Jennifer Stephens is host of the “Jen Show,” which airs on Q107 WMQT weekday mornings. The chipper radio personality has been waking up at 3 a.m. for over 30 years to help her listeners start the day off right.

Stories and photos by 8-18 Media

BEEP! BEEP! Your alarm is blaring at 6 a.m. It’s early, and you are having trouble getting up and out of bed and ready for work or school. Don’t worry, radio talk show host Jennifer Stephens is up earlier than you, and it is her job to help you get up and informed. Stephens is the host of the “Jen Show” that airs on weekday mornings on Q107.7 WMQT. Stephens gets up at 3 a.m. to help wake up her Yooper listeners with a mix of news, sports, weather, entertainment, local happenings and, of course, her sunny disposition.
Stephens, originally from Detroit, came to Marquette to attend NMU. Not surprisingly, she studied journalism and received her bachelor’s degree, but her love for radio began way before her college years.
“When I was young and I used to listen to the radio with my dad,” Stephens said. “We would listen to Detroit Tigers games. There was always that mystic with listening to the radio. It was like, how did all those people get in there? How is this working? I have a very analytical brain and I’m not savvy technically, but sometimes I just have to understand things. And it just always intrigued me, and there was always that component of what do people look like or what do things look like? There used to be a saying back in the day with public radio and that it was the theater of the mind and you could make whatever up in your mind and that I guess always was there for me.”
Even though Stephens enjoyed listening to the radio with her dad, she didn’t grow up wanting to work in the industry. Stephens fell into journalism because she wanted to avoid a certain subject.
“In college, I wasn’t really into math, I wasn’t into art or writing. I had good grades in high school and I was a good student and I enjoyed school, but I didn’t really have any passions so then once I started at Northern, I found out I wasn’t really good at math. One day I remember, I looked at a sheet of paper that talked about majors and I had to declare a major. At that point I looked at the piece of paper for the journalism department and you didn’t have to take math classes so I signed up.” Stephens said.
Her dislike of math led her to where she is today, hosting her own radio talk show that requires a lot of multi-tasking and, thank goodness, not too many math problems. Working for a smaller radio station, she doesn’t have the advantage of a producer, so she comes up with the show’s programming by herself.
“A lot of what I do isn’t defined by hours; it is just defined by absorbing life. I work by myself, so anything and everything can make it on the air,” Stephens said. “I talk about real things. I talk about my experiences as I go about the day. I write things on my hand. I have Post-Its all over in my car. Anything is a potential topic for on the air. There are so many components to what I do, but more directly for preparation for content like news or sports or weather forecasting and traffic information or community events and so forth. It’s like a continual process. I have to consume as much as I can with websites, and I have to learn about community organizations. You have to be on top of all the different media outlets to make sure you know what’s going on, where it’s going on, who is in charge of it. It’s like when I’m at the grocery store. I go and I get everything that I need, and then when I get in the line I remember everything I forgot and I start my list for the next time. The minute I get off the air, I already started my list for tomorrow: things I didn’t get to, things that I think would be fun and things that I think that are coming up for the weekend, so it’s an ongoing process,” Stephens said.
Being a one-woman show comes with its challenges.
“I’m 55 years old. I’ve been getting up at 3:00 in the morning for over 30 years, and it’s hard. It pretty much dictates your life,” Stephens said. “It’s a lot because I have to go to bed early at night. I miss a lot of engagements in the evenings and even on the weekends because my job has to come first. It’s hard when you get up that early. It might seem easy to some people and they say, ‘Oh you can take a nap,’ which I do take naps, but it’s hard to explain for me. I need to have x amount of sleep at night or when I wake up I can’t… it’s my job to wake everyone else up, so I need to be on top of my game and perky and I can’t be dower and I can’t be crabby. It’s challenging, but I’ve done it for so long, I love it. I couldn’t imagine working 9 to 5.”
Stephens said that the second most challenging aspect of her job is just trying to sort through all the information out there and make sure she mentions important information or events on air.
“There are so many things going on all the time, and it’s hard and it makes me feel bad when I see a poster somewhere and I’ll be like shoot, how did I miss that? I take what I do seriously, and I don’t ever want to forget anybody. It’s hard to collect all that information and to cull the information. It’s hard, it’s daunting and it’s a never-ending process. It’s challenging, in a good way. It’s also exhilarating that my mind has to go a million miles a minute. My other girlfriends in radio, we talk about that. We joke if we weren’t completely ADD we couldn’t do our jobs,” Stephens said.
Stephens has some straightforward advice for kids who want to be a journalist or a radio talk show host when they grow up.
“I would tell them not to do it. I’m not even trying to be funny. I would say only do it if you know without a doubt that you know that’s what you want to do. Because it takes a lot of tenacity, probably like many professions do these days. In this age of ‘fake news,’ that’s a word I don’t like, I guess I would say make sure you take a lot of time to study the ethics that are involved with the profession. What’s right? What’s wrong? How do you act as a conduit for that to the public? How do you make sure that what you are doing is the right thing? That’s one thing I would tell someone in journalism. I guess I don’t think of myself as a DJ. I really don’t know a lot about the music, and I don’t talk about it. I don’t know what I would tell someone about that, but probably like everything in life, have a passion for it, because work is hard. My job might not be perfect and I might not be Bill Gates, I might not be Mark Zuckerberg and I might not have a million dollars, but every day I come into work I get excited. I love what I do and I love waking people up and letting everyone know what’s going on,” Stephens said.
At the end of the day, Stephens looks forward to the next early morning show.
“I love the energy of it. I love meeting people. I love talking to people. I love being in the middle of everything. I know I’m doing the right thing because I have a hunger and an interest for life and things that are going on,” Stephens said.

By Liam Ulland-Joy, 13, and Anna Martinson, 14, with contributions by Anja McBride, 13; Ava Larson 13; Anna Rayhorn, 13; Bria Larson, 11; Ivy Pomeroy, 9.

About 8-18 Media
This regular feature is produced by kids ages eight to eighteen in the 8-18 Media news bureau in Marquette. Our mission is to empower youth by giving them a significant voice. We report on youth issues that are of interest to all ages. In addition to stories in Marquette Monthly, we produce stories broadcast at 8:30 a.m. and 6:50 p.m. on Fridays on WMQT-Q107 Radio and at 9:34 a.m. on Sundays on WNMU Public Radio 90. We thank the Great Lakes Center for Youth Development for its continued support. If you have a story idea or would like to comment on our work, contact us at 8-18 Media, 123 West Baraga Avenue, Marquette, MI 49855, call 906-226-3911 ext. 107, e-mail or visit 8-18 Media is a program of the U.P. Children’s Museum.

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