Radio jock Turi Ryder reflects on her on-air life in new book

Ryder has been entertaining and informing radio audiences on rock, country, and talk radio stations for 30-plus years.

turi ryder image
Turi Ryder. Photo credit: Linda Matlow.

Smooth. Silky. Sonorous. That's how you might describe the voices of the country's most successful radio jocks, right?

Nah, says successful radio jock Turi Ryder, who has been entertaining and informing radio audiences on rock, country, and talk radio stations for 30-plus years. 

"There are people in radio with terrible voices who have something to say," said Ryder, "and, conversely, there are people with beautiful voices who have nothing to say."

Having something to say is what gets you a loyal audience, suggested the Chicago-born and -based Ryder.

Ryder has always had a lot of things to say about a lot of subjects. And she is now having her say in her new laugh-out-loud fictionalized memoir, She Said What? (Tortoise Books), in which identities and other signifying markers have been changed to protect the innocent and to shield herself litigiously from some colleagues who might not care for depictions of themselves as creeps, sadists, and petty despots. 

Not that She Said What? is a scandal-laden tell-all in which Ryder, who has worked in more than a few major media markets -- Chicago, the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and Portland, Ore., among them -- goes after the big guys. Rather, in clipped chapters that often feel like discrete short stories, she chronicles, with great humility and humor, her rise through the ranks of the radio industry. 

Ryder's relationship with the radio began when she was just a kindergartner "listening underneath my parents' dining table to the Wednesday afternoon rebroadcast of classical WFMT's Midnight Special ," she relates in the book.

By high school, she lost countless hours of sleep at night, entertained by Jefferson Starship, Traffic, and John Lennon. 

But it was at the radio station at a thinly-veiled New Trier East that Ryder cut her teeth in the radio biz. In the interest of full disclosure, she writes, she was also chasing after a boy working at the station.

"My relationship with the charming Jasper did not last as long as my love affair with radio," she writes. 

That love affair has been everlasting. Like even the best of relationships, though, there have been some rough patches, particularly when sexism has reared its ugly head.

Throughout her book, Ryder recounts how the old-boy network has kept women from having an equal place on the airwaves. It's tough for female jocks to get the best time slots -- morning drive times -- and they're often relegated to the female sidekick. 

"Women are no better off now than they were 30 years ago," Ryder said. 

On the other hand, said Ryder, one of the bright spots in radio has been the number of Jews in the industry. 

That's because, Ryder said, "we're taught that there's nothing more exciting than a good conversation." In the best kind of radio that can be heard, there's a deep conversation that takes place between the on-air host and her audience, she added.

Ryder, whose given forename is Keturah (in the Hebrew Bible, Keturah was Abraham's second wife, following the death of Sarah), loves nothing more than a good conversation. One of her favorite topics to converse about is the Jewish community. 

The daughter of an immunogeneticist and an educator, Ryder was somewhat traumatized when, as a young child, she and her family left the comforts of Chicago's Jewish community for several years for Manhattan, Kansas, where her father had an appointment at Kansas State University. 

"Multiculturalism for me, and probably for the rest of the eight Jewish kids in the Manhattan, Kans. school system, consisted of being asked to stand and tell the class why we did not celebrate Christmas," she writes. "Thinking back on it, this shouldn't have required much explaining, considering the nearly universally expressed belief that I had killed Jesus."

Such experiences, she said, led her and her husband, political consultant Scott Adams, who served as political director for the late U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, to make sure that their kids would "grow up with a Jewish community around them."

Both sons attended Jewish day schools before transferring to Chicago's Lane Tech High School. The older son is now an undergraduate at New York's List College, a joint program of Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

Ryder, who has kept a kosher kitchen from her college days, said that she and Adams are passionate about their congregation, Ner Tamid Ezra Habonim Egalitarian Minyan, based in Rogers Park, and that they are equally committed to giving back to the Jewish community through tzedakah

"We got so much help to stay connected to the Jewish community when we were younger," said Ryder. "Now, it is our pleasure to help … and we'll do more after the kids are out of school." 

Turi Ryder's  " She Said What?"is available at independent bookstores throughout Chicagoland, including at City Lit in Logan Square and Book Cellar in Lincoln Square. It can also be purchased through her publisher at www.tortoisebooks.com. A one-woman show based on the book is in the early stages of development.

Robert Nagler Miller is a journalist and editor who writes frequently about arts- and Jewish-related topics from his home in Chicago. 




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