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Raised on radio: Father-daughter duo shares spotlight at WRFL

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (June 14, 2024) — When Mary Clark was only 12 years old, her father, John Clark, started taking her to his radio show.

Now, Mary is one of several father-daughter duos that make up WRFL, the University of Kentucky’s student-run radio station.

John has spent most of his UK career at WRFL. He started as a WRFL DJ in 1992 and has hosted or cohosted his current show for 17 years. During his time as a professor in the School of Journalism and Media, he was the faculty advisor for WRFL for 22 years.

He retired from the university in 2022, but still returns to WRFL every other Friday for his evening radio show “Phantom Power Double Hour.”

With John’s passion for radio, it only made sense that he introduced his daughter to his work from a young age.

“Beginning when I was 12, I started tagging along,” said Mary. “And eventually, he handed me the book of public service announcements, put me on a mic and said it was time to work on my radio voice.”

Mary started reading public service announcements on air when she was in middle school. By the time she reached high school, her dad let her pick out songs to play during his show and encouraged her to get on air and talk about them.

“He helped me develop a passion for radio and music,” said Mary. “So, I trained to be a DJ while I was still in high school. I was 17, and that's kind of where the journey began.”

In 2012, Mary came to UK to study both art studio in the College of Fine Arts and media arts and studies in the College of Communication and Information. She quickly got involved at WRFL, holding multiple positions including library director and music director.

When Mary received her first full-time show at WRFL, her dad was right there to support her and continued to teach her along the way.

“He really made me feel like I could do anything I wanted to do,” said Mary. “But also, there’s this passion. I think he's always wanted me to go above and beyond and do even more than what he’s done with it. It's cool to have somebody who’s rooting for you like that.”

John has always been her biggest supporter and he was excited to see his daughter find success in pursuing her passion.

“Most parents want their children to be happy in their personal and professional pursuits,” John said. “I’m no different. It gives me a tremendous sense of happiness and satisfaction.”

Once Mary graduated from UK in 2016, she started work at another local radio station, but it wasn’t long before she returned to UK and WRFL and was once again working alongside her dad.

She decided to come back to UK to attend graduate school and received a Master of Arts. Once she received her degree, a position for chief operator opened at WRFL. She knew this would be the perfect opportunity to get involved again at the station. Her primary role as chief operator has been advising the student leaders at the station.  

“I’ve been here almost three years now,” said Mary. “So, it’s just been full circle. I got involved because I grew up in a household where my dad was passionate about music and alternative music. Just being in the space with him and having space to talk about my interests and know that they were important felt really special.”

Now that John is retired and only doing his show a few times a month, he doesn’t see Mary at the station as often as he used to. But, the father-daughter duo still makes time for special collaborations on air together.

“WRFL is 365 days a year, so we're always live on air,” said Mary. “There were some DJs who couldn’t come in for their shows on Christmas, so my dad and I came in and did a show together because we knew we were already going to be seeing each other. There was some open air time, so we both picked out songs and got to talk about them together.”

It’s moments like these where Mary is grateful to have her dad close by.

“It’s so important for parents or caretakers to encourage children to express themselves. That was most meaningful to me about getting to grow up in a space like WRFL,” Mary said.

For John, working alongside his daughter over the years has been gratifying

“I have been a single parent since she was 10 years old, and she has always gone everywhere and done everything with me,” he said. “Radio is just one of the many interests that we share, including Broadway musicals, and the arts in general. I think that’s one of the best things that family members can share.”

In honor of Father’s Day, Mary is thankful for the relationship she shares with her dad.

“Thanks, Dad, for raising me to be a little rebel and David Bowie fan,” she said. “Thank you for letting me be weird and explore music, and for driving me to concerts.”

Learn more about WRFL here.

Mary's dad helped her develop a passion for music from a young age. He has passed down his love for radio and enjoys sharing a special bond with his daughter. Carter Skaggs | UKPhoto
Mary Clark was only 12-years-old when her father starting bringing her along to his radio show at WRFL. Carter Skaggs | UKPhoto
Mary Clark has been the chief operator at WRFL for three years. Carter Skaggs | UKPhoto
John raised his daughter on David Bowie’s music. When Bowie died in 2016, they decided to get matching tattoos in memory of their favorite artist. Carter Skaggs | UKPhoto

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