COLUMBIA – After 12 years as the often-silent partner of a public figure, Renee Hulshof has her chance to speak – and she’s doing it over the mid-Missouri airwaves.
"The Morning Meeting" airs from 9 to 10:30 a.m. on KFRU/1400 AM.
Hulshof is the new co-host of talk radio’s “The Morning Meeting” on KFRU/1400 AM, replacing longtime co-host Fred Parry, who was fired in October.
The KFRU post, which began Jan. 5, is the latest in a long line of adventures for Hannibal native Hulshof, 41: broadcast studies at MU School of Journalism, political press work, advertising, farming, stay-at-home motherhood with her two young girls and – the adventure that put her family’s name in the news – married life with former Congressman and 2008 Republican gubernatorial nominee Kenny Hulshof.
It’s clear that Hulshof’s experience with politics and public life most informs her radio personality. In addition to a political journey with her husband that began with his unsuccessful 1994 Congressional bid during their engagement and continued through his dozen years in the U.S. House of Representatives and last year’s gubernatorial bid, Hulshof also spent four years working in public relations with the state Attorney General’s Office.
“Politically, I’ve been on the inside of the process, and that gives a different insight,” Hulshof said, adding that her experience as a political spouse shapes her own public criticism of a given political figure — notably, the one who beat out her husband for the state's top job.
"I try to remember that (new Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon) has a wife and kids listening," Hulshof said. "I hope in whatever I say, whether I poke at him or whether I am critical of him, I’m doing it in a way where I’m respectful of him, where his wife and kids disagree with me but don’t say, ‘God, what a hateful woman.’”
Public criticism, part and parcel of news-talk programs such as “The Morning Meeting,” is a new luxury for outspoken Hulshof, who has in the past been unable to publicly respond to criticism of her husband.
“As a (political) spouse, you’re silenced,” Hulshof said. “You can’t go out and defend” against criticism of the politician in one’s life. “I’ve joked that this job is my therapy couch. Twelve years of repressed opinion … I’m getting paid to have my therapy with the microphone.”
Hulshof’s new stint began when she decided to return to work part-time after several years of staying at home, brought on by the deaths of Kenny Hulshof’s parents in 2002 and 2004 and the family’s inheritance of a large farm in southeast Missouri. She approached the station and was offered a week’s test run alongside longtime host Simon Rose, who had been “riding Lone Ranger,” as he put it, since Parry’s October departure.
Having substituted for Parry, a personal friend, during an absence several years ago, Hulshof quickly discovered that she was still a familiar voice to KFRU listeners: “Through the years, I’ve had people tell me they heard me. That’s been a long time ago. People who are faithful listeners pay attention to who’s on and what they say.”
Since Hulshof’s arrival as the first permanent female co-host of “The Morning Meeting,” Rose has noticed a shift in those faithful listeners – namely, the faithful callers.
“I think we’ve had more female callers than we ever used to,” Rose said. "The female callers we used to have were familiar voices to me, kind of regulars, but I’ve noticed that besides those regulars, there have been female voices I have not heard before.
"If we are getting new people to call the show, that’s always good. It might mean that these women have listened all along, but now that Renee’s here, they feel more comfortable about calling in or less intimidated.”
Rose, who has hosted “The Morning Meeting” since its inception — what he estimated to be about 15 years ago — said the transition to his fifth co-host has been a relatively smooth one, aided by his previous acquaintance with the Hulshof family.
“It’s been good, I’d say, compared to how some switchovers can be. I remember a couple of the past ones have been a bit more awkward than this,” Rose said. “In the past, I’ve had to go on with people I hardly knew, and it’s really hard to start doing a show on a daily basis with someone you don’t know really well.”
“Getting along with whom I work with, even if I disagree with them, is important,” Hulshof added, referring to the frequent political disagreements between her conservative views and Rose’s famous liberalism. “I don’t want to come to work and think, ‘I have to sit across from him again.’ That relationship piece, to me, is very important.”
Despite recent staff cuts at KFRU that included Parry and news director Dan Claxton, Rose anticipates no further cuts at the station: “We’re gonna do the best with what we’ve got. Just about every business in the country is doing the best with what they have.”
Hulshof and Rose are now focused on refining their partnership on the show and keeping the show and its topics fresh, relevant and constantly lively.
“Sometimes a minute can last forever if it’s silence, but somehow we manage to find things to talk about,” Hulshof said. “So far, the topics have managed to come fairly easily.”
And the topics, if the hosts of “The Morning Meeting” have their way, will continue to come easily – and will, at times, address even the taboo and the unexpected.
“The list of things you’re not supposed to talk about at a cocktail party gets really long,” Hulshof said. “Simon and I don’t have that list.”
Hulshof doesn't seem overly worried about off-limits topics. Sitting in the KFRU studio on Monday, as Rose spoke on-air about the station’s plans to carry live coverage of Nixon’s inauguration that day, Hulshof sported a bright red T-shirt printed with “Hulshof for Governor.”
“I’m wearing my protest shirt today,” Hulshof joked.