Editor’s note: The writer joins Kelli Karlson and “Roadkill” Bill every Tuesday morning at Wizard 106 for a movie review.
By M. Scott Morris
TUPELO – The topic on a recent edition of Wizard 106’s Hometown Mornin’ Show was selfies, the self-portraits that modern phones make so easy to take.
“You’re part of the problem,” said “Roadkill” Bill Hughes.
“I’m not part of the problem,” Kelli Karlson countered.
Their show runs from 5 to 10 a.m. Monday to Friday, and between the latest country music releases and weather reports, the pair snipe at each other in a little square room with carpet-covered walls.
She sits on the left with her microphone, and he’s right across from her with his own microphone, as well as all the dials and knobs one would expect at a radio station.
“Bill handles all the buttons,” Karlson said.
“She talks and takes selfies,” he said.
“I’m really good at it,” she said. “I put them online and we have listeners that actually Photoshop my selfies. It’s really good.”
“Scary is what it is,” Hughes said.
“Some of them make me look great,” she said.
There are times when Karlson and Hughes genuinely annoy each other, which is bound to happen after meeting every weekday morning in the same square room for six years.
But their working partnership wouldn’t have lasted as long if their back-and-forth wasn’t in good fun.
“We argue a lot but half of that is being stupid,” Hughes said. “We pick on each other because it comes naturally.”
“It just feels right,” said Karlson, then she broke out in a laugh that regular listeners would recognize.
Hughes got his start in radio as a student at Arkansas State, where he worked at the college station and fell in love with sending his voice over the airwaves.
Karlson, which isn’t her real name, is a Starkville native. She was working in retail when a friend introduced her to the broadcast booth. She ended up with a nighttime show, but it was canceled after the station decided to carry Delilah, a nationally syndicated radio personality.
“They fired you to put her on?” Hughes said.
“Yeah,” she said.
“We’ve all been fired,” he said.
“You’re not in radio until you’ve been fired, but the term is ‘laid off’ because it wasn’t anything I did,” she said.
“I’ve been ‘let go,’” Hughes said.
Karlson and Paul Stone spent nine years together in the mornings at Wizard. When Stone went in search of other opportunities, Hughes eventually stepped in.
Stone returned to work for the station, but in the morning, it’s still Kelli and “Roadkill” Bill.
Those mornings can come early, and so can bedtime.
“I got home on Friday night at 15 ‘til 9 and planted face-first on the sofa, and did not wake up until 3 a.m., when I went to my bedroom,” Karlson said. “I can’t stay up past 9. If I do, I embarrass my friends at the movie theater.”
“Snoring?” Hughes said.
“Yep,” she said.
“Been there,” he said.
Hughes said he can last until 10 p.m. before having to call it a day.
“You learn. You adjust,” he said. “I don’t have any trouble getting up anymore, except on Monday mornings.”
Karlson’s day usually ends at noon. Hughes also works as the station’s program director, so he’s around later, and he’s often listening to new music at work, in the car and at home.
Their days can last longer when there are special events, such as country concerts at the BancorpSouth Arena. They give away backstage passes on the air, and one of them sets up the “Prize Wheel” before shows.
“One of us usually goes backstage with the fans to make sure everything goes all right,” Karlson said.
“For the most part, we see performers when the fans see them,” Hughes said.
But there have been special times for each of the DJs. Karlson’s came with Trisha Yearwood in her dressing room after a show.
“We talked about her wardrobe. I loved that,” Karlson said. “She said, ‘What did you think about my wardrobe for the show?’ It was great, and she just kept me there.”
Hughes wouldn’t call himself one of Dierks Bentley’s buddies, but they’ve developed a professional relationship over six or seven concerts.
“Dierks and I stood on the side of the stage and watched The Cadillac Three. It was a cool moment because he was watching as a fan,” Hughes said. “He asked if I was going to stay for his show, but I had to leave because my wife was sick. The next time I saw him, my wife was with me. He said, ‘Hey, how are you doing? He said you weren’t doing well last time.’”
“That’s impressive,” Karlson said.
“Dierks is a good guy,” Hughes said.
It isn’t all hanging out with famous people. One of Karlson’s Christmastime duties is to camp out in a tent at The Mall at Barnes Crossing. She stays until all of the angels have been taken from Salvation Army’s Angel Tree.
“I’m always scared Angel Tree will flop, but it never does,” she said.
She’s gotten it down to a science.
“I take a whole box of baby wipes,” she said. “There was one time when my Uncle Junior picked me up afterwards. He told me to roll down the window. I said, ‘Is it that bad?’ He said, ‘It ain’t good.’ That was a long time without a shower.”
The pair will take part in Radiothon, a 12-hour live broadcast on Sept. 4, when they’ll invite people on the air to tell about their experiences at LeBonheur Children’s Hospital.
“That’s our primary charity,” Hughes said. “Hopefully, we’ll help them raise some money.”
They both said they enjoyed that their jobs give them a chance to help the community.
They also like knowing people are out there listening while they’re talking in their little square room.
“If it’s important to our listeners, it’s important to us,” Hughes said. “That’s the way we look at it.”
They don’t exactly get nervous at their microphones, but there’s always pressure to keep things interesting.
“It takes a lot of preparation,” Karlson said, “or being able to fly by the seat of your pants and hope they don’t come off.”
Hughes said that whatever happens, it’s important never to pretend.
“I’d hate for us to fake this,” he said. “We are just real. We are who we are.”
And for the most part, the good-natured ribbing about selfies or other topics stays good-natured.
“I am important,” Hughes said. “I am in control.”
“As if,” she said. “I let him run my control board.”
“Ha,” he said. “I let her talk every now and then.”