Local WYRZ Personality Nicole Kendall Pursues Her Lifelong Passion
Writer: Christy Heitger-Ewing
Photographer: Darren Boston
Somewhere deep down she always knew she’d find her passion. It just took a winding path for her to get there. For over a year, WYRZ on-air personality Nicole Kendall has hosted a weekday radio show called “On Air with Nicole.” Prior to that, however, she achieved success in several other fields. After graduating from the University of Evansville, she pursued a career in banking and insurance for eight years before becoming an advertising consultant.
“I worked for some wonderful organizations and made good money, but I always felt like something was missing,” says Kendall, who became friends with Shane Ray, station manager at WYRZ 98.9 FM. She shared with Ray her passion for music and proposed the idea of her doing a 70s radio show.
Just as Kendall was sticking her pinky toe into the radio world, the abdominal pain she’d been experiencing for several years turned excruciating. It got to the point that she struggled to lift her leg to walk, wear a seatbelt or even get into a car. Despite multiple trips to various specialists, nobody could provide a diagnosis. They just kept trying to prescribe pain medication. Some days she could tolerate the pain, other days left her bedridden, which meant missing out on outings with her husband Andrew and their daughters Reese (9) and Taylor (6).
“My husband would take the kids to the zoo and I had to stay home because I couldn’t walk the hills,” Kendall says.
Then one day an advanced medicine doctor (who happened to be an oncologist) discovered that she had a herniated abdominal wall and her uterus was pushing through it when she sat upright. Her pelvic organs had also been fused together with severe scar tissue from previous cesareans, requiring a hysterectomy and hernia operation. Six weeks post-surgery, she had a new lease on life accompanied by a brand-new perspective.
“I remember sitting in the waiting room with women who were dying of cancer and thinking, ‘I’m being given a chance to feel better, to live and be able to do what I want in life. I’m going after what I really want to do, and I’m not looking back,’” Kendall says.
When she first told her parents that she was pursuing a radio career full-time, she expected they’d be disappointed, but they understood her passion for music because they were the ones who instilled it in her.
“My mother loves classic rock and my father loves the funk era from the 70s,” Kendall says. “They let me watch “Soul Train” as a kid, and I would try to imitate Tina Turner’s gyrating hips and flailing head tosses.”
Back then she repeatedly rewound tapes in her boom box and wrote down the lyrics to her favorite songs.
“The songs with true raw emotion are the ones that resonate,” Kendall says. “Think of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Landside’ with its powerful lyrics: ‘I climbed a mountain and I turned around. And I saw my reflection in the snow-covered hills, and the landslide brought me down.’ She also relates to Stevie Wonder’s song “Higher Ground” that says, “I’m so glad that I know more than I knew then. Gonna keep on tryin’ till I reach my highest ground.”
A fan of Aerosmith, Journey and Chicago, Kendall notes the unifying comforting nature of music.
“You might be having a bad day, a happy day, a sad day,” Kendall says. “The great thing about music is that it’s always there for you, no matter what’s going on in your life.”
WYRZ plays top-40 hits from the mid-60s to the mid-80s — everything from the Beach Boys to Prince to Van Halen. Living in a digital world means that radio stations are always fighting for the listeners’ ears.
“That’s a struggle for anyone in radio, fighting the digital monster because people are pulled to iTunes and
music apps they can download,” Kendall says. “But there are still people who love the connection
they get with radio.”
For instance, listeners love it when Kendall mentions her two rescue dogs — Emma, a 15-year-old beagle, and Stella, a 2-year-old basset hound. They can relate because they, too, have beloved pets.
Since just three staff members work at WYRZ, they learn every aspect of radio.
“We learn the tech side and the personality side,” Kendall says. “We edit our own shows. We voice our own shows. We find our own content. We do our own social media, and we like it that way because we build a wealth of experience.”
In addition to her weekday show “On Air with Nicole” from 1–4 p.m., she hosts Central Indiana Today Wednesdays at 7 p.m. Though the show was initially established as a political format, when Kendall took it over, she began interviewing “difference makers” in Central Indiana who are doing positive, uplifting things.
“People want to hear the good stories,” says Kendall, who shines a spotlight on people who are doing constructive things. “It’s an opportunity to spread their mission in hopes that others will back them.”
One of the proudest transformations Kendall has witnessed in herself is her newfound fearlessness. For instance, her future career goals include trying to be picked up by a network such as iHeart or Cumulus.
“You only get yourself out there if you put yourself out there,” Kendall says. “That’s what I try to teach my daughters. If you want to do something with your life, you’ve got to be fearless to get to the next level.”