Since coming out on the air, Kidd O’Shea’s career has flourished

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Elizabeth Kay and Kidd O’Shea co-host Morning Mix on WMYX. – PHOTO: WMYX

Out Milwaukee radio personality Kidd O’Shea’s spent more than half his life on the air in Milwaukee, which is particularly surprising considering he’s only 34 years old. He got his start in high school after shadowing a radio DJ during his freshman year.

The job is literally a dream come true for O’Shea, the current co-host of WMYX’s Morning Mix and weekend lifestyles reporter for WISN.

O’Shea says he was born with broadcast media in his blood. He knew from a very young age that he wanted to be a TV and radio personality, he says. So did his siblings, who had to endure his make-believe broadcasts every night at the dining room table.

When he was looking for a way into the business, every TV reporter told him the same thing: Start in radio. So he did, managing to secure a nighttime gig on WKTI as his first major show (his actual first show was on a local polka station). 

He stayed at that job there from 1996 to 2004, when he made the switch over to WMYX — a terrifying prospect at the time. “I felt like I was leaving the station that raised me,” he says. He remembers calling his mother on the way home, convinced that he was making the worst decision of his life. But he now knows it’s turned out to be one of the best, and he’s stuck with the Mix ever since.

O’Shea says his show, which he’s co-hosted with Elizabeth Kay for the past five years, isn’t reinventing the wheel. It’s a traditional 5-to-9 broadcast for the morning commute. The two hosts focus on two or three big entertainment or showbiz news items each morning and take calls from Milwaukeeans who have an opinion to share.

O’Shea says his goal is to provide a light-hearted start to the day, an escape for people who might be dreading the day ahead.

“We don’t focus on big-world, scary things, because people see that all day,” he says. “We try to keep things fun. … Liz and I have two goals — to be No. 1 and have a relatable show.” 

That means no inside jokes and a local flavor that keeps listeners tuning in. Maintaining an audience is more competitive than ever, as terrestrial radio competes with satellite stations and the ubiquitous iPod. O’Shea says radio is still the most listened-to medium out there, despite the alternatives. But there’s more pressure than ever to keep creating compelling, original content. 

Occasionally, however, the content is more important than popularity and ratings. Two years ago, after Barack Obama publicly announced his support for same-sex marriage on ABC News, O’Shea brought it up on air while publicly identifying as a gay man for the first time on the show. He says he’d always been genuine about it in his private life, having come out at 18. But he’d just never broached the subject on the show, and he’d felt the moment was right.

“I had to ask, ‘Why don’t these people I spend every morning with know yet?’” he says.

O’Shea says he got an outpouring of support from callers after the announcement, and he’s never looked back. Perhaps the most important consequence of his coming out on the radio came a year later, when a 17-year-old listener called in to the show, struggling to come out to his parents and looking for O’Shea’s advice. The call sparked an hourslong on-air dialogue during which O’Shea gave the caller and other teens in the same situation advice from his own coming-out experience. It was advice that proved successful, with the listener calling back the next day to confirm the conversation had gone well. O’Shea received a personal email from one of the parents in involved, thanking him for his help.

“Even if that’s the only good thing that came out of it, coming out on air was worth it,” O’Shea says.

O’Shea doesn’t know what’s ahead for him and the show — he and the station have talked about the possibility of syndication, though mostly in the abstract. But he says he’s just glad to have the opportunity to remain on the air, doing his dream job: “There’s nothing like doing radio in your hometown.”