Wine version.

OMC: Where did you grow up? What did you do pre-radio?

DZ: I grew up in Mukwonago. Went to Cardinal Stritch for a short period of time. I always thought I wanted to do something in nursing. As a kid I was really into biology and I watched a lot of "Quincy" with my grandparents, but the older I got the more I realized needles and blood grossed me out. I did well in college, but it was expensive and so I dropped out and discovered dance clubs. That became my education – five nights a week.

OMC: What were your favorite clubs?

DZ: At first, Bailey's, Bermuda's and Club Maryland. Later, when I turned 21, Eso and Mad Planet. I remember quarter tappers every Thursday night at Eso. It was bananas. That's where I met so many of the friends I have now.

OMC: Crazy, we were probably there at the same time, drinking one bar stool away! Anyway, where did you live then and what neighborhood do you live in now?

DZ: I lived on the East Side for many years. Then I moved to Riverwest for 10 years and now, Milan and I live in Bay View. There's a cool energy in Riverwest that I miss, but I love Bay View. I appreciate the quiet and being a block away from Humboldt Park.

OMC: How did you first get on the radio?

DZ: My friend Scott (Merbeth) was a student at 'MSE and he had show in middle of the night, from 3 a.m. until 6 a.m. One night, he asked me to stop by and help him run the board so he could study. I loved it and asked him if I could come back. He said yes and I started to basically do the show with him. When he graduated, he left but I stayed. It's funny, I don't think I asked anyone if I could be on the show or take over the show – I just did.

The only problem was – and this sounds bad – I would be out at the clubs until the show and then do the show and have to drive home, exhausted, to Mukwonago at 6 a.m. So I left WMSE for a couple of years and was lucky enough to have the chance to come back.

I was dating a guy, Dustin, who was known as Skinny D and he had a punk rock show on the station. Then he graduated in 1995 and I took over his show. It was the Thursday show from noon to 3 p.m. and I had that show until I left for Radio Milwaukee in 2012.

OMC: What was the name of your show on WMSE?

DZ: Eventually it was dubbed "The Girlina Show" but it didn't really have a name.

OMC: Considering WMSE DJs are volunteers, what did you do to make money during those years?

DZ: I worked in insurance, as a mortgage broker and eventually as the underwriting director for WMSE.

OMC: How did you wind up at Radio Milwaukee?

DZ: My friend Jordan (Lee) is a DJ there. He and I have been friends for a long time. He had a hip hop show on WMSE years ago. We always said we wanted to be on the air together, and then he told me he was being moved to mornings and the station was looking for a female co-host.

I went to the interview thinking I would hear a lot of stuff I didn't like, but instead, I loved everything they said.

OMC: When you were on the air from 6 to 10 a.m. was it hard to get used to waking up so early?

DZ: As I got older, my eyes were popping open earlier and earlier on their own, but the 20- or 30-year-old version of me would have been coming home at four in the morning instead of getting up for work at that time. It's been a 180 for me, but I love the work so much, the early mornings really didn't bother me.

OMC: Do you miss mornings with Jordan?

DZ: I do. I'm sure not everyone was entertained by us. There was a lot of giggling. But we got some really early nice responses from people saying they felt like they were listening to their friends on the radio. That's exactly how it was. And he was there to correct me when I mispronounced something or didn't care to know things about sports. We had a good dynamic.

OMC: What else are you doing at the station?

DZ: I do the community stories and I am really happy that I get to do those. I will be doing some new web content which will be short interviews once a week with all different types of people – from the mayor to a barista to a player on the Bucks. Little snapshots. I'm not a journalist. I'm not a writer. I just love talking to people and hearing their stories.

OMC: Was it challenging to go from a station with such a free format to one with more programming?

DZ: I knew what I was getting into. I was getting paid to be on the radio, which was what I always wanted to do. I do have impact on what's played on Radio Milwaukee and the 88Nine listeners are just as passionate as they were at 'MSE.

OMC: Are there any genres of music that you don't like?

DZ: Back in the day I would have said I didn't like blues or jazz or 60s music, but after listening to so many 'MSE DJs and different types of music, I really like everything now. I appreciate music in general.

My happy place is alternative '80s music. Early MTV music. I was a huge Duran Duran fan. It kept me dateless but sober in high school. I also loved new wave. When I started going to the clubs, I got into Depeche Mode and Siouxsie and the Banshees and Erasure. All the stuff I heard at Eso in the '90s I still really like – Beastie Boys, Public Enemy and industrial bands like Front 242 and Ministry.

OMC: What was the best show you went to this year?

DZ: Milan and I just saw the Volcano Choir / Sylvan Esso show and that was pretty mind blowing. Tune-Yards at The Pabst was great, too.

OMC: What did you listen to the most this year?

DZ: Probably the Sylvan Esso album. And the new Skrillex was my second-most-listened-to album. For like five months it's all I listened to in the car. People stopped wanting to drive places with me.

OMC: What are some of the things on your "bucket list?"

DZ: I would love to travel more. I would love to learn a different language. I also want to follow a band around the world once in my life. A random band, not an obvious one, that travels a lot. I'm not all about living out of a van anymore, so I'd have to have more disposable income to do this.

OMC: What are some of the now-legendary shows you saw back in the day?

DZ: I saw Moby and Marilyn Manson and Mr. Bungle at Shank Hall. Cactus Club has always been so ahead of the curve that I got to see White Stripes, Interpol, Hot Chip, The Kills and so many others before they blew up and became big venue bands.

I also saw Smashing Pumpkins at The Unicorn. I also saw Jonathan Fire*Eater and Wesley Willis and so many DJs at The Unicorn.

OMC: Speaking of The Unicorn, I noticed you are wearing a Sydney Hih T-shirt from Too Much Metal. (The Unicorn was in the basement of the Sydney Hih building.)

DZ: Yeah, I saw a lot of shows at The Unicorn, but I bought this shirt because my mom had a store in the Sydney Hih building in the '70s. She's a glass blower and she would melt rods of glass into mushrooms and bunnies. I remember going to the ice cream shop in the building, too.

OMC: What are your favorite current venues in the city?

DZ: I love The Pabst / Riverside / Turner Hall. Cactus Club has been very important to me throughout the years. Mad Planet, too.

OMC: What do you love about Milwaukee?

DZ: I love that Milwaukee has great restaurants, unique shops, the lakefront. I also love that it's so friendly and you can bump into friends at any time or you can sit at a bar and talk to strangers.

OMC: What are some of your go-to bars and restaurants?

DZ: Anywhere with an outdoor patio in the summer. And anywhere that doesn't make me feel badly for asking for gluten-free food.

OMC: Do people recognize your voice when you're out and about?

DZ: They do. I think it's partially because there are not a lot of women's voices on radio. Also, because of the emotional connection people have with music. If I was on talk radio it wouldn't be the same. People make that emotional connection with me because I'm the one playing it and that's pretty cool.

People always say, 'Oh, you're not what I pictured you to look like.' But it just makes you feel good that the work you're doing is making an impact, that maybe something you're doing is making people happy.

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