I USED TO love those mornings, years ago, when I’d scamper up the steps at the old Free Lance–Star building to review movies on WFLS radio.
It was easy, because I had fun with morning radio hosts Jessica Cash and Steve Waters, both of them consummate pros as we worked without a script or a net to ramble through highs and lows of the week’s new movies.
That’s on my mind this week because of the news that Cash is leaving the show and quite probably ending a 36-year-career in radio.
Fourteen of those years have been at WFLS in Fredericksburg, where she and Waters took the Country Music Association’s top award for small market morning show in 2018 and the Academy of Country Music’s top prize for small market personalities in 2019.
Those looking for anything controversial about my friend Jessica’s retirement will be sorely disappointed. She told me earlier this week that she’s simply tired and needs to finally step away.
“I want a life where I’m not going to bed each night at 8 and getting up each morning at 3,” she said. “But I have no regrets and have loved a career in radio that has been my life. I’ve been so lucky to have spent the last 14 years here with great people who have made it a great life for me. And we’ve had so much fun.”
That was the watchword for most of the review segments that Jessica eventually started by singing a jingle she made up herself: “It’s time for Movie Boy, Movie Boy!”
I don’t even remember how the moniker came about, though I think it had something to do with a listener referring to me that way one time.
Some asked if it bothered me, and it didn’t one whit. I took it as it was offered, a fond and silly nickname that fit the tone of the segments, even when I was criticizing bad movies.
And nothing will ever make me forget the horrendously ill-timed comment of mine that made the blood fade from Cash’s face as her mouth contorted into an inaudible scream of disbelief.
It was in the week just after a gunman opened fire and killed several patrons in a movie theater in Colorado. Somehow, when Cash asked me whether I was going to see one of the really bad movies that had come out that weekend, I was brain dead enough to respond, “No, I’d rather be shot!”
The second it came out of my mouth, I wanted to crawl under the counter in the radio station control room. And it was all Cash and Waters could do not to lose it on air at my horrendous gaffe.
We made it through the segment and everyone nearly lost it once the mics were off. Cash and Waters let go of the nervous laughter generated by witnessing someone doing something that horribly stupid. I just sort of whined about being that stupid.
But it was what they do every day—live radio—and we went on.
Cash, who came to WFLS after nearly 12 years at one of the country’s Top 10 markets at 98.7 WMZQ and Big 100.3 in Washington, shared some of her feelings in a press release.
“Fourteen years is a long time for someone in our profession to be in one place. I’ve had the good fortune to do that,” she said, noting that she’ll miss Waters, a radio partner who became a good friend, and the entire team at WFLS. Friday will be her last day at the station.
“But now it’s time for me to make a change in my life,” she said. “It’ll be my last day to say good morning to our friends, no, our family. We wake up together every morning and you’ve made my experiences in Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, Stafford, King George, Caroline, and Orange counties ones that I will never forget.”
She said that special events she helped to cover and host in her time at the station will be with her forever: Celebrate Virginia concerts, the Bowling Green Fall Festival, Riverfest and the Marine Corps Half Marathon in the city.
“You became part of my life,” she said to her listeners. “I want to thank you for your friendship, your loyalty, and your love for these 14 years. I know I’ll miss you.”
In our conversation, Cash said she made the decision earlier this year, knowing that it was time to leave the morning grind and radio career behind because of the toll early hours and a long commute.
“I’ve sold my house in Fairfax and am buying a house in Charleston, S.C.,” she said.
Her only ambition in the near term is putting herself on a beach and into a life that doesn’t require her to do anything for awhile.
“I’ve got enough money to not have to look for my next job immediately,” she said.
“I leave feeling so lucky that I got to be here and worked alongside great people, but it’s just time,” she said. “Once I got it in my head that it was time to end this chapter of my life, it just felt right. I’m 56 and don’t have family or any other ties, so I can make this decision totally on my own.”
Cash and I reminisced about the days when the movie segment was a regular thing on Thursday mornings. I recalled being amazed by how fresh and awake she always looked—and I saw her at 9 a.m., hours after her shift had started. She said she and Waters planned to have fun this week looking back at good memories and silly things in special segments.
But she’s worried that the end will feel all too real when Friday comes around.
No doubt she will handle it with all the professionalism and the strength that came through when she’d fight through snowstorms or sleep on office couches to do the WFLS morning show.
With her departure, our region has lost a bright spot in the morning.
Rob Hedelt: 540/374-5415