Norma Kay returned to radio this week, even though she’s never been far from local airwaves.
With a new show on WLGC FM from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, Kay says she hopes to become even more involved with the community while also sharing a strong message based on her own experiences.
“I’m very lucky to be here,” she said Thursday afternoon, sitting in the announcer seat at the new WLGC studios looking out onto Winchester Avenue in downtown Ashland. “I’ve had kind of a charmed life.”
Born in Toledo, Ohio, she moved to the Ashland area when she was 1 and later moved to Flatwoods, graduating from Russell High School in 1975. Her mother, Bess Ison, was the author of the “Keys to Character” column in The Independent, a job that offered the young girl plenty of chances to meet or speak to celebrities, including Leonard Nimoy, Dolly Parton and Joe Namath, among others. She still has a scar on her thumb from a wound inflicted by the cane of Jonathan Frid, who portrayed Barnabas Collins on “Dark Shadows.”
Unfortunately, her mother died from a heart attack two weeks before Kay graduated from high school, one of several family members whose life would be impacted by heart disease.
Kay said her mother had planned for her to “go to New York and be on Broadway,” after 20 years of dance experience with local instructor June Conn, where her dance partners included Ashland City Commissioner Marty Gute. Instead, she packed off to Eastern Kentucky University to study communications, and in 1979 accepted her first professional on-air job with WCMI/WAMX. It was there she met Mark Justice, who she married in 1982.
“That was the golden age of radio, I think,” she said, remembering the days of all-live announcers using analog equipment and physical techniques to accomplish often complex tasks now completed with the click of a computer key.
In 1984, she accepted a part-time job at WOWK-TV, working full time in radio and adopting responsibilities, including hosting and producing the “Action Newsmaker” program for the television station. The TV job soon became a full-time position, she said, which included an unexpected and prolonged stint as weather announcer Lisa West after the departure of Melanie Walters.
“That was a wonderful period,” she said. “I got to meet a lot of movie stars and lived the glamorous life for a while.”
In 1994, she determined she needed a break from the fast pace of the media world, and enjoyed the next few years getting close to her father, Norman Ison, and her younger brother, John Ison, who died of a heart attack not long after. Kay said she became involved with Internet projects and corporate communications, including jobs for Ashland Oil and American Express. It was during this time she met Woods Hole Project oceanographer Dr. Dave Gallo, who she describes as “someone who had the greatest impact on my life,” and a long-distance fan of the city of Ashland.
“All was going well until I had my heart attack May 26, 2010,” she said. “I was extremely healthy. I was walking four miles a day. I had no symptoms. I ran the day before ... up a hill, and had no problems.”
Kay said she was home alone when she suffered a massive heart attack and fell, striking her head, in a hallway as she tried to go back to bed. For reasons she can’t fathom, she telephoned former Flatwoods Police Chief Tom Haynes and invited him over for coffee.
“He saved my life. He was one of many people who saved my life,” she said, reciting a list of appreciation for everyone from her ambulance crew to the nurses in Dr. Charles Rhodes’ office and the staff at Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital’s Vitality Center.
“I can’t overstate their importance to me. There’s not enough thanks in the world to express that,” she said.
The road to recovery has not been easy, she said, and she hopes to use her new lease on life to help others.
“All of a sudden and out of the blue I get a chance to come back to radio,” she said, stressing her desire to help educate listeners, and especially women, about the dangers of heart disease.
“I feel like I’m home. I love radio. That was my first love,” she said.
Norma Kay can be heard weekdays from 3 to 6 p.m. on WLGC 105.7 FM.
“It is an uptempo show in the afternoon. Who knows what it is going to evolve into?” she said.
TIM PRESTON can be reached at tpreston@dailyindependent.
com or (606) 326-2651.