20 Questions

LeeAnn Sommers – A Storied Career Behind the Mic

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20 Questions is our opportunity to talk with various people in the country music industry. Everyone from musicians and singers to concert promoters and DJ’s.

This month we talk to LeeAnn Sommers, who is co-host of the 99.5FM WGAR Morning Show from 5am-10am weekdays. The Northeast Ohio native has spent years in radio, as well as TV.

  1. Where were you born and raised?

“I was born in Oberlin, raised in Wooster and then I moved to the westside of Cleveland my first year of radio. I bought my first house (a little townhouse) in Old Brooklyn before the Jennings Freeway was even built. Both my husband and I are westsiders but we moved to the eastside 4 years ago because he works in Geneva.”

  1. You have said that after high school you worked at Cedar Point. How long were you there and what did you do at the park?

“I worked at Cedar Point the summer after high school. I worked “the scales” as we called it, guessing peoples’ ages, weights and birthdays. People always ask if there is a science to it and there absolutely is. I’m still pretty good at it so even when my family goes to Cedar Point nowadays, I’ll watch the people working the scales and reminisce.”

  1. Any other jobs that you had before you got your start in broadcasting?

“I had silly jobs in high school like working at TCBY or Merry-Go-Round but I’ve never done anything career wise other than radio and TV. I’m the first to admit that I started on air freakishly early though. I was 19 when Keith Clark hired me to co-host mornings on Jammin 92 with JR Randall. While working for Jammin 92, I remember broadcasting live from nightclubs in the flats knowing I wasn’t even old enough to be in there.”

  1. When did you first decide to start a career in radio?

“I wish I had that cute story about being this little kid who dreams of being on the radio and interviewing my stuffed animals with a hairbrush but that simply wasn’t the case. Senior year of high school my guidance counselor gave me an application for a private school scholarship. Broadcasting and Interior Design were 2 of the scholarship options I was considering. I had to write an essay and get a nomination from a state senator. I did and I won. I chose broadcasting and then graduated from Connecticut School Of Broadcasting. It was official, radio was in my blood and I knew I wanted to see where it would take me.”

  1. Where was your first radio job?

“Ironically my first job was at WQMX in Akron only it wasn’t country back then, it was Adult Contemporary. Steve Cherry hired me for overnights at MIX 94.9. That was back when grunts like me had to pay dues like work overnights and Christmas day to even have a chance at drive time.”

  1. You have worked at a few other radio stations in Cleveland, as well as around the country. What stations have you worked at during your career?

“The Cleveland stations I’ve worked at include Jammin 92.3, Z107.9, 96.5 KISS FM, MIX 106.5, 1260 AM with brief stints on 100.7 WMMS and Q104.  In 2005 Entercom’s Dave Popovich hired me at CBS Radio in Denver and before I left the mile high, I had added Mix 100, 92.3 The Wolf, KOOL 105 and Alice 105.9 to my resume. During my voicetracking days I also had stations in Rochester NY, Raleigh NC and Peoria, IL.”

  1. You also worked as a reporter for Channel 5 and Channel 8 in Cleveland. What type of reporting did you do while with the TV stations?

“I was an Entertainment Reporter for both Newschannel 5 and Fox 8. I’ve also had the privilege of anchoring WKYC Channel 3’s morning news with John Anderson when his co-host was on vacation.”

  1. You started your tenure as the Morning Show co-host on WGAR in 2010 after spending the previous five-years in Denver. How did it feel to come back to Northeast Ohio?

“Coming home was ultimately an answered prayer but it took a minute to find my footing. Initially I was paired with the wrong co-host and to make things worse, there were difficult things happening in my personal life.  However, on the flip side I almost immediately met my (now) husband who was also moving back to Cleveland at the same time. Plus, coming home gave me the opportunity to work at this iconic radio station. People might not understand what a big deal WGAR is. It’s a heritage country station that is well known on a national level.”

Brian Fowler and LeeAnn Sommers at WGAR.

  1. You work with Brian Fowler every morning and the two of you seem to get a long very well. What has made this pairing so successful?

“Our secret sauce is that we were friends for 15 years off the air prior to doing the show together. There was respect and trust established before we ever cracked the mics. Most morning shows are not afforded that luxury. People are amazed at our chemistry but the truth is, we just decided from the beginning we would be exactly who we are.  Two Clevelanders that love our city, love country music and love radio.”

  1. You guys have done some pretty funny segments on the air over the years. What have been some of the most enjoyable for you to get to be a part of?

“This one is hard because some of the funniest segments to me might not have been the funniest to the listeners because most likely, I was laughing so hard I was incapable of finishing the segment. Once we inserted ourselves into a spoof of Friday the 13th. Somewhere between me going for a midnight canoe ride by myself and running through the woods in heels…I lost it on the air. No, really. I couldn’t breathe from laughing so hard.”

  1. Was WGAR your first venture into country radio? How does country verse other genres of music compare for you as a radio personality?

“WGAR was not my first venture into country radio. I was doing middays on 92.5 The Wolf in Denver, Colorado for a couple of years beforehand. Believe it or not when Keith Abrams, VP of iheartradio Cleveland offered me mornings on WGAR, I had 2 other offers in country radio at the exact same time including The Wolf in Seattle. I remember thinking what the heck with all these country properties showing interest in me?! What is it about me that screams “country” other than my name being LeeAnn? Haha. What I’ve learned about country is that the fan of this product is ride or die!  Truly, it’s a lifestyle. Trucks, beer, boots and Blossom! As talent, I’ve really come to appreciate how down-to-earth the artists are for being some of the greatest musicians on earth.”

  1. You have been listening to Country Music for the past eight years everyday. How do you feel the sound has changed and where do you think it is headed stylistically?

“I’ve been listening to country music for longer than 8 years. I’ve listened my entire life but to be totally transparent, it wasn’t always by choice. My Mom with her West Virginia roots loved country and bluegrass so I pretty much know the words to every Dolly Parton, Oak Ridge Boys and Ralph Stanley song there is. When I started at WGAR in 2010, it was all about Zac Brown Band, Miranda Lambert and Dierks Bentley and while those are still core artists for us, I think the arrival of artists like Sam Hunt, Thomas Rhett, Florida Georgia Line and Kelsey Ballerini has proven that Nashville’s love affair with pop infused country isn’t a passing fad.”

  1. Do you have any favorite country artists?

“I love Keith Urban, Kenny Chesney, Thomas Rhett, Sam Hunt and I’m full on obsessed with Little Big Town. Like, it’s creepy.”

  1. You have had the chance to interview many major country acts and movie stars. Can you name a few that were your favorites to interview and who have been some of the nicest.

“Hands down the greatest guest of all time at any station I’ve ever worked for is Garth Brooks. We’ve done numerous phoners with him and I got to hang backstage with him and Trisha at Quicken Loans a couple of years ago. The kindness, grace, humility and genuine authenticity of this man makes you look at the way you treat people in your own life and just want to do better by them. He’s that inspirational. He’s amazing.  I’ll also give honorable mentions to Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift, Bon Jovi and Jennifer Nettles. Truly they are welcoming, gracious and humble people.”

  1. You have hosted some of the biggest concerts that come to town. Any of those that come to mind that have been your favorites?

“Blake Shelton and Brad Paisley at the Indians Music Festival at Progressive Field was really fun but Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw’s “Brothers Of The Sun” tour at Browns Stadium was insane. Feeling that energy from 70,000 people is almost indescribable.”

  1. The WGAR Country Jam is back in August at the Cuyahoga County Fairgrounds. What about the event makes it so special for you and everyone at the radio station?

“Tradition. Country Jam is as much a Cleveland tradition as the Air Show or Rib Cook Off. It’s just one of those things we Clevelanders do. The excitement is in the air for months leading up to the show. I have listeners tweeting and Facebooking me 9-10 mos before the next announcement so eager to get details. Some of the artists who perform at WGAR Country Jams go on to be the biggest names in country music. For me, I personally love just hanging out with our listeners at the Jam. It’s like a big family reunion every year.”

  1. You have to get up pretty early for your morning show. What is a typical day like for you during your work week?

“My day starts at 3:30am. I’m at the station by 4:30am. I’m home by 1:00pm.  My son is home by 3pm. Then it’s homework, lessons, dinner, life until 8:30pm. Wash and repeat! Talk to any morning show personality and they will tell you the hours are grueling and if not managed properly, the schedule can and will destroy your life.”

  1. You have also said you are “allergic to everything.” What are some of the worst things for your allergies and what do you do to overcome them and still be able to function?

“Oh my goodness…where do I begin? Pet dander, essential oils, mold, milk, wool, pine and ragweed is the devil! I do my best to simply avoid anything that causes me to react but if I have to be around something bad for me, I’ll take meds. After a friend’s hidden cat put me in the ER, my first question to anyone now before I go to their house is “do you have any animals?.” Haha”

  1. If you weren’t a radio personality or TV reporter, what other jobs could you see yourself doing?

“My dream job is to voice animation projects or host one of those tv shows on travel channel where I’d travel the world experiencing hotels and resorts. After my radio days are over, I’m sure voiceover work will be my sole focus.”

  1. If you had to pick out the top three moments of your life, either in your career or personally, what would they be?

The Top 3 moments of my life (so far) are:

  • The moment I became a Mom.
  • The moment I turned on the mic for the first time in my radio career.
  • The moment I got back from doing my first mission trip to El Salvador. Coming home to clean water, a bed, a pantry filled with food. I remember feeling so overwhelmed with gratitude that I never wanted to lose that feeling ever again.

Garth Brooks, LeeAnn Sommers and Trisha Yearwood.

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