Milwaukee Talks: "Morning Blend" co-host Molly Fay
Chicago native Molly Fay didn't expect to host a talk show. But the former investigative journalist, mother of three and self-described introvert, found herself doing just that eight years ago when WTMJ-4 launched "The Morning Blend," and she hasn't looked back.
We caught up with Fay over coffee last week to discuss where she's been and where she's going. And why every person, even if their job seems mundane, has a story to tell.
Enjoy this latest Milwaukee Talks.
OnMilwaukee.com: I was a little surprised to learn that you went down the path of a serious investigative journalism.
Molly Fay: I did.
OMC: This could not have been your career path in journalism. Where did you go to school?
MF: I went to Madison, and then I went to the University of Missouri at Columbia. In high school, my dream was always to be a "60 Minutes" correspondent. When I went to journalism school we had to take an oath. We saw it as being as serious as a doctor not sharing medical records. I pursued investigative journalism hardcore. I took some really advanced courses in reporting, and I was a member of I.R.E, the Investigative Reporters and Editors organization. My first job was in Beaumont, Texas. I had the cop in the courthouse beat.
OMC: That's serious stuff.
MF: I was always working. I broke a story in my first year that was on CBS Morning News. My whole focus was to find people who were doing bad stuff, and expose them. And I was passionate about it. And I loved it. But it's a lifestyle. You give everything to it. It's very hard to raise a family, and very hard to have a life.
OMC: Yeah, it's really suited to early 20s single person.
OMC: But you decided at some point this wasn't for you?
MF: I did it for years. It was my whole career. After Beaumont, I moved to Scranton, Penn., and I did some consumer reporting. Then I came to Milwaukee when FOX 6 was in its transition from CBS to FOX. Around 30, I got married, had kids and I realized that lifestyle was not going to work for me.
OMC: So what did you do then?
MF: I had one child, and I had two more, when I left FOX 6 I took a job with Channel 4. I went into sales and worked part-time. Most reporters can't work full-time. The reason I did that was because I had friend who was in a job share, and she loved it, at Today's TMJ 4. The concept of a job share, working part-time, for me outweighed everything else, including what I was doing. I will say the experience that I got working in the sales department, and the managers who took a chance on me because I had no experience, it was one of the single best experiences of my life. Because it's so different than journalism.
OMC: Did you have an urge to get back into on air-stuff? Or did they approach you for the "Morning Blend?"
MF: They were going to start this show. And my boss said I'd be a perfect fit for it. And I was very reluctant to go back to working five days a week again. The only way I would even consider it is if there's some flexibility.
OMC: There is, right?
MF: I'm truly blessed with a lot of flexibility and a lot of understanding, both from him as well as the executive producer. Because I feel, like, at the end of the day, you know, I want to do a great job on "The Morning Blend." But there's only one job that I have in life that I have to be good at, and that's being a mom.
OMC: Tell me what a typical day in your life is like. You don't have a traditional schedule, like other people do.
MF: I leave the house about 7:15. And that's if I'm getting to work on time, I try to get there at 7:30. I get up, especially during the school year, hours before that, because I have to get myself ready. But I have three kids who need lunches and whatever homework we didn't get done the night before. Or they're off to a choir practice or something early. My day starts about 7:30. It's mostly going over that day's show. In the morning I'm completely focused on that day's show. Then we do the show for an hour, from 9 to 10, and then after the show it's looking ahead, or it's planning for tomorrow.
OMC: I know that your producer Kim Buchanan is a big part of it, and obviously your co-host Tiffany Ogle is too, but are you kind of the quarterback of the show because of your journalism experience?
MF: I'm considered a producer of the show, because I write for the show. I write some of the segments. I help coordinate with guests to produce their segments, make them visual, make them interesting. I produce the show. But I would say, in terms of the actual hosting of the show, it's a 50/50 deal. It's like a marriage. Some days I'm giving 100 percent when I feel good, and Tiffany's having a bad day. But other days it's the opposite. I feel very lucky to work with somebody who, not only is so confident and funny, because we think she's hilarious, but also someone I truly feel is a very close friend.
OMC: The rapport is obvious on the air. Maybe you can fake that, but it sure doesn't appear to be fake.
MF: I don't know if you can fake it. I wouldn't be able to fake it. Tiffany maybe could a little bit with her pageant experience. That question I'm asked more often, when I'm out, than any other question.
OMC: People ask if you really like each other?
MF: The other day we went for a walk, and then we went out to dinner in Shorewood, close to where she lives. And this woman ran into her, she's like, "Oh, I'm such a fan of your show! You guys actually hang out?"
OMC: That's kind of weird.
MF: You think?
OMC: A lot of on-air people, radio or TV, certainly do not hang out.
MF: But we text more than we talk on the phone, because she's in her 30s. We see each other outside of work.
OMC: Your resume obviously lends to doing this job in a very different way. Coming up with a serious journalism background, you are also producing advertorials.
MF: Right, yes. We don't hide that. What I tell people is that our show is a local program that offers local businesses an extremely unique opportunity to highlight what they do in a way that no other show in the market does. And I feel good about it. I was in sales. Businesses are the bread and butter of every single thing we do. I want local businesses to succeed. They can't always get their message across in 30 seconds in a television commercial.
OMC: Is it hard for you to get excited about gutter guards?
MF: Absolutely not. Have you met Nutsy the Squirrel?
OMC: That's exactly what Tiffany said.
MF: It's true, though. We both say that. Here's the thing. My boss even marvels sometimes at the way we seem to get excited about gutters or windows or roofing, whatever it is. The way I see it is it's my job to find something interesting about everybody who is on the show. Whether they paid to be there, or they're you and we invite you as a guest, because we love what you add.
OMC: I think everyone's got an interesting job, if you ask the right questions.
MF: Absolutely. And I think everybody is interesting. A lot of people would argue with that. But I think some of the people that other people would see as being the most boring are fascinating. My question would be, "Do you know that you come across as being super boring?" And their answer would probably be fascinating.
OMC: The Morning Blend has been replicated in other markets. How does that feel, that you were a flagship product? They've never done this before you came on. You got a second co-host, you stayed, she left. And suddenly they're like this is a good idea, let's do this is Vegas.
MF: The thing about our show, is that we don't need ratings to make it work. If the people who are on the show get results, our show is a smashing success. And from a revenue standpoint, we're proud of where we're at. And "The Morning Blend," as you know, exists in every market that we have television stations.
OMC: Is that validation for you, personally?
MF: It's cool. They use our graphics. It looks somewhat the same. But in every market there are different people who are going to be guests of the the show, so it's going to have its own unique flavor. The hosts are obviously different in every market. I think we're the only market, still, to have two female co-hosts. Actually, I take that back, because Tuscan had the same situation, at least recently. It's a concept that my boss, Gregg, has always liked. Having two women host the show. And it works. And it works in other markets for some of the reasons that we work here in Milwaukee, but for different reasons too.
OMC: Do you ever watch the other shows?
MF: We do sometimes. The producers share notes, and sometimes we'll have the same guests. We might have an author who is on a book tour, let's say, and so Tucson might interview them, or Omaha, or Las Vegas.
OMC: Did you see the Journal Broacast-Scripps merger coming?
MF: Not at all. We should have, though, because they were heavy-duty cleaning the building for a while, and getting rid of clutter. Which is what we all do when we sell our house.
OMC: I think it's going to be positive for the broadcast side.
MF: Yes. I agree. And I've always felt good about working at Today's TMJ 4. From the guys who hired me to, honestly, the people who clean the studio floors. I like working for this company, and I feel like they've been very good to me. And I feel like the people in charge generally make good decisions. I don't know if everybody who works there feels like that, but I have a lot of different things to compare it to. And I think that they do a good job. And I look at it as a positive.
OMC: You're not from Milwaukee, you're from Chicago. But you've lived here ...
MF: Since 1994.
OMC: Have you been here long enough to call this home, or is Chicago still home and you're just hanging out?
MF: I absolutely think of this as home. And I made a conscious decision many times and many years ago, but more than once, to stay here and raise a family here. There were other opportunities, and I feel that if I needed another opportunity I could look for one. But I feel really good about raising my family here, except for the weather.
OMC: It's no better in Chicago.
MF: Yeah. I still feel like Chicago's home. I'm a Chicago Bears fan.
OMC: Why wouldn't you be?
OMC: I mean, if I moved to Chicago I wouldn't become a Bears fan. It's just not going to happen. It's your team. You shouldn't have to defend that.
MF: I get so sick of people making fun of me, and asking me when I'm going to become a Packers fan and wake up.
OMC: It's ridiculous.
MF: If you're a true fan of a team you can't just switch.
OMC: Tiffany told me to ask you about the fact that you are an introvert, and you've come to that conclusion. I would have thought that introverts would not be in the public life like you are. But it turns out that you guys are very good at public speaking, very good at turning it on. How did you discover it about yourself?
MF: It's interesting you bring that up, because I think it's the most fascinating self-discovery I have made in probably decades. And I don't mean to be dramatic or anything.
OMC: No, it's a very dramatic revelation.
MF: Like a drama queen, but what I realized in reading an article that Tiffany gave me, is that you can be very outgoing, very friendly, very easy to approach, whatever, and still be very much an introvert. And there are certain signs that you are an introvert, and say there's 10 of then, I would say nine out of 10 point to me being truly an introvert. And if I say to people that I'm shy, or that I don't like to mingle at a party, people are like, "Oh come on."
OMC: It's not about being shy, it's about needing alone time to recharge.
MF: It's how you recharge. It's how you get your energy.
OMC: I was looking more at your bio, and you really don't say anything in your bio. It's very silly, and it's funny, but it almost lead me to think that your hobbies, maybe kick boxing and cooking, but maybe also just being by yourself.
OMC: Did I read into that correctly?
MF: Yeah, I think so. I started doing yoga more, now, and I really like yoga. And this is so crazy, but I realized one of the things that I like about my yoga class is that you don't talk. You can't talk at all, really. The whole class.
OMC: Yeah, you get yelled at.
MF: When you go they say hello to you, and they greet you, and they're very friendly. But really nobody talks to you, and you leave and you say thank you, but you really don't talk to anybody. And I love that about working and having a meditative experience in a group, but really nobody talks to you. I love that.
OMC: If it takes me a day to recharge from being on "The Morning Blend" for nine minutes, you must spend all of your waking time that you're not parenting. You must be a very exhausted person. You don't look exhausted.
MF: Thank you. I do feel like I'm tired a lot of the time. I think that the way people see me is how I really am, because I love people, and I love meeting new people. But meeting new people on the set of "The Morning Blend" is much different than going to a party and mingling. There's a certain safety to it. Mingling, meeting new people, and having superficial conversations is painful for me.
Getting my hair cut is painful, if it's somebody shampoos me, someone does my colors, and everybody asks me, "What are you doing for New Year's? How's your day? How many kids do you have?"
OMC: Not a fan of small talk?
MF: Not a fan of small talk at all. And that's one of the hallmarks of introverts.
OMC: What's next for you professionally, personally?
MF: Professionally, I'd like to keep doing "The Morning Blend" as long as I feel engaged and interested. And we're almost at eight years. I still feel like I did the first day. I like my job, I feel very fortunate. If I can contribute in a meaningful way, as dumb as that sounds, that's what I'd like to keep doing.
At the same time I don't feel like I used to, which is there's only one thing I can do in life. I feel, especially with my background, if I needed to find another job, or wanted to, I feel like I have a few skills that could be useful, too.
OMC: Can you continue to do this job for 15 more years?
MF: Absolutely. I feel, and I don't want to sound naive or overly optimistic, polyannaish, but I feel that Milwaukee embraces genuine people who have a sincere interest in this community and doing a good job. I absolutely feel like I could do this another 15 years. And my tip is this new spray paint that I have for my gray roots, I used it today, but it kind of wears off. It's not permanent.
OMC: I noticed that in all your bios, you always put yourself as a mom first.
MF: I thought I said Chicago Bears fan first.
OMC: No, you said mom. Would you describe that as your identity? Is that by accident?
MF: Yeah. I'm Callie's mom, I'm Jojo's mom. I'm Maddie's mom. And I love it. That's my favorite way for people to know me. Yeah, I absolutely think of myself as a mom first. My oldest is 15.
OMC: Is it your brand?
MF: It's my most important identity. And it's the one thing, like I said, I feel so strongly about this, it's the one job I want to get right. And the thing is 99 out of 100 days I go to bed thinking that I could have done so many things better, as it relates to being a mom.
OMC: You're hard on yourself?
MF: Yeah. I can leave work and mess up the show and not sound good and not look good, and I could get over it. But if I yell at my kids, or I say something that hurts their feelings, or I feel like I haven't come through for them, those are days that are hard to sleep.
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