IN COUNTRY MUSIC SHE'S A DRIVING FORCE With her wholesome style, Laurie DeYoung heads list of local a.m. disc jockeys

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Of the thousands of hours Laurie DeYoung has spent on the air at country radio station WPOC-FM, one brief segment sums up as well as anything what she is about, both behind and away from the microphone.

It occurred one day last month, as she signed off at the end of her 5:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. shift, prefacing the last number she would play that morning with a simple observation. "I think of my boys every time I play this song," she said. Whereupon the soft strains of the Keith Whitley/Earl Thomas Conley duet, "Brotherly Love," filled the air:

They share the same last name and the same color eyes

But they fight like tigers over one red bike

Looking at them reminds me of us

They're gonna fight and they're gonna fuss

But they've got something special -- brotherly love

There could be no doubting the sincerity of the words of the song -- or those of the woman who introduced it. Indeed, in the six years Ms. DeYoung has hosted WPOC's morning show -- first with the now long gone and all but forgotten Rocky Marlowe, and the last four by herself -- she has displayed more wholesomeness and vitality than a milk commercial.

That quality has pushed this effervescent churchgoing minister's daughter and devoted wife and mother to the top of the heap. In the most recent Arbitron radio ratings, this Little Miss Goody Two Shoes of Baltimore radio outpolled all other morning disc jockeys with an 8.8 share of listeners 12 and over, second in the market behind perennial drive-time leader news/talk WBAL-AM.

It has also made Ms. DeYoung stand out in more than just the ratings in a medium increasingly filled with shock jocks and morning maniacs. Where others insult callers, tell off-color jokes and engage in not-so-sly innuendo, she'll tell you what her oldest son, 8 1/2 -year-old ("That half is real important") Graham, did with his tapioca pudding during lunch at his school on parents' visitation day. (He made a point of showing it to kids he knew would be grossed out by the sight of it.) If morning radio shows were rated like movies, Ms. DeYoung's would get a G.

"A PG or a G," she corrects, with the infectious laugh that is almost a trademark. And then, almost apologetically, "I almost hate to talk about that. What we're trying to do is be honest, be real, have a good time -- as lightweight as that might sound."

"I used to love the TV show 'Hart to Hart,' " she adds of the romantic hit ABC series of the early 1980s about a married couple deeply committed to each other and to solving mysteries. "I want to represent that side of things. People driving their kids to school know our show is safe. Not in a boring way, I hope I'm never boring. But they know they're not going to have to explain some blue humor on the way to school."

Ms. DeYoung -- who at 35 is petite, dark-haired and attractive -- is sitting in her office in WPOC's studios on the second floor of the Rotunda shopping center on a recent weekday morning, not long after she has gotten off the air. She is wearing a blood-red turtleneck and a pair of white jeans with a hole in the knee that she got from falling in the supermarket one day after work when she was laden with groceries. "Just a reminder of the working woman trying to do it all," she observes. She is munching pretzels and sipping coffee out of one of the mugs with her name emblazoned on it that she gives away to callers to her show. "Is that the most self-absorbed thing or what?" she asks.

Except for being a little more upbeat on the air than she is off, and a little more sarcastic off the air than she is on, Ms. DeYoung says, "I'm pretty much the same on the air as I am in person."

Those who know her best are quick to agree. "She is very much the way she comes across on the radio," says Ed DeYoung, her husband of 14 years. "She's a real genuine person."

Friends use words like straightforward, passionate and loyal to describe her and take umbrage at the very notion that she may have flaws. "I don't think there's negative stuff to say about her," says Myra MacCuaig, one of her closest friends. "She's a neat lady."

Around the WPOC studios, she displays little evidence of the overblown ego that at times seems a requirement for a personality in morning drive, radio's most visible time slot. Morning news anchor Bill Vanko, who has worked with her for several years, says, "I'm not working with a morning 'star' in her eyes. . . . We get along as well as anyone I've ever worked with."

WPOC program director Bob Moody protests that Ms. DeYoung is "not Annette Funicello." As evidence, he cites the time last year when she asked Kathy Mattea, Country Music Association female vocalist of the year winner, whether she and her $l husband, CMA songwriter of the year Jon Vegner, celebrated their awards "under the sheets." But that comment is as unusual as it is tepid; more in keeping with her tone is the time she sympathetically spun the song "Old Folks" after a grandmother called to complain that her birthday had been forgotten.

But Mr. Moody adds, "When people talk about [Ms. DeYoung] in focus groups, they describe her as sounding like a regular person. One guy said, 'She sounds like your sister.' People can sense this is a genuine personality. This is not artifice."

Oddly, the woman extolled for being herself grew up the fourth of five children of a small-town Michigan non-denominational minister, wanting to play other people as an actress. Her first exposure to working in radio was doing a character voice in a sci-fi production at the college station at Western Michigan College in Kalamazoo. After graduating in 1977, she worked at a succession of small-town stations.

While she now regularly mentions her family, there was a time when the subject was strictly off limits. "I remember when I worked in a rock-and-roll format, they didn't want me to talk about the fact that I was pregnant," she says. "I guess they wanted people to think I was available."

In 1984, Ms. DeYoung went to San Diego to be a sidekick to Rocky Marlowe, with whom she had worked in Michigan, on an adult contemporary station. Five months later, they both were let go.

"It was the first and only time I've ever been fired," she recalls. "It changed my view. I used to think people who got fired were malcontents, with kind of a self-righteous attitude. But when you get stuck in that position yourself, you say, 'That isn't fair.' "

"I figured it'd be easy to find something else," she adds. "Instead, I was out of work four to five months."

Although Ms. DeYoung didn't want to leave San Diego and had never worked on a country station, in 1985 she came to WPOC as Mr. Marlowe's sidekick.

"When I first came, I had a stereotype of what I thought country music was about," she says. "It's hard to talk about that and not be offensive to people who listen to country music now. But in my mind, I kind of pictured the 'Hee-Haw' show a little bit."

Two years later, Mr. Marlowe left the station in a contract dispute. The station brought in country radio veteran Bill Bailey to work with Ms. DeYoung in what management thought would be an inspired pairing of old and young, male and female. "What we thought would be creative conflict turned out to be total miscommunication," says program director Moody. After a few weeks, Ms. DeYoung's not-so-secret wish -- Bill Bailey, won't you puh-leeze go home -- came true.

Some people were clearly surprised that the woman who had so clearly been second fiddle could step to center stage. "I had one person call up and say, 'I didn't know you had a personality,' " she recalls.

While her perky girl-next-door persona came naturally, she had to work to build her credibility among country fans, devouring books and fan magazines like a college kid cramming for a history final. "After six years, I've developed a pretty good knowledge of country music," says Ms. DeYoung, who also hosts "New Country Video" Saturday nights at 6:30 on Maryland Public Television.

On her way to becoming the area's top-rated morning radio personality, Ms. DeYoung gave birth to her second son, Taylor, now 3, whom his father describes as "very much like Laurie -- off the charts and off the walls." Indeed, Ed DeYoung says his wife has "boundless energy." She typically goes to sleep around midnight and bounces out of bed at 4:30 a.m., making the short drive from her Homeland home to the WPOC studios.

While Laurie is on the air, Ed holds down the fort at home; when she comes home, he goes to his job as program director for the Grace Fellowship Church, a non-denominational congregation that meets every Sunday in the Roland Park Country School. "When we decided to have a family, we made a commitment to each other that we wouldn't depend on child care," Mr. DeYoung says.

Ed DeYoung professes no jealousy of his wife's celebrity. "I'm more commonly known as Laurie DeYoung's husband," he acknowledges, adding, "It doesn't bother me. It's been so long since it wasn't that way."

Once, at one of those personal appearances that make up so much of an-air personality's life, he was approached by a man who said, "I have a confession to make. I'm in love with your wife." Nonplused, Mr. DeYoung replied, "So am I."

Ms. DeYoung devotes most of her "outside time" to Grace Fellowship, for which she writes a weekly 10-to-15-minute sketch on some aspect of life and leads the church's theater troupe in its production. One recent homily, entitled "Blind Date," was a humorous look at the tendency of people to display what they want others to see, rather than what they're thinking; while two characters talked on stage, a pair of offstage voices represented what was going through their minds.

A big night out for the DeYoungs is to go to a movie that she will later review on her radio show. She also likes to travel; recently she and her family took off to Disney World.

As for her future career plans, she sounds as sincere and straightforward talking about them as she does introducing a song on the radio. "I'm not looking to go somewhere at this point in my life," she says. "A lot of people in this business lay awake thinking about how they can get to L.A. But I never came in with a goal of being in a huge market.

"One thing about Baltimore -- if people like you, I think you can be here a long time."

By that standard, there's no telling how long Laurie DeYoung might be around.

THE DeYOUNG FILE

H

Occupation: Morning drive personality, WPOC-FM (93.1).

Born: April 10, 1956, Minneapolis.

Education: B.A. in communications from Western Michigan University, 1977.

Family: Married for 14 years to Ed DeYoung; two sons, Graham, 8 1/2 , and Taylor, 3.

Home: Homeland.

On her radio delivery: "I kind of have a squeaky-husky voice. It's not sexy."

On her age: "I'm 35. I have no desire to hide that. Every gray hair I have, I've earned."

On her straightforward approach to her show: "We don't make jokes off the news. We figure people want to hear information about the new stadium, their money and Clarence Thomas."

On her career: "I've been in every format except elevator music and all-polka."

On the appeal of country music: "It's a real good format for baby boomers. I grew up listening to acoustic guitar -- James Taylor, Carole King, Joni Mitchell. You can't find much of that in other formats these days."

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