Delilah: She Gives Love a Good Name

She's a mother of 11, an ex to three, and a friend to millions, and she's there for you this Valentine's Day.

"I'm in the throes of a Bon Jovi orgasm!" Delilah shrieks as she finishes her interview with Jon Bon Jovi. The singer had called in to promote his band's greatest-hits album and coinciding tour, but gamely discussed the success behind his 22-year marriage—"I'm gone half the time"—and his even longer career—"I'm like a fine vintage wine that's gotten better with age." Delilah concurs: "You are like a fine wine . . . " The segment is completed, and she giggles with her with her producer for the next few minutes over how cute Jon is. Her excitement is disarming, given that Delilah, a requests and dedications program whose flagship is Seattle soft-rock station Warm 106.9 FM, reaches more than eight million people on over 200 stations. Delilah may rank in coolness just a very small notch above John Tesh, but come Valentine's Day, even hipsters get the blues, and need a fresh shoulder to cry on. Between playing unabashedly schmaltzy ballads by Bonnie Raitt, Bryan Adams, and Phil Collins, the soothing voice of the self-proclaimed "queen of sappy love songs" provides sympathy to the heartbroken and encouragement to those lucky bastards whose relationships remain unscathed. "I stinkin' love people," Delilah declares. The attractive blonde, blue-eyed host—think a fairer version of Sarah Palin—is wearing a black sweater and jeans, accessorized by a giant pair of headphones. It's difficult to tell with her sitting that she is 5'11" and towers over most of her staff. "There's lots of DJs with great voices," she says. "But if you don't love to connect with people and find out what's going on in their heads and hearts, then the voice really doesn't matter." In the weeks leading up to Valentine's Day, Delilah and her staff of 17 are drowning in phone calls, letters, and e-mails from listeners sharing personal stories and requesting songs—like Pat, who wants her terminally ill ex-husband to hear "Unchained Melody" by the Righteous Brothers, a song they bonded over at the beginning of their courtship. It can be heavy stuff. But this Wednesday afternoon, in her discreet West Seattle studio, Delilah is upbeat, obviously—"Um, I just talked to Jon Bon Jovi! Hello?!?"—and speedily knocking things off her to-do list between bites of tabbouleh and sips of tea. She has yet to tackle her desk, which is littered with coffee cups, soda cans, and a black Sharpie alongside a stack of glossy 8x10 head shots of herself, smiling broadly. Typically, Delilah works from her home in Port Orchard, across Puget Sound in Kitsap County. She hates driving, but on days like today, when she needs to come into the city, she rides the ferry. By the time she reaches the studio at 11 a.m., Delilah says, she has already served her kids chocolate-chip pancakes and dropped them off at school. After she leaves the studio, it's time to cook again and help her tribe with homework before going back into the studio to respond to business calls and e-mails. "I don't sleep a lot," she admits. It's surprising she sleeps at all. Behind the otherworldly voice is a 50-year-old named Delilah Rene, a thrice-married, now-single mother of 11 children ages 6 to 31, seven of whom are adopted and six of whom currently live at home with her. Once the paperwork goes through, Delilah will add a boy from Ghana to her brood. To her friends and fans that's all old news—which is why when Leisa Smith, Delilah's producer of more than a decade, is prodded for little-known facts about the radio host, she eagerly shares that Delilah makes a mean potato salad and digs Green Day and Akon. But to those who listen to her less regularly and miss her references to her past relationships, the profile of the seeming love guru is surprising. "I don't really give a rat's butt what someone thinks of me when it comes to stuff like moral decisions," Delilah says. "It's just who I am. I screwed up and got married more than once . . . or twice. So crucify me. "Why hide a skeleton in your closet? Decorate it and put lipstick on it! My father tried to hide his mistakes . . . I had a half-brother and a half-sister who lived down the road from me that I never knew about growing up. Why should that have been a secret? Why make something that might have been a bad choice something shameful? When you stop hiding things, you stop feeling shameful." Despite this, Delilah says she led a "charmed and idyllic" childhood in rural Reedsport, Ore. Her voice garnered attention early on—since she was "a cute little blonde girl who sounded like a grown man—and by junior high earned her an on-air spot reporting school news and sports at her town's tiny radio station. "You know how there are teenage boys who say their car is everything?" she asks. "Well, my show was everything." After high school, Delilah moved to Eugene and took any radio-related job she could find. She volleyed back and forth between East and West Coast markets, mostly with soft-rock stations, before getting her syndicated show in the late '90s, a concept that still thrills her. "I love being on air today as much—if not more—than I did when I first started," Delilah says. "I hate our industry. I think it's been destroyed. It used to be about listeners, about blessings, about being as creative as you could be to cross over to people's hearts. Now it's about the bottom line." Whether she likes it or not, her old- fashioned approach attracts listeners and has done well feeding the bottom line. "Delilah is so successful because she's easy to relate to," says 106.9 program director Laura Dane. "She's a regular person who readily admits that her life has not been perfect." In fact, more than 60,000 fans relate to her, according to her Facebook page. Hundreds post messages for her to read each day—many of them not from women 25 to 54, which in most markets is her main demographic, according to consumer research company Arbitron. "I get big, beefy, burly truck drivers calling me, bawling," she says. "It's because love is universal, it's not just for women. They [listeners] all trust me. They know I'm real. I'm not going to bullshit them. I'm not going to ever embarrass them. Never for the sake of good radio could I hurt someone's heart." As she starts on her second cup of tea that afternoon and prepares to leave the studio for a staff meeting, she is, of course, asked if she is currently dating anyone. Delilah smirks. "Define dating." Then the queen of sap offers a more sincere smile. "I have love in my life. I have a lot of love in my life." ehobart@seattleweekly.com

 
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