Lisa McKay, WQDR on-air personality and Curtis Media VP, dies after battle with cancer

Lisa McKay, Curtis Media VP and director of WQDR programming, and host of the afternoon drive show.
Lisa McKay, Curtis Media VP and director of WQDR programming, and host of the afternoon drive show. Courtesy of WQDR

Lisa McKay, WQDR radio programming director, Curtis Media vice president and host of the station’s afternoon drive show, passed away Sunday morning after a short battle with cancer. She was 54.

Curtis Media Group, which owns WQDR, announced McKay’s death Sunday afternoon, noting that she was surrounded by family.

Trip Savery, president and chief operating officer of Curtis Media Group, said in an interview on Monday that McKay’s illness was very quick. Savery said McKay wasn’t feeling well over the Christmas and New Year’s holiday and visited her doctor. Cancer was suspected after a CT scan, and her diagnosis of bile duct cancer was confirmed on Wednesday, Jan. 10.

Savery said even then, McKay was thinking of her work family. “She was as worried about her colleagues at the station as anything,” Savery said. “That’s just Lisa. She’s just so passionate about what she does.”

Savery said he visited McKay on Thursday. “She was very clear headed and very peaceful,” he said.

On Friday, WQDR announced that McKay would take an indefinite leave of absence, and the station set up a special page for listeners to post encouraging messages for her.

‘I’m glad we got to see her in that moment’

McKay joined Curtis in 2002 and led the station to multiple awards, including top Program Director awards, both in country radio and the radio industry at large. She became vice president of programming for Curtis in 2014, and oversaw the on-air content of six Curtis radio stations in Raleigh’s market.

Her most recent honor is the most special, Savery said.

“The pinnacle in our industry for country radio is winning the Country Music Association award,” Savery said. “You’re eligible to win every other year, and we’ve won it three of the past seven years. The most special was this past year.

“Seeing Lisa win that award on ABC – she never looked more radiant, more confident, more accomplished than that night. And that was six, eight weeks ago. To see her go from that incredible high – the pinnacle of her career to win that third time – to not being with us, it makes it even more tragic. I’m glad we got to see her in that moment.”

WQDR’s morning show on Monday was dedicated to fans calling in to share memories. The station’s Facebook page was flooded with condolence messages.

According to her bio on the Curtis media corporate website, McKay’s motto was a challenge she presented to her team and herself every day: “Every song, every break, everyday.”

McKay, an alumnus of the University of Virginia, is quoted on the page as saying: “If I could be famous for one thing, it would be doing great radio and inspiring my team to do the same.”

Share condolences

Fans can share condolences on the WQDR Facebook page. Information on services for McKay will be announced there when available.

McKay was an animal lover, and it is suggested that donations be made to local animal shelters in her honor. McKay regularly donated or volunteered her time to the Wake County SPCA, Saving Grace and Durham APS.

McKay lived in Raleigh with her partner, Bill Campbell.

Brooke Cain: 919-829-4579, @brookecain