Radio’s Madison finds happiness with new station, new time slot and no more Bob

It has been 15 years since Madison Lane abruptly left G105, where she was half of the dynamic morning duo on “Bob & Madison’s Showgram.” The inside story of that breakup has never been part of the public record, but many Triangle radio fans are still not over it.

If they haven’t found her already, those fans will be happy to know Madison is back on the radio, but this time at the Curtis Media-owned WBBB, 96.1.

Madison — that’s how she’s known in the world of radio — has been running the morning show at 96.1 since the middle of October. Ratings are up since her arrival: by December, Nielsen Audio shows her program at No. 1 in the 25-54 age demographic, even edging out the Curtis sister station and local radio behemoth, country station WQDR.

At 96.1, Madison beams from behind the mic as she chats with callers; she dances around the studio when a particularly good song queues up.

She is happy.

Madison Lane poses for a portrait in the studio at Curtis Media’s WBBB, 96.1 radio station on Monday, Feb. 18, 2019. Julia Wall jwall@newsobserver.com

“Every morning when I get up at 3:30, I tell my husband, ‘I hate this job! I’m gonna quit! I can’t get up this early!’,” Madison said in an interview inside her 96.1 studio. “And then I get here and I love it and I’m dancing in the studio.”

Madison, 52, wasn’t looking to get back into radio. After leaving G105 she worked the morning show at Clear Channel sister station Sunny 93.9, but it wasn’t the right fit. It was the same company (the stations are now owned by iHeartMedia) and they all worked in the same office, with studios just down the hall from each other.

She had just had her first baby, a daughter named Kennedy, and not long after starting at Sunny she found out she was pregnant again. She went to work every morning in tears, she said. She made it clear she didn’t want to renew her contract and then one day, management took her off the air in the middle of her show.

“I hate that I didn’t get to say goodbye,” she said of her departure from Sunny. “But I get it. That’s the business. I’m not a cutthroat person — I probably wasn’t cut out for it. But I felt like a weight was off my shoulders. It was time for me to go. It just wasn’t the place for me anymore.”

It wasn’t just about the station, she said. She wanted something different.

“I really wanted to be with our kids,” she said. “My heart wasn’t there anymore, I wanted to be a mom.”

Madison left radio and worked as a kindergarten teacher’s assistant at her kids’ school. “I got to work with the cutest kids on the planet, I loved the people I worked with and I got to see my kids because they’d come by my room all the time. I was happy as a clam.”

She had other radio offers, but she turned them down. Then she got the call from Curtis Media, which owns 62 AM and FM radio signals across the state.

Madison said her husband of 16 years, Kerry Rouser told her, “I don’t know why you’re gonna meet with them, you’re not gonna take it. You never take it.”

But Madison had her reasons for taking the meeting. “The thing that was different for me was that it was Don Curtis.”

Madison Lane works in the studio at Curtis Media’s WBBB, 96.1 radio station on Monday, Feb. 18, 2019. Julia Wall jwall@newsobserver.com

The Curtis connection

A few years ago while on a trip to Chicago to visit in-laws, Kennedy got sick. She was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder and ended up in ICU at Northwestern for two and a half weeks. She had 10 blood transfusions. They needed to get her back home to Duke or UNC, but everything had to line up just right for that to happen.

At the school where Madison worked, her friend Donna asked Kerry if they needed anything, and in a moment of exhaustion, he laid it all out. “Take that off your plate, I got it,” Donna told him.

Madison said they soon got a call from the head of pediatrics at UNC Hospital, where they had everything Kennedy needed. And because it’s a teaching hospital, they really wanted the case.

That friend was the daughter of Don and Barbara Curtis, and Barbara happened to be a member of the board of UNC’s Medical Foundation of North Carolina.

“Just knowing that somebody was willing to make that phone call and do that for you, it was amazing to me,” Madison said. “I had said ‘thank you’ at the time, but when this opportunity came up and I knew it was Curtis Media, I said there’s no way I’m not going to talk to them.”

Madison met with Curtis and said they ended up talking for an hour about what they both loved about radio.

“I thought, ‘He gets it.’ It’s not about the money, it’s not about the ratings, it’s about having fun and a job that you love, and people,” she said. “When people asked me what I missed about my old job, it wasn’t the perks of the job, it was that I missed talking to people. He got that.”

She told Curtis she wasn’t the same person she was at G105 and that she didn’t want to do that “shock jock” type of radio. “He said, ‘that’s not what we want — we want somebody that people feel like they can relate to.’ ”

For his part, Curtis said he appreciates Madison’s sense of community.

“Communities are everywhere we look — within a city, within a county, based on cultural and geographic things,” Curtis said in a phone interview. “Madison has a good feel for what makes a community of different kinds of people, with different kinds of interests. And she’s a person of passion. She really does enjoy what she’s doing. She’s just refreshing to be around.”

That initial meeting with Curtis reminded Madison of her first job in radio — a high school gig at WRXO/WKRX in her hometown of Roxboro — and as soon as she went home, her husband could tell she wanted to take the job.

Madison Lane poses for a portrait in the studio at Curtis Media’s WBBB, 96.1 radio station on Monday, Feb. 18, 2019. Julia Wall jwall@newsobserver.com

“I feel like it’s where I’m supposed to be, I really do,” she said. “There’s no politics, there’s no arguing to the point that you get off the air at 10 o’clock and you’re exhausted from arguing with people. It’s just fun everyday with friends hanging out .... It’s like a family here, it’s so different. I love the people I work with. Even though it’s competing stations down the hall, I go in there and they come in here. It’s a totally different atmosphere.”

And her kids can listen, too.

“That’s something I’m really proud of,” Madison said. “I don’t have to tell Kerry to turn down the radio because we’re going to talk about this. They can listen and it’s cool and I’m not ashamed of it. I like that they can see mom doing something else now and that they’re proud of me.”

In addition to her daughter Kennedy, who is 15, their family includes a son, Jackson, almost 14, and an exchange student from Shanghai named Bill. Bill, 18, has spent three years with them at their north Raleigh home, and they hope he’ll stay for his fourth year of high school. “He is part of our family,” Madison said.

What about Bob?

So what exactly happened with Bob Dumas at G105?

Madison still isn’t ready to talk details, but she reveals that there was an argument and that she was not fired. Things were great until they were not. She said by the time she left the show, they were not talking. And she hasn’t talked to him since she was on the show.

A request for comment from G105 was not answered.

“There was a yin and yang thing at first,” she said of her show with Bob. “I guess in any family situation you have your ups and your downs. We were partners. If he got in trouble, I would too, I would be right there. If someone said something negative about me, he’d be right there to defend me. It was a partnership at its finest, I would say.

“But it got so crazy, the stunts we were doing. And I was sitting there watching it like I was in another world and I thought, ‘this isn’t me’ ... It was like a switch flipped and it wasn’t funny anymore. I was done.”

Over the years — both before and after Madison left the station — the Showgram came under fire for stunts that many listeners found objectionable. Some of the stunts were harmless, but some drew negative attention.

In 1998, Bob and Madison were both suspended after a Naked Mondays promotion had listeners shed their clothes in public to win concert tickets. In 2000, there was legal trouble over a stunt involving reading the contents of Mix 101.5 morning host Bill Jordan’s garbage over the air. They once strapped a G105 producer, John “Big Flash” Harnett, to the top of a car — naked — and drove him around town to protest high gas prices. The show riled bicyclists in late 2003 after Bob said on air that he carried empty Yoohoo bottles to throw from his car window at cyclists. A few months later, Bob called Asian American women unattractive (Madison left the show the next month, in March 2004).

Madison said listeners could tell there was tension between her and Bob. “Listeners would say, ‘We could tell you were having a big argument because you played three songs in a row.’”

Their split had nothing to do with anything going on on-air, she said.

“Like any friendship, you have your disagreements, but you care about each other and you work through it,” she said. “But there was a pivotal moment where it was like, OK, there’s no coming back from this one, and everything changed. I still wish him the best and have nothing negative there. I’ve let it go.”

Brooke Cain is a North Carolina native who has worked at The News & Observer for more than 20 years. She writes about TV and local media for the Happiness is a Warm TV blog, and answers CuriousNC questions for readers.