The Amazing Career Journey
of Dr. Joy Browne

| February 10, 2015

 By Mike Kinosian
TALKERS
Managing Editor

 

kinosianNEW YORK — Bon mots such as “iconic” and “legendary” are intended to be the highest form of flattery, yet some broadcasters bristle when they are referred to that way.

While most will not admit it, they sense such genuine terms of endearment are really euphemisms that bring their mortality into question and are code for “old.”

In an oftentimes, if not all too customary, flavor-of-the-month industry where the next great star is eaten up and spit out after a 26-week run, it would be disingenuous though not to ascribe “icon/iconic” and “legend/legendary” to a talk host who has been top-of-mind for over three-dozen years.

This particular peerless personality has maintained an impeccable status of excellence while breaking basic (unwritten) talk radio rules.

joy_200Exemplary on-air work that is approaching four decades has been done without political bent and her legend of loyal listeners actually have meaningful life-altering changes owing to the unparalleled expertise of the program’s sage host. In a male-dominated spoken-word personality arena, this show’s headliner is one of only 12 women on TALKERS’ renowned “Heavy Hundred” of 2014, checking in at #44.  (The new list for 2015 will be published within the next few weeks and this writer would not be surprised if she moves up significantly due to recent developments in her dynamic career.)

Added twist to the progressing journey of this generously genial, uncommonly cordial licensed clinical psychologist is that Dr. Joy Browne has taken proprietorship of her daily three-hour program.

Natural curiosity

Although New Orleans-born, Joy Browne departed “The Big Easy” with her family when she was about three years old and would spend several years of elementary school in Pennsylvania.

By the time the oldest of her five siblings was in junior high and high school, she was in Denver. “I was always curious about people and have been a good listener,” Dr. Browne recounts. “Even when I was 10 years old, people would tell me their problems. I took some psychology courses in high school but don’t think I specifically understood a person could get a degree in psychology and do it for a living.”

Ostensibly an English major at Rice University (where she graduated cum laude), Dr. Browne possesses the only behavioral science degree the Houston institution has ever offered, with emphasis in psychology, sociology, and anthropology. “I just kept taking courses and combining things,” the recipient of the American Psychological Association’s first-ever “President’s Award” notes. “I got married five days after I graduated and moved to Boston, where I had to put my husband through graduate school. I was working for Sperry Rand and the company paid for an employee’s graduate school [tuition]. I went to Northeastern University and was off and running.”

Striking the mother lode

If during her time at Northeastern University someone told the brilliant Dr. Browne that her destiny was to become one of broadcasting’s most memorable personalities, she candidly states, she “would have laughed hilariously.”

After graduating from Northeastern, where she holds a Ph.D., in addition to a master’s degree in psychology and sociology, she opened a private practice. “To be quite honest, I really liked it,” she comments.

Several years into it (1978), she received a phone call from WITS, but since Dr. Browne had no idea what “WITS” was, it was explained to her that it was a Boston radio station. In fact, its call letters stood for “We’re Information, Talk, and Sports.”

Station management had been interviewing area psychologists and as Dr. Browne’s name kept popping up, they asked if she would like to do a talk show.

Once that concept was defined to her, she politely said thanks but no. “All I had was my reputation and without that, I had nowhere to go,” she stresses. “It was something I was actually pretty good at doing. I was a vaguely competent engineer and worked [as social service director] for the Boston Redevelopment Authority but I found the mother lode — something I was talented at and better than most.”

Dancing around protestations

Sensing that she was limited by not knowing anything about the human body, Dr. Browne decided “the obvious thing” to do was attend medical school — which she did four days a week. “I ran my practice the other day so I could pay for medical school,” she explains. “I finished the first two years of medical school; was still in my practice; but my marriage was falling apart around me.”

Immersing herself into work was one technique she utilized to cope with the situation. “It was clear I couldn’t do anything about the marriage,” she laments. “I got that phone call from WITS out of the blue.”

Agreeing to meet station executives for lunch, Dr. Browne found herself stuck in traffic, causing her to be uncharacteristically late. “I thought it was a waste of time anyway,” she recalls “and I wound up being very obnoxious because I really didn’t want to [be on radio].”

Every time she balked about doing some talk host job requirement, such as reading commercials, the station executives simply would agree with her. “I was being rude and it wasn’t working,” a perplexed Dr. Browne acknowledges. “They wanted me to go the station the next day. They clearly were not going away, so I thought they would see that I was not cut out to be a talk host. They will specifically understand why I am not going to do it. Everyone will leave and I would not have to be rude anymore.”

According to Dr. Browne, WITS’ program director was “going through a messy divorce” at the time and it is her assessment that “he hated women.” It dawned upon her though that even in a very active private practice, she might be able to deal with 300 people a year, whereas a radio talk show host can reach several magnitudes of that number in one day. “That was a compelling argument for me because I found something in my life I was good at and could help more people in one hour than I could in one year,” she admits. “I thought it probably was not going to work, but if Fred Astaire asks you to go dancing, you don’t say no because you have to wash your hair. I thought I would take one year off from medical school because I would not ever get such an offer again.”

Moreover, if it didn’t pan out, she could always return to postdoctoral work at Tufts Medical School in Boston, where she successfully completed the first part of the National Medical Board examinations.

Recipe for failure

Anything but cocky — and more accurately — feeling more than a bit of trepidation, Dr. Browne nonetheless signed a one-year contract with WITS, then the flagship of both the Red Sox and the Bruins.

October (1978) was supposed to be when she would launch her radio career, but her first night was unexpectedly jump-started to just after Labor Day. A Bruins game slated to be carried by WITS was postponed due to melting ice at the Boston Garden and without warning, Dr. Browne was summoned to duty. “In those days, you had an engineer to run the board and the talent had one button to push — that was it,” she summarizes. “I was an engineer and space program-trained, so I was not a bit phobic about mechanics.”

Notwithstanding her relatively small handwriting and the fact that her only concern was one non-threatening button, Dr. Browne still managed to jot down six pages of notes dealing with technical logistics. “The woman-hating program director was there to train me, but he could not have set me up any worse,” she insists. “All he said was that I should ‘wing-it.’ My producer was an 18-year-old kid. I wrote something up about the difference between psychology and psychiatry, which seemed like a perfectly reasonable thing to do at that moment. I began the show by talking for about five minutes and realized I needed to stop to collect my thoughts.”

Most likely, if a scenario such as that were to unfold today, it would simply necessitate booking a guest. “All you have to do is ask questions, but I was set up,” Dr. Browne maintains. “My producer had a brand new host and when I stopped talking, he turned green. I can probably recount something I have said on any of my broadcasts over the past 36 years — except that night. If you offered me a million dollars, I cannot remember five words I said.”

Phone calls were nonexistent since virtually anyone who would have been listening to the station at that time did so expecting to hear the Bruins hockey game.

Approximately two hours into the 10:00 pm – 1:00 am show, however, Dr. Browne fielded a call from a woman she describes as “clearly hospitalized.”

Under ordinary circumstances, that caller never would have made it on-air, but as Dr. Browne emphasizes, “I was never so grateful to hear another voice in my life. I did not care that she was hallucinating. The owner of the station came in to see how I was doing and he was ready to kill the program director because he knew all I needed to do was to have a guest. When I drove home, I was sobbing the entire way. The first night was such an unmitigated disaster but I swore I would come in just one more night to prove that I could do it.”

Since then, she has never entered a studio without a pile of things to talk about and a copious amount of notes. “To say it was a baptism-by-fire does not begin to explain what it was like — but you learn,” Dr. Browne patiently reasons. “I just did not know any better that I was being set up. It was humiliating, awful, unpleasant, demeaning, and embarrassing. If I weren’t so damn stubborn, I would have said ‘take this job and shove it in your ear.'”

Coast-to-coast-to-coast

Despite having to endure one of the rockiest-ever first nights for a talk host, Dr. Browne not only honored the duration of her one-year contract, she remained at WITS for roughly three and a half years.

Cliché-like for the industry, she was lured from Boston to San Francisco as a result of KGO’s then-program director Jerry Johnson (who remained at KGO until Jack Swanson succeeded him in June 1982) monitoring her WITS program in a Boston hotel room.

Regarding the opportunity to relocate to the Bay Area, Dr. Browne rhetorically asks, “I was going through the end of an unpleasant divorce and I thought – why not? It was a way to get a fresh start; I was at KGO for several years.”

Officials at the then ABC-owned property were aware of a sexual harassment issue over which Dr. Browne could have sued. “I knew I could win the suit — but also was aware I could never work again,” she confides. “They flew me to New York and ‘made nice,’ but it was [all very unpleasant]. By that time, I had been in San Francisco for several years and the story made the front page of all three local newspapers. God bless [cross-town KCBS-AM] for then giving me a great opportunity to figure out if it was fun for me to be in broadcasting or broadcasting psychology. I hosted a noon news show there. I did not hate every second of it, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do. It was very easy and I interviewed many people, but for some reason they did not want me to call myself ‘doctor’ on the air. I didn’t object, but the callers would refer to me that way.”

Prospects of returning to the east coast eventuated when she heard from Mark Mason, who from 1982 to 1988 programmed New York City’s WABC.

Obligatorily inquiring how Dr. Browne was doing at KCBS-AM, Mason was told by the talk host she didn’t want to do her program there anymore. “I had gone as far as I could go at that station. Mark offered me an overnight shift at WABC and promised that he would not bring me to the station to ‘bury’ me.”

Rejecting a counter-offer by KCBS-AM, which would have given her more money, Dr. Browne accepted Mason’s invitation to join WABC. “I told [KCBS-AM officials] that they had been fantastic to me but it wasn’t what I should be doing.”

Eulogy for the living

Six weeks after Dr. Browne arrived at WABC to do overnight duty on weekends, CapCities bought ABC. “I was stuck,” she confesses. “I would love to say that I have the soul of a freelancer, but I am afraid that I do not.”

Taking the WABC opportunity resulted in Dr. Browne’s salary being skewered by 50% while her expenses doubled. “It was a rude awakening,” she succinctly declares. “Hopefully, I am getting better at it, but at the time, I didn’t know how to get other jobs. They moved me to the ABC Radio network and I was bounced around a little bit there. I was supposed to be in line to take over for Sally Jessy Raphael. All the affiliates were excited about it, but it did not happen.”

From WABC, she transitioned to the pioneering, upstart syndication firm, DayNet, where she connected with — among others — Mike Costello and Barry Farber. “They were very nice, but were [significantly under-capitalized],” Dr. Browne points out.

New York City talker WOR contacted Dr. Joy to see if she could be coaxed to work there and she jokes, “I thought a paycheck might be nice.” It was WOR vice president of news and programming (1988 – 1995) Ed Walsh who placed Dr. Browne on the station’s daytime schedule.

Slightly more than two years ago though (December 2012), Clear Channel (now iHeartMedia) officially closed on its acquisition of WOR from Buckley Broadcasting. Among programs dropped by the new owners were those hosted by former New York Governor David Paterson, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, and Dr. Browne. “They used my show on tape for another month after they let me go,” she remembers “which was an interesting phenomenon.”

Thousands of emails supporting her were sent to WOR’s new license-holder and “Get Dr. Joy Back on the Air” websites popped up. “Getting fired publicly was not much fun, but it was as close to a eulogy [while I am still alive] as I will ever get,” Dr. Browne rationalizes. “There was a sense of people caring and liking the program.”

Radio America Logo_125Instantly after Dr. Browne’s WOR show was cancelled, Radio America chief operating officer Mike Paradiso and director of operations Rich McFadden “gave me a safe place” as she was slotted weekdays from 12:00 noon – 3:00 pm (ET); WWRL, New York “was incredibly kind” as well “and adopted me.”

Presently airing a Spanish-language format as of 15 months ago (January 2014), Access.1 Communications’ Class B WWRL had an imposing talk radio lineup that featured Dr. Browne (4:00 am – 6:00 am). Other weekday personalities on the station at 1600 AM (25,000 watts days, 5,000 watts at night) prior to the change included Mark Riley; Ed Schultz; Thom Hartmann; Randi Rhodes; Reverend Al Sharpton; Bev Smith; Leslie Marshall; and Alan Colmes.

Genesis of an entrepreneur

Lemons-to-lemonade transition in the particular case of Dr. Joy Browne find her becoming an entrepreneur, although she readily concedes part of it stems from economic necessity.

GCN Logo_125Approached by Ted Anderson-owned Genesis Communications Network (GCN) this past June, Dr. Browne instantaneously had a trustworthy program distributor and resource to handle station clearances.

Concurrently, Salem Communications senior vice president of spoken-word formats Phil Boyce indicated its New York City talker WNYM was interested in being her flagship. “For years, I have said that men with the same talent as women own their own businesses and they run their own shops,” Dr. Browne puts forth. “Women have been so socialized to wait for knights in shining armor to come and save us — although ‘saving us’ from what is not clear.”

WNYM LogoNoteworthy names dot the WNYM schedule as Dr. Browne (1:00 am – 4:00 am) bats leadoff, followed by Bill Bennett, with former “SNL” alum Joe Piscopo handling morning drive at the talk facility located at 970 AM (50,000 watts daytime/5,000 watts nighttime). Others doing either two- or three-hour weekday shifts at “The Answer” include Mike Gallagher; John Gambling; Dennis Prager; Michael Medved; Joe Walsh; Hugh Hewitt; and Steve Deace.

Former-WOR vice president and general manager Jerry Crowley now performs similar duties at “The Answer,” with Dr. Browne proclaiming, “Jerry has been incredibly supportive, helpful, encouraging, and kind. It has been wonderful getting to re-know him as a colleague.”

Meat & potatoes experiment

Confident in her expertise as a clinical psychologist and as an on-air communicator, Dr. Browne might not — as of yet — though possess the self-assuredness in her acumen as a businesswoman. By the same token though, “It seemed like if ever there were a time in my career to do it, this was it.”

Instead of toiling for somebody else, she pondered what her media life would be like if she worked for herself and could talk about whatever she wanted to on the air. “There is, of course, the understanding that I have a number of affiliates that have stuck with me for years,” she realizes. “The idea is not to offend them. I am not trying to become a ‘potty-mouth.’ I am not dependent on any one person anymore, other than myself.”

Through the years and especially in the last decade, many have asked Dr. Joy why she just did not take ownership of her program. “This is kind of an experiment,” she accentuates. “While it is not my skill-set, it is fun.”

Free advice that the tremendously gifted psychologist shares here is quite profound. “Be careful about getting to the point where everything you do is done well because it means you are in a rut,” she cautions. “When we take our last breath, we won’t regret the mistakes we made as much as the chances we did not take. This is a perfect confluence of people helping me in my job. I still call it a ‘job,’ but it is not — it has been a great ‘career.’ I figured I essentially had nothing to lose and everything to gain [including] a completely different perspective.”

National sales efforts for her daily program are being handled by WYD Media Ad Sales chief executive officer Ron Hartenbaum and WYD Media Ad Sales president John Murphy; John Knecht is focusing on local sales.

Roughly reaching the five-month mark of the Dr. Browne-described “experiment,” she has come to grips that the sales process is not her enemy. “I never had to deal with it,” she concedes. “I did my program and someone else would sell and market me. I was the dessert — I did not have to worry about the meat and potatoes. Instead of thinking of myself as ‘talent,’ I questioned what would happen if I pretended I were in sales. Salespeople are relentless, cheerful, and do not take ‘no’ for an answer.”

Envisioning herself in the role of management in place of her accustomed status as “talent” presented a “psychological” challenge, a rather deliciously obvious irony that naturally does not escape Dr. Browne. It changed everything because now she “owns” the product. “I didn’t quite get it when I heard people use the word ‘brand’ so often. My challenge right now is making [my ‘brand’] profitable. It is very exciting to be thinking of what I do in a completely new way. The scary thing is whether I can make a living at this in an economy that is not particularly generous to media – including radio – right now. The major problem of a new business is that, in its first two years, it is usually undercapitalized. That is when they go out of business.”

Credibility over affability

An outspoken critic of Facebook from the very beginning, Dr. Browne nevertheless can attest that the social media platform has some advantages in the talk radio world. “Without giving it much thought, people put out personal and damaging information,” she remarks. “They have no idea who will read it or how long it will be out there — it is a public false intimacy. I would no more have a personal Facebook page as I would fly out the window but as I was told, it is a way for people to communicate with me so it has become an integral part of my program.”

Almost shockingly, the talk program whose host is an admitted naysayer is being enormously aided by Facebook and Dr. Browne understands its helpfulness. “We recently asked people to mention the most asinine phrase they know and we received over 100 responses via Facebook in less than one hour. Five years ago, those people would have called me.”

Part of Dr. Browne’s Friday broadcasts are devoted to ‘It’s Broke – Let’s Fix It,” where she addresses such issues as global warming, plastic bags, or electric cars. “That is completely different from what I was doing four or five years ago,” she mentions. “The show has evolved so much in the last 30 years and I would argue that it even evolves on a day-to-day basis. It is never the same. We have a relatively new producer. One way to keep a producer interested and involved is to have the program reflect part of his interests — although it is still my name on the show. I have had a few female producers but most of them have been male.”

Even in a challenging economy, one thing Dr. Browne will not do is present a sponsor interview as if it were a “regular” one. “The audience isn’t stupid,” she asserts. “They know the difference between an interview that is about something of interest to them and a commercial. I am willing to be sponsor-friendly and I have helped sponsors write their commercials.”

Firm in her stance of not saying anything on-air that is untrue, she exclaims that, especially on talk radio, reading a commercial is an implied endorsement. “I am very careful about that kind of thing because I don’t sell affability on my program – I sell credibility. Some colleagues of mine are incredibly good at sales. They will read a commercial for Delta, then one for America, then another for United — but you cannot say that each of those is your favorite airline.”

Placed in a thorny predicament when informed in a recent sales meeting that she needed to mention on-air that she takes her car to a specific car dealership, Dr. Browne had to decline for the most elementary reason. “I don’t own a car!”

Further example of a challenging sales situation involved a product to which she happens to be allergic. “It was important to the account to say I use it,” she divulges. “But I would not blatantly engage in such a lie.”

Meeting Granted

Dr. Toni GrantFemale talk radio role models were hardly plentiful when Dr. Browne was breaking into the business in the late-1970s, but after she was on the air in Boston for about six weeks, she was flown to Los Angeles to visit with Dr. Toni Grant, who landed a daily KABC call-in advice show in 1975. “I was grateful they waited that long for me to meet her because, by then, I had evolved my own style,” the 1996 and 1997 National Association of Talk Show Hosts’ “Top Female Radio Talk Show Host” opines. “We have completely different styles: Toni is a much smoother and more authoritative broadcaster than I ever will be.”

To have patterned herself after Dr. Grant would have been a mistake, but Dr. Joy confirms to have been “absolutely fascinated” by the elegant Los Angeles on-air personality. “Toni and I have nothing in common, except we are both psychologists. She had great advice for me, such as never be on a panel where you are the most important person because the others will just bleed off your celebrity. It is true, but it is the antithesis of how I view the world. She and I together would probably have been an interesting combination. I have a greater sense of humor and self-deprecation.”

Another marvelous broadcaster Dr. Browne got to know was the late Dr. Joyce Brothers. “We became friends in her later years and did a lot of television together, but at first, she was absolutely wretched to me,” Dr. Browne contends. “At one point, she had me introduce her to a station owner and then pitched him that she should replace me on the air.”

Underscoring the continued paucity of female talk hosts, the other 12 women making TALKERS’ aforementioned “Heavy Hundred” of 2014 are Laura Ingraham; Stephanie Miller; Dana Loesch; Kim Komando; Dr. Laura Schlessinger; Terry Gross; Randi Rhodes; Mandy Connell; Leslie Marshall; Elisha Krauss, Martha Zoller; and Joyce Kaufman.

Interviewing insight

Whenever someone approaches the very accessible Dr. Browne to give her a compliment, she routinely stops the person and asks for their name. “It is my way to try to level the playing field. It is what I unconsciously do on the air.”

Country music — not talk — was Dr. Browne’s radio preference prior to her foray into the business and she recollects that, “I made it up as I went along. When I first began, I did not know any better so I would interview other psychologists. I thought that made sense, but of course, it was a disaster so we stopped doing it.”

Interviewing celebrities is often enjoyable to the thoroughly conscientious Dr. Browne who does her homework, but she finds chatting on-air with big-name personalities can sometimes be trivial. “I always ask questions they weren’t used to… yet they always answer,” she reveals. “I asked Ann Landers if she ever swore or what is was like for [former Boston Celtics all-star center] Bill Russell to grow up without a father. I am genuinely interested in what makes the person who they are. One secret to doing a great interview is listening. You can practically see some interviewers check off their questions and not at all paying attention to what the person is saying.”

Consenting to advice

Those dispensing guidance for a living are occasionally welcome recipients of counseling, as Dr. Joy discovered at WITS when venerable Red Sox play-by-play announcer Ken Coleman shared some precious tips. “He said that when a group of people are together, they watch television; when someone is alone, they tend to listen to the radio. Ken told me that I couldn’t be good one day and lousy the next. Someone on radio is with people in intimate moments so listeners have to be able to count on us.”

Owing perhaps to her tremendous exuberance, Dr. Browne has a tendency to talk fast so she reminds herself to slow down. In one of her first air-check sessions, she was told 20 minutes had elapsed and she still hadn’t mentioned the phone number. “A few people have taken an interest in the mechanics of how to do a good talk show,” she cites. “With very few exceptions, however, no one has said I need to take longer with calls or go through more calls. I don’t talk about abortion on the air because you will never change anyone’s mind. I don’t talk about dog poop because, even though it generates phone calls, it is boring, nor do I talk about horoscopes because it will get phone calls – but no listeners.”

Eighteen-year (1989 – 2007) WOR, New York vice president and general manager Bob Bruno told Dr. Browne if she talks about politics, the people who don’t agree with her will be mad and that’s not why people listen to her. “It is a losing proposition,” she agrees. “I am allowed to have opinions, but I need to be mindful of the listeners as well. It was not my favorite advice, but it was good advice.”

Caught up in the moment

Originating her weekday talker from a home studio, Dr. Browne has long been associated with The Big Apple and she speaks fondly of the city that never sleeps. “Some people are born in New York City while others are meant to be here,” she muses. “It is a great city with huge amounts of energy, opportunity, and tolerance — even though it took me about six weeks before I began cursing New Jersey drivers.”

Something special though has struck her about every city she has worked in and as she observes, “I have lived in some of the best cities America has to offer. I love New York and I had a great time in Boston. Houston was kind of a southern setting for me. When I went to Rice, the ratio of men to women was five to one. There was always someone to carry your books in a southern kind of environment. While I don’t think it was ever gone, the southern part of me was reinforced.”

Among other off-air involvement, Dr. Browne has been on the mayor’s commission against domestic violence for many years. During one particular Friday broadcast, a woman detailed a despicable story about how her husband repeatedly, forcibly beats her. “I told her she needs to get out of there,” Dr. Browne emphatically details. “She called me back Monday morning to say the man raped her over the weekend. When I asked why she was still there, she said it was because she loves him.”

That was when Dr. Browne accentuated in no uncertain terms that she had to get the (“f-bomb”) out of there. “The only person more surprised at that kind of language than the entire crew was me,” she quips. “I never swear and my engineer should have caught it. I was so appalled at myself and embarrassed to have gotten out-of-control. Naturally, I apologized — we got thousands of support letters and not one complaint.”

Oral sex was on the mind of a WOR caller one day in the 9:00 am hour. “All of a sudden, I heard footsteps running down the hall,” Dr. Browne laughs. “The PD told me I couldn’t say ‘ejaculate’ on the air and that even Howard Stern [pre-SiriusXM] doesn’t say that. Our agreement was that I was not allowed to talk about sex until after 10:00 am. I wasn’t trying to be outrageous – I was just trying to be a psychologist.”

No one ever is to blame

Free-floating versus topic-driven is one assessment of the daily talk show Dr. Browne presides over, and at times, things will pop up from nowhere. When that happens, the tremendous proficiency she has honed as a broadcaster allows her to be flexible and go with it. With her long-standing interest in movies and theater, it is common to hear her articulate on those concentrations. “Any woman in broadcasting wanted to be an actress when they were younger,” she speculates. “We were too short, too fat, too funny-looking, or too ‘whatever.’ I have loved movies ever since I was a kid. I figured when People Magazine put in a theater section, it was okay to do it on my show as well. I have been in several plays in New York and I did improv several years ago. That scared the living daylights out of me but it is also one of the most fun things I have ever done.”

Author (Dating Disasters, Dating for Dummies, Getting Unstuck, It’s A Jungle Out There, Jane, Nine Fantasies That Will Ruin Your Life); television host (a 1999 weekday King World/ Eyemark advice show); and off-Broadway actress, Dr. Joy has seemingly done it all and consistently with panache and aplomb. On top of that is her daily radio host, and lest we forget, she’s a board certified psychologist. “I love everything, but if I had to choose something, I would probably pick radio because it is what I do and know best,” the dancing, yoga, and hot air ballooning enthusiast affirms. “I have an outline for a book that I should be working on, a television project that is being submitted, and I get to play myself in an upcoming episode of BET’s ‘Being Mary Jane.’ Somebody in college told me that I was spreading myself too thin. I still do not know what that means — I wondered if they thought I was peanut butter.”

Curious to see what happens next in her life, she would like to do a little more television because, “It is fun and easy. It is a different way of reaching people and it pays, which is good. If someone offers me a part in a movie or a play though, I am so there. I would like to figure out a way to make radio a little more profitable and perhaps do two hours of it a day, rather than three.”

Holidays are generally regarded as the most depressing time of the year, but Dr. Browne points out that August and January/early-February “are actually the bimodal peaks.”

Each day and with each caller, it is Dr. Browne’s responsibility and mission statement to change the mind of a person, who much more often than not is depressed or unhappy. Frankly: It’s how she makes her living. “They want to know how to kill the person who is making them feel that way and not be held responsible,” she states with tongue-in-cheek. “The only behavior I can help change is yours, but that isn’t what a caller wants to hear. They want me to tell them that the other person is to blame. I have to change their mind but I don’t have a lot of time to do it. We talk about the guts of a person’s life — their job, income, relationship, sex life, kids, or a next-door neighbor. My job is to get through and when I do, there is nothing else like it in the world.”

Asking a caller’s age wasn’t something Dr. Browne would have done years ago, but she does now. “The same problem at age 30 is a very different problem at age 40, 50, or 60,” she explains.

Mind-changing exhilaration

Self-doubts regarding career can affect even Dr. Joy and she will wonder from time to time what she’s doing with her life but will slug through it. “If the radio show stops being fun, I’ll stop doing it,” she promises. “Many times though, it isn’t what I do — listeners get to share what does or does not work in their lives. It isn’t me so much as I am there. By being there, people are allowed to show their most courageous, loving, and caring selves. I am incapable of tuning out the human voice. If a program director called me in the office and had the show of one of my colleagues on in the background, I would ask that the monitor be turned off because I cannot not listen to a human voice.”

Certain calls can be energizing for her. “When you hear that you just changed somebody’s mind, nothing in the world makes you feel better.”

One recent interaction in particular stands out, as Dr. Browne spent a lengthy amount of time on-air with a male caller. At the conclusion, he said he was a God-fearing man and that he felt he heard God’s voice explicitly sending him to the talk host. With her voice cracking and clearly shaken, a member of Vanity Fair Magazine’s 1996 Hall of Fame emphasizes, “That keeps you going for an awfully long time.”

Essentially being afforded the priceless gift to do what she loves on a daily basis, tremendously classy Dr. Joy Browne humbly downplays, “I am a blessed human being,” and the president of her “Dr. Joy to the World Foundation” recommends to find something in this life that you really like to do and that you are good at doing. “If you like it, do it. If you are good at it, someone will notice. Every once in a while, someone will sprinkle fairy dust on you. Even if they do not, you are doing something that you love. That has really been my life.”

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Contact TALKERS managing editor Mike Kinosian at Kinosian@TALKERS.com.

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Category: Features