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Delilah, Radio's Oprah, Draws 25 Million Audience


Rush Limbaugh, Tom Joyner, Ryan Seacrest, Opie and Anthony, most of the biggest voices in daytime commercial radio are male voices, but the nighttime belongs to a female voice. Delilah Rene Luke has spent 25 years on the air sending out dedications, telling stories, and playing soft rock music. But now, she's making her first foray into a new medium. She's working on a series of non-fiction titles for Harlequin, the romance book people. Nate DiMeo has this profile of the woman some people say is about to become the Oprah of radio.

NATE DIMEO: When you have eight million listeners and a $50 million radio deal, who needs a last name?

DELILAH RENE LUKE: Put the kids in a cool bath, then get them to bed then light a candle. Do whatever you need to do to ease your troubled mind. I'm here to keep you company. You're listening to Delilah.

DIMEO: In listening to Delilah, you hear familiar light rock and soothing pop songs. It's like an audio send to bubble bath. The heart of the show, though, are its callers. Each night, upwards of 100,000 people try to call in and make an on air dedication and tell Delilah what's going on in their lives.

RENE LUKE: Hi. Good evening, Linda. Thank you for calling.

LINDA: Hi. How are you?

RENE LUKE: I am wonderful. How are you?

LINDA: Oh, I'm always doing much better when I have a chance to listen to you.

DIMEO: She says she personally talks to between two and 300 callers off air every night, trolling for the best stories.

SIEGEL: Hello, Deli. I want to tell you and say that I've been missing a heart tonight.

RENE LUKE: Unidentified Woman: Well, a darling perfect man for me. His name is Julio.

DIMEO: Only a handful get on the air during her five-hour broadcast. They're mostly women. They call from all over and share stories of lost loves or found loves or loved ones deployed overseas. And Delilah listens to their stories of babies born or bouts with cancer or about men who can't commit and picks a song for them that she thinks gets to the heart of the matter.

BONNIE RAITT: (Singing) 'Cause I can't make you love me if you don't. You can't make your heart feel something it won't.

DIMEO: Her dedications are usually pretty on the nose. People that call to say that it's good to know that they have a friend will likely hear James Taylor telling them the same thing. But people who think that someone is the wind beneath their wings are out of luck.

RENE LUKE: I love the fact that that song resonates with people and touches hearts, but come on, stop requesting it every night.

DIMEO: But despite a fatigue with a particular Bette Midler weeper, Delilah says she finds the job endlessly fascinating. She's a devout Christian, though the show isn't necessarily, just non-denominationally inspirational.

RENE LUKE: God gives different people different gifts, and there are some people that can listen to an instrument and within a fraction of a second tell, you know, where it's off key or what note doesn't resonate correctly. And for me, I listen to voices, and I can hear in a voice layers of emotion or layers of feeling that the speaker probably doesn't even know was there.

ERIC RHOADS: I remember the first time I listened to her, you could hear her baby cooing in the background and her talking to her kid, and I thought, you know, this is something that every woman in American can relate to, or certainly most of them.

DIMEO: Industry analyst B. Eric Rhoads of the magazine Radio Ink says there's no bigger nor more devoted audience in nighttime radio. Marquee brands have been flocking to advertise in the show in recent years. The publisher Harlequin is using Delilah to expand its own brand. For the first time, their romance book company is publishing a non-fiction title, a best of of stories from Delilah and her callers. Rhoads says other companies should be clamoring to get into the Delilah business.

RHOADS: Quite frankly, the people at Martha Stewart Corporation should pick her up and do a Delilah magazine and should do a number of other products because she is really representative of family.

DIMEO: Family is a dominant theme of her show, with good reason. She's got 10 kids, eight of them adopted. And with so much on her plate, Delilah says she's reluctant to accept the many, many offers she does get. In the meantime, she'll keep taking calls and picking the perfect song and keeping the whole schmaltzy enterprise going, if you don't mind me saying.

RENE LUKE: It is schmaltzy. Please, it is shmultzy. It is sappy. It is sacrony. It is tear-jerking at times. It's - you say it's - God, it's like a chick flick.

DIMEO: And schmaltz pays. And there are few other venues where you can hear such an intimate look into the intricacies of contemporary American lives. You just can't hear "The Wind Beneath My Wings." I mean, really, that would just be too much. For NPR News, I'm Nate DiMeo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nate DiMeo
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