Brenda Conlan grew up in Ridgewood, New Jersey, in a big Irish Catholic clan that “rollicked through life together in a large station wagon,” as she describes it. She was athletic, social, and mischievous as a child, one who immediately connected with being outdoors—a love that has followed through into her adult life as she continues to find her spirituality in nature. “I think I wanted to be the kind of adult that I thought didn’t exist when I grew up,” she says.
Her life was “shipwrecked” by addiction in her teens, so she started college late. She came by her problems genetically: “many of my family members had issues with alcohol, which explains why I got into the field of prevention and made it my life’s work.” Conlan studied English and German at UMASS Amherst and lived in Germany for four years. “Living abroad was the gift of an extra life, and I encourage every young person I know to go and have the experience of living in another country.”
“I ended up on the Cape sort of by accident,” she says. She came when she was 29, thinking that she’d be here for a few months while she looked for a job in Boston, “and I fell in love with winter on Cape Cod and never left! My younger brother, Charlie was also living at the cottage and he had a first-light” (early-morning) “show on WOMR. I thought it was a thrill to listen to him on the radio and he got my good friend, Anette Bauer enchanted with radio, as well. She began doing a show called Shaking The Tree on Tuesday nights in the mid ‘90s, which further sparked my interest. Anette and Nan Cinnater trained me at the old Center Street location and my show, House of Hope, was launched somewhere around the year 2000. Anette and I had such similar taste in music that we shared our CDs back and forth. I finally convinced her to give up Tuesday evenings and alternate with me on Friday mornings, which we did for a number of years before she left the Cape. I now alternate with Scott Trask, who has had a role at WOMR for many more years than I have—he is a wonderful, dependable show mate!”
Conlan’s show, House of Hope, is a Friday first-light program focusing on a mix of contemporary, folk, and world music. “My sonic selections reflect my life,” says Conlan. “It’s a search for divinity—sprinkled with chaos! I love funky, ethereal, grooving tunes,” and she supplements them with native sounds she’s encountered on her worldwide travels. “I’m constantly on the lookout for the latest releases from exciting, new artists and I try to bestow my listeners with a wide variety of new music. When I’m not introducing something new, I rely on the tried-and-true: Peter Gabriel, Pink Martini, Bjork, Joni Mitchell, Sinead O’Connor, Ani Difranco, Coldplay, Dead Can Dance, Afrocelts, and countless others who inspire!”
When she’s not on the air, Conlan works as a health educator and gives seminars at schools all over the world with a focus on alcohol and drug education. “I adore teenagers,” she says, “and spending time with them is an honor and a pleasure. I have likely learned much more from young people than I have ever taught them!” Her travel frequently keeps her away from her wife and her dog, “but the excitement of travel and the joy of doing good work makes up for the homesickness I sometimes feel. I am a distance runner and I see the world on foot, which is my favorite way to discover a new place while moving my body at the same time.”
Why does she love community radio? “Music is the mother tongue and it brings people together in such important ways,” Conlan says. “As a world traveler, I can tell you there are so few stations like WOMR that bring interesting, unique, and relevant programming to listeners. The beauty of WOMR is that it’s potluck: no matter who you are, you can find music or spoken-word programming that you will appreciate. It’s so refreshing to have a real person on air, delivering hand picked music or interviewing a thoughtful member of the community about vital issues.” She loves the freedom that community radio offers, as well. “As a DJ, I can literally play whatever I wish! My playlist is entirely up to me, and I can punctuate it with poetry and quotes from authors I admire.”
There’s something special about hosting a first-light program. “I try not to talk too much,” Conlan admits. “I’m on from six to nine a.m., and people are just starting their day—they probably just want to collect their thoughts with some soothing background music!”
Why not start your day with House of Hope? It’s on alternating Fridays from 6-9; check the WOMR schedule for more information.