Editor’s note: Second in a three part series about how women have made an impact in the media fields in Southeast Texas.
It was 1995 and Debbie Bridgeman, then known as Debbie Wylde, was on her way to Chicago from Kentucky to cover a Duran Duran concert for WDDJ 97 FM. She remembers the posters she had of the band on her wall in the 1980s and said the moment seemed surreal.
She made an aircheck for lead singer Simon LeBon where she asked her listeners for their favorite song and LeBon had to guess which song they had chosen. LeBon correctly guessed “The Reflex.” When they took a photo afterwards, LeBon asked Bridgeman to sit on his lap — her favorite memory of working in radio, she said, smiling. It was in that moment that Debbie Wylde became more than a radio personality.
Bridgeman, now the community relations specialist for Beaumont Independent School District, began her journey in media as an intern at an Austin radio station in college, a path she didn’t expect to take.
“I was a journalism major and I wanted to be the editor of Rolling Stone magazine,” she said. “I went to the University of Texas at Austin and in the College of Communications, you have to take two courses outside of your major and at that time it was either radio, TV, film, speech or advertising.
“I wrote on the yearbook staff at UT for all four years, so I thought radio sounded like fun. I took my two classes and then it was time for me to go (tell) my dad, ‘Hey, I think I’m going to change my major,’ and so I changed it to radio.”
Bridgeman interned at B93 in Austin her sophomore year after a chance meeting with the station’s morning host.
“I had been at a nightclub, and we had a radio station come out and do an open remote broadcast. The guy that was there was the morning guy, He gave me his card and said to call him if I ever needed anything,” she said. “I called — and I didn’t know if he’d remember me, but he did — and I asked if I could get a tour of the radio station. Then he told me about the internship.
“I didn’t know what an internship would entail but I went for it. He asked me to be there at 6 a.m. the next day. I had to answer phones and take requests — New Kids on the Block was very popular at the time — and I had to pump up callers before they got on air if they’d won a contest or something.”
After graduation, Bridgeman began a full-time job at the station and eventually was able to get her own shift as a character on the morning show. She moved to Nacogdoches as a partner on a morning show and became the station’s news director.
“From there I was in Kentucky and then a music director at a rock station in Missouri — then I was promoted to program director,” she said. “I was program director over two stations at the time and was then promoted to again to iHeartmedia. I saw a job opening in Beaumont for director of programming, so I came down here and was over four stations here.
“I helped start Cool 92.5, which wasn’t on the air then. It was really nice being a part of getting a station from the very beginning.”
From 1993 to 2003, Bridgeman got to attend concerts and meet musicians and live the life she had imagined. But as she moved up in her career, her role became more managerial and behind-the-scenes, but she missed being on air.
“Being on air is why I got into that profession,” she said. “I was voice tracking for the midday shift on Big Dog 106 and I said, ‘Give me one hour. I’ll go in and push tracks’ and that was fun.
“I could still do remotes and stuff like that, but it wasn’t why I got into it, so I ended up going to Fox Radio to do the morning show where it was all on-air broadcasting. We were really getting involved in the community and talking about serious topics. It was really cool, but then I had a child, so I got out of radio.”
Although she was working in a male-dominated industry, Bridgeman said that she felt equal to her male colleagues, although the experience of parenthood in the media industry is different for a woman than a man, she said.
“It’s very hard to do a morning show and wake up that early when you have a newborn — there’s no daycare open at 4:30 a.m.,” she said. “If you really want to be successful, oftentimes you have to move around a lot more to get experience — you’re always moving to a bigger city to reach a bigger market. I wanted to be a mother, and I didn’t want to move them around every two or three years.”
After her son was born, Bridgeman worked for the Better Business Bureau as communications director, a position she held for a decade. Three years ago, she applied for her current position at BISD. Working in public relations gives her the opportunity to be dedicated to her family, as well as being able to be involved in organizations like the Press Club of Southeast Texas, which she joined in 2003 and is currently president.
“I could still do some radio, but I got to do TV as well,” she said. “I was back and forth still doing radio, but also doing more public relations.”
Bridgeman said that she still loves radio broadcasting, but that as technology advanced, it has become a less personable experience.
“I could just talk to people, and I learned that you can’t think about the fact that you’re talking to millions of people, you have to imagine that you’re talking to that one person in their car,” she said. “Now, everything is programmed on computers. I remember when I had to plan bathroom breaks because I was responsible for hitting a button at an exact moment so the next song would play — no one gets that experience anymore.”
Bridgeman said that it’s important for women to be involved in media, particularly in radio, because it’s a male-dominated industry even to this day.
“Men and women just think differently,” she said. “Especially when you have human nature-type topics. You know it’s one thing when you have a hardcore male anchor and he’s trying to be ‘Mr. Nice Guy’ with a sympathetic topic, but then you have a female that’s really getting down and saying, ‘Hey, let’s get to the situation, let’s work this out.’ Men and women are just built differently — it’s important to have both views.”
Though media has come a long way in terms of equality between men and women, Bridgeman said that it’s strange to think about the areas where there’s still disparity.
“When I think back to when I was growing up, I didn’t know any women that did radio, it was all guys,” she said. “You had women who played the side role, but they rarely ever got to be the main host — and that’s still true today.”
Bridgeman said that the most important thing that she’s learned throughout her career is that women are just as capable as men in anything they choose to pursue.
“There’s still this perception that men can lead better than women,” she said. “Women are making big strides in all sorts of industries, and I think they will continue to do that — as they should.”
Olivia Malick, UP managing editor