by Ed Ryan
During our nationwide search for the best PD's in America I often came across a tidbit of information someone sends in that really grabs my attention. Our goal is to make these lists more than just lists. We want you to know who these people are. Everyone's work is important and everyone's life is special. When I find that tidbit of information I do what any nosey reporter does, I pry. And that's what I did with Diane Newman, the Program Director at Entercom's legendary WWL in New Orleans.
Diane's role model is 81 year old Althea Lanoix Newman, her mom. That's pretty cool when your mom is first on the list of people you admire. Mrs. Newman, Diane's Mom, is a breast cancer survivor and I'm sure pretty darn proud of her daughter. You know what they say about the "C" word. If it's in your family you better get checked out. So, about one year ago, Diane Newman goes in for a checkup and hears the words "suspicious mammogram." I don't want to give away too much of the story because Diane tells it so well. This is more than a story about a great PD at a legendary radio station. It's about company becoming family and in return being rewarded with great employees. It's a great story, for many reasons, and we're glad Diane allowed us to share it all with you.
How long have you been in radio?
I’ve been in radio since February 1981. I was working on a masters in Communications at UNO …had worked in TV for a couple of years…thought I’d get a feel for radio and maybe stay a year. I was hired as a part-time studio producer for $3.81 an hour. My father thought I was out of my mind. He said, “Diane, I have tellers who earn more than that. You have a degree.” 30 years later--here I am! Most programmers have to travel around the country…from smaller markets to bigger markets…until they land at their dream station. I started out there…WWL!
In 1989 Keymarket Communications, Johnny Andrews (GM) and Bob Christopher (OM), gave me the opportunity to be the Program Director for WWL. In 1999 Entercom bought our radio cluster. They named me Operations and Program Director in 2000. We had a lot of catching up to do. Entercom was so progressive. They were shocked that we were still using typewriters in the newsroom at the legendary WWL!
What's that like?
Programming a legendary station like WWL is an honor and a privilege…really. This station has been around since 1922. It’s an institution…as much a part of New Orleans as St. Louis Cathedral…gumbo…and the mighty Mississippi. President John F. Kennedy used the powerful signal of WWL to speak to the Cuban people during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
WWL helped rescue my family from flood waters in Gentilly during Hurricane Betsy in the 1960’s. Then, ironically, in 2005, I was programming WWL when it became a lifeline to New Orleans, the Gulf South and the nation…during Hurricane Katrina. It’s an amazing, powerful, demanding stage. You have to bring your “A” game all the time. It settles for no less. And, people may think of New Orleans as a medium size market, but truth is…when it comes to news, controversy, unexpected stories and events…it’s a top 10 news market. It churns constantly.
Marry all that action with this radio station that reaches 5 states daytime/38-plus at night…and the demands of a News-Talk-Sports format that’s live and local 19 hours a day…and you’re in constant motion. Katrina aftermath, BP Oil Spill, Saints win Super Bowl. It’s exciting, demanding, fun. Andy Holt, my good friend who now programs KOIT in San Francisco always tells me, “Di, I could never do your job…I’m not that smart.” My response? “Not true. Besides…it’s called stamina and endurance.” Sure you need smarts, but you better be ready…all the time. Plan A, plan B, plan C… plan G? And, it helps to surround yourself with extraordinary people, who have gifts you don’t have or talents that compliment yours. The one thing that made me fall in love with radio is its collaborative nature. You HAVE TO play team ball or you fail. At WWL we prepare, plan, play like the pros.
When were you diagnosed with breast cancer?
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2010. I had a “suspicious” mammogram. I’ve had that before, so I didn’t panic. I get mammograms religiously, because my Mom had breast cancer in her early 40’s. (She’s my role model. Althea Lanoix Newman is now 81 years old. God is good!)
What was your initial reaction when you heard the C word?
After the ultra sound and the biopsy, I kinda felt it coming. The techs involved didn’t SAY anything, but their actions said a lot…avoiding eye contact, or being overly reassuring. But, when Dr. Stolier told me, “it’s cancer”...suddenly the world fell silent. I could die. I cried for about 30 seconds…then I put my war paint on…“Doc, what’s our game plan? What do we do next?” We met the next morning. I don’t know much…but I know when to surrender. I know radio. I don’t know cancer. I know how to be a good daughter, sister, friend, lover…I know how to dance…I don’t have the ability to remove cancer from my body. Dr. Alan Stolier’s the brilliant surgeon everybody recommended. I surrendered.
How did the operation/treatment etc affect your ability to work?
Once diagnosed I had to get numerous other tests…a breast MRI, a body scan, more blood work, x-rays, another ultra sound. I’d get my tests then go to work. I learned from my Mom that cancer has no power over you, if you don’t keep it a secret. I told my staff and all my friends and co-workers in our cluster…all they wanted to do was help me through. They even gave me a chemo shower! Seven of the guys shaved their heads and did a video to honor me!
And, what David Field (CEO), Deborah Kane (Regional President), Pat Paxton (Senior VP of Programming) and my boss Chris Claus preached from the start was “Di FIRST. Diane, YOU come first.” David called me personally to tell me, “Diane from now on…numbers 1 through 27 on your list of things to do are Diane Newman. Everything else can wait.” It doesn’t get any better than that! Entercom is so much more than a company, they’re family. We all learned that during and after Katrina; this cancer episode reinforced what I already knew.
I had surgery at the end of December; I missed two weeks of work. That was tough--the Saints were in the playoffs! Then, I had to have another minor surgery - to get a port placed in my chest. This would allow them to pump the chemo drugs straight into your heart; a more efficient method than pumping it through your veins. After that - four months of chemotherapy… February through May…every three weeks. I worked through chemo. My amazing chemo doc, Dr. Milton Seiler told me, “Most women work through chemo. Men, that’s a different story.”
I had chemo on Fridays. I’d miss that Friday and the following Monday, then work until the next chemo. The effects are cumulative, so the more you go the tougher it gets. By chemo number four, I missed Friday, Monday and Tuesday. By chemo number five, I missed Friday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. By chemo number six, I missed Friday and the following week. Sure, I got nauseated. I lost my hair. Got thrush. Got flu-like symptoms from those damned Neulasta shots. My toenails turned purple. And, yes, I got tired. But, my job…my team…my partners at work (and, of course, my dear family and friends)…propelled me through. And, every time I went to chemo I had two angels by my side…Helen Centanni and Inez Glapion. They would NOT allow me to do chemo alone. (Inez fed me breakfast and kept me up through treatments. Helen delivered gifts to all of my fellow chemo patients like the Easter Bunny!) And, Deborah (Kane) came down to NOLA from San Francisco so she could support me through chemo #4. This is your regional president. Who does this? Goes to show you, family isn’t just the people who share your blood and last name.
Throughout chemo they test your blood routinely to make sure your blood count is good…that you’re strong enough to continue. Luckily I’m blessed with good genes…we never had to slow or stop chemo. My blood work always came back good, excellent, amazing. And, by the time we took the final blood work Dr. Seiler told me all levels were back to normal; it didn’t even look like I had chemotherapy. YES!
Rest for a few weeks…well, rest and work. Mid-June I’d start the next adventure in cancer care--radiation therapy. Dr. Stolier told me, “I know who Dr. Seiler uses for radiation therapy…Dr. Ellen Zakris. She’s extraordinary.” He was right. On the first day I met her she hugged me…and spent forty five minutes explaining the impact on my body. She was so smart, generous, kind. After figuring out the best position for treating my breast & the deep position of the bed left by the tumor…we started treatment…33 of ‘em. I’d go every weekday at 11:20am. I’d have my morning show meetings with Bob or Tommy and Susan…go to radiation and come back to work in time for my “Think Tank” meetings with Helen and Garland. It was all good, until the final two weeks. Yes, I got what felt like a severe sun burn…my breast blew up…then, the burn beneath the breast. It felt like a rope burn. I had to put a sock stuffed with gauze between my skin and my clothes. But, I never stopped working.
It’s been about six weeks since my last treatment and I’m doing good. But, like chemo, the effects of radiation therapy are cumulative. It hit me like a brick about 2 weeks ago…the exhaustion from 33 radiation treatments. I took off last Friday and literally slept until 4 o’clock in the afternoon. And, all weekend my body just wanted to REST. I’m trying real hard to listen.
What is the long-term prognosis?
The prognosis is as good as it gets for someone diagnosed with cancer. We caught it early. The tumor was small. It was completely removed. The two things they look for are cancer in the lymph nodes and cancer in the “margins” around the mass. They found neither. We also had a bone scan of my entire body; there were no signs of cancer. I am blessed. And, thank God for big boobs! As Dr. Stolier said, “Because you have ‘generous’ breasts, we can save the breast and do a lumpectomy.” What science has shown in the past 40 years is this--your chances for remaining cancer free or having a recurrence are equal… 50/50 … whether you have a lumpectomy or a mastectomy. I was willing to do whatever he told me to do. Surrender.
Have you done anything extra or different now that you are a breast cancer survivor, using your position at the station to raise awareness or raise money?
I just learned today that the New Orleans Saints want me to be their “honorary captain” at the Saints/Colts game at home in the Mercedes Benz Superdome on October 23rd. It’s the only home game in October for the Who Dat Nation. I will be honored to represent anyone/everyone who has breast cancer, had breast cancer or helped someone battle this evil disease.
The toughest thing about getting diagnosed with breast cancer was telling the people you love. I wept for them as they wept for me. But, hope is what gets us through. We have to find a cure.