Shattering the Glass Ceiling with Allyson Martinek: Going through the Mud While Wearing a Tiara

As far back as I can remember, I have always listened to Detroit radio. (For those of you who live outside of the Motor City, we pronounce it “de-TROIT,” not “DEE-troit,” regardless of what the Pistons announcer says.) Growing up, I listened to the legendary Dick Purton and Purton’s People on 104.3 WOMC, the “Oldies Station.” When I started college, my best friend and I would carpool to campus (she provided breakfast and I provided coffee) and listen to 96.3 WDVD, co-hosted by the amazing Allyson Martinek.

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When I first started listening to the 96.3 morning show, the main reason I and so many other people tuned in every morning was because of Allyson. While I could only hear her, I felt that if we ever met, we would be instant friends. I could tell that she is joyful, caring, and supportive and a die-hard lover of life, all from the easygoing lilt of her voice and her infectious laugh. And when I did finally meet this diva of the Detroit radio waves, I discovered that she is all of that and more.

We met for dinner at the Arbor Brewing Company in Ypsilanti (they have AMAZING pizza and beer, BTW). Initially when we sat down, we chatted about our respective jobs and some of the obstacles we’ve faced, realizing just how similar the difficulties are for women across every profession. Eventually, we segued into discussions about religion and mental health…and didn’t stop for FIVE HOURS! And in that time, I was able to really understand this “unseen woman” who had been my carpool companion for years.

Before she debuted on Detroit radio, Allyson was convinced she would become a high-school English teacher. She had moved from Chicago to a small Michigan town which she describes as being similar to Mayberry and wanted to return to that setting of familiarity. However, as she was taking classes at Specks Howard Broadcasting School in order to transfer credits to Eastern Michigan University, she realized how much she enjoyed working in the media. Three days post-graduation, she received a job as a morning show host at 92.1 the Edge in East Lansing, which went to #2 after her first year of work.

However, like so many people, she still wondered if what she had chosen was really her true calling. Still considering Eastern Michigan, she resigned from 92.1 and sent in a tape to 96.3 to see if she would receive an offer, signaling her to continue in radio. She received a call the same day and was hired on the spot. And for the next twenty years, she worked to bring it to the #1 morning radio program in Detroit, something which Dick Purton himself told her and her co-hosts was now their torch to carry. Unfortunately for Allyson, the torch would leave her hands sooner than expected.

I remember driving to work in July of 2015 listening to the morning show, knowing that Allyson had been on vacation the previous week. But I was curious as to why I didn’t hear her on the show that day. No one had said anything (if she was sick or still on holiday); when I heard that the name of the show had been changed and no longer included Allyson’s name, I googled what had happened and was shocked to find that Allyson had been unceremoniously fired.

I and many other devoted fans were devastated by this news. Why would someone fire the life of the party, the heart and soul of the show? None of it made sense. And then to find out that she was struggling to find another radio job was equally outrageous. It wasn’t until November of 2016 that she was hired for the morning show at 100.3 WNIC.

I think that if I had been a man when I was out of work I would have been back to work immediately; I didn’t get as much credit for what we were doing because I was the woman. How much can a girl contribute? Sometimes the girl contributes everything. [There is] still [an] attitude toward women that they should be eye candy, laughing at your jokes, [etc]. They’re not recognized for being as important as they should be recognized as being. I went through it with TV and radio; not just myself [but] other women. The women were kicking the crap out of it, getting it done, [etc]. [The] decision makers are still mostly men. There’s still an uneven balance to it. How women look, how old women are: these are things they have to deal with; men don’t. Women seem to have a clock and a mirror attached to them.”

However, Allyson, with her typical come-what-may attitude, used every situation as a learning opportunity. During her fifteen months away from radio, she wrote her first book Living on Air, which describes the day she was fired and her struggle to rebound from the devastation, and is currently working on a sequel Welcome to Rock Bottom, a look into the ensuing months after she lost her job. But this has opened new doors for her. She realizes how much she loves to write and is even considering turning her books into an original series for Netflix or Amazon. When life hands you crap, grow a garden!

Her book also discusses how to find the humor in every situation, a code Allyson lives by. “[It’s an] inspiration that we all go through stuff. [We’re] deathly afraid for people to see us struggle and feel like failures; we don’t grow without failures. [We need to] take the stigma out of it [and] find the humor in struggles. [I] couldn’t afford a car [so I was] driving my mother’s minivan; [I] open glove box and find her handicap parking sticker. [I turned] lemon into lemonade because I have the best parking spot everywhere. I could have a woe-is-me attitude. Did I come this far to get kicked in the teeth for nothing? [But it was] supposed to happen. Follow through. [I’m] going through mud right now [but I] do it with a tiara. Be a role model; embrace the crap you’re handed. Show other people that it’s ok to be flawed and be down; we don’t all get to be up all the time.”

I’ve been there. At twenty-one I thought I had my whole life planned: go to grad school; get married; finish my doctorate; get a post-doctoral fellowship; become a tenured professor; have kids. I didn’t plan for a failed engagement, a nervous breakdown, a diagnosis of anxiety, an [incorrect] diagnosis of depression, a master’s degree, three years of teaching, a back-stabbing colleague, and a [correct] diagnosis of bipolar disorder. But I also didn’t plan to learn how strong I am, that my work at Cornell is leaving an impact, that I would fall in love with teaching, that I do want to continue working towards a doctorate, and that I am LOVING quantum dynamics. (Don’t judge me.) I’m now twenty-eight and I am nowhere near where my twenty-one-year-old self thought I would be; and I could not be more happy.

In spite of the way she was let go and the feelings of betrayal she felt, she says that she wouldn’t do anything differently. She acknowledges that she is more of a target because of her openness and willingness to help; but she also believes she is successful in radio because those characteristics have provided her with a unique talent: relating to her audience. And because of that rare quality, she received an unprecedented amount of support from fans everywhere.

“When I was let go, and I really my poured heart and soul into my listeners and how I felt about this radio family we were creating: to see loyalty come back to me, that got me through it. When you do what I do, [you] want to make a legitimate, organic, real bond. If you really are doing it right, listeners will be loyal too. That told me that I was doing it right. If I had been insincere at all, [I] wouldn’t have had that kind of response. People come and go in radio in all the time. Shows get let go. Stations change format. [It’s] nothing new. It isn’t always that someone gets that kind of support. [It’s a] good indication that people were picking up my relationships were real. [You’re] pouring your heart and soul on your end and they’re picking it up.

I think people really respond to anybody who’s not afraid to be themselves 100% and talk about everything. [Someone who] isn’t afraid to say this is me, this is who I am, this is what I believe in, to be passionate about it, to be a voice for the community and care about the things we all care about. I carry a soapbox with me and I’m not afraid to use it. A guy came up to me at an event I was doing [and said], ‘I spend every single morning yelling at my radio for you to shut up and I love your show and I listen to you every single day.’ Even though he disagreed with everything I say, he genuinely liked me. I’m really proud of the fact that I was able to stay true to the things I believe in yet still keep the person disagreeing with me from throwing up.”

And it was those relationships that motivated her to not give up on receiving another job in Detroit radio. I think I speak on behalf of all Allyson fans that we are so grateful she stayed in the D. But it was difficult for her to find that job because, just like it is in so many fields, who you know sometimes outweighs what you know.

“We were raised under the notion that if you work hard, hard work reaps the rewards. If we’re just being judged on our work, and whoever is doing the best work, if that’s how we’re getting by or falling behind, if we all follow that blueprint, it’s actually not even close. People advance in entertainment because of who they know and don’t work hard. There are people who are responsible for something that is a complete success and get overlooked. I would like to see [that] hard work speaks for itself. If [you’re] looking for someone to fill a role: who’s earned it? [Who] will take you to the next level? [Who] has worked hard? Hard work doesn’t even begin to describe it. I’ve seen people never get to have a taste of success. [Entertainment] doesn’t reward the best and the brightest…This is a business where you’re trying to win, and if someone has a record of winning, you would want to talk to them whether if they’re a man or a woman.”

Unfortunately, I have seen this as well. I remember bringing in a new project, something I had already been implementing but decided to use as the subject of a grant written by myself and a colleague. Even though I had done most of the leg work, I was slowly squeezed out of the project and was not given any credit when this colleague, along with another person who had been brought on the project in spite of my objections, decided to publish a paper. I fought with the journal to be made one of the authors; they conceded that I should have some credit but that I should be only listed in the acknowledgments section. And their idea of an acknowledgment was almost as insulting as no acknowledgment at all.

Because of what happened, I have toyed with the idea of not continuing in academia once I receive my Ph.D. My goal was always to be a professor and run my own lab; but after all the politics and lack of integrity I witnessed, I really doubted that I had the stomach to deal with all of it on a regular basis. However, if those things hadn’t happened to me, I would never have left. And if I hadn’t left, I wouldn’t be at the University of Michigan pursuing a Ph.D. in a field I love. Maybe I’ll stay in academia; maybe I’ll go into industry. But after surviving that incident, among others, I realized how strong I am; that I have a voice; and that I’m not afraid to use it. And Allyson feels the same way about her life. In spite of all that has happened, she is still madly in love with radio.

“I love what I do. Maybe all careers and paths can be trying. [If you] make a career in entertainment, [you’re] picking an uphill path. You have to really want it. [It] separate[s] people who think it’s cool from people who are meant to do it. [You] spend a lot of time dependent on yourself. [I have] so much hope for the future in different avenues radio is going. I think it might be just what we need to rejuvenate. Things have bottlenecked but are opening up. [There are] ways to put yourself out there. Hopefully it will bring more people to the table. [It’s] harder to do when waiting for someone to give you the green light. [I’m] just so glad I’m still here in Detroit with my listeners. I’m a work in progress. ‘The best is yet to come.’ It’s still there; [I’m] still excited about what my future holds. [I’m] not giving up on all the things I could possibly dream. [You] should always have that attitude.”

She ends our interview by quoting Steve Harvey: “The only way for you to soar is you got to jump.”

Her saga of jumping, hitting the bottom, and soaring higher than ever is no stranger to history. Einstein, after graduating with a poor GPA from the Swiss Federal Polytechnic, worked as a lowly patent office clerk. However, it was during this time that he wrote four papers that changed his status…and revolutionized physics on an unparalleled scale. Dr. Maya Angelou didn’t speak for years after being raped; she blamed herself for her assailant’s death when she revealed his name and he was subsequently beaten to death. She became the author of the New York Times bestseller I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and worked with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., during the Civil Rights Movement. In fact, Martin Luther King suffered severe depression and twice attempted suicide; and he became the face of the Civil Rights Movement, the author of the famous “I Have a Dream” speech, and a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, and was also posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

I have a feeling that Allyson’s story will be joining their ranks.

Peace, Prosperity, and Organic Photovoltaics,

Chic Geek and Chemistry Freak

 

 

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