Same voice, new duties: Pat Kerrigan returns to local radio
Pat Kerrigan flirted with retirement.
The longtime radio news broadcaster has been away from the microphone for nearly seven months now, and in that time she kicked the tires on the idea of making her brief respite something more permanent.
But the pull of a good news story, the connection with the community, the relaying of vital information — those things tugged at her heart and kept her brief dalliance with retirement from blooming into a long-term relationship.
So Kerrigan, who pulled away from her on-air news duties at KSRO twice in the past 21 months to deal with her alcoholism, is back at the mic. She returned Tuesday night for an hourlong segment that was the first installment of what is dubbed “The Kerrigan Specials” — “Which I did not name, by the way,” she said.
No longer is Kerrigan going live at the crack of dawn, guiding listeners through the start of their days, giving them the news and bits of humor, traffic and weather that mark the start of the weekday.
It looks different this time around. And that is how Kerrigan, 65, wants it.
“I have always loved the work,” she said. “It was matter of trying to figure out how to do it different this time around.”
The goal? “Stay real, stay healthy, and stay sober,” she said.
So the idea is this: Kerrigan will record hourlong segments on topical issues, with guests and panelists. They will air sometimes once a month, sometimes twice month, all depending on the news of the day.
KSRO will re-air them multiple times.
“This is all Pat driven. She came to us with ideas,” said Michael O’Shea, president and co-owner of Amaturo Sonoma Media Group, which owns KSRO. “We give her free rein. She has great news judgment, she knows the community. We trust her.”
It’s a move in the professional realm, but it was the personal connection that was the glue to the deal, O’Shea said.
“We have a mutual admiration society,” he said. Kerrigan’s work during and in the wake of the Tubbs fire? That just made the respect all the deeper, he said.
“We became wonderful, personal friends,” he said. “And plus Pat is that way with most of our management and our staff. She is respected. She was there at a defining moment in our community. She stayed on air for umpteen hours. We had to pull her out of the studio.
“She’s just terrific human being so when this disease struck her it affected us all very, very negatively,” he said.
Because Kerrigan was very public in telling listeners that her battle with alcohol was the reason she took a hiatus from her news duties in January 2020 and again in November of that year, Kerrigan knows the questions are coming.
“I have never regretted that decision. Never,” she said of her public announcements. “But there have been times I wonder if I’ll ever be talking about things in general and not be asked about that specifically.
“Ever since I did that on the air, people don’t say, ‘How are you, Pat?’ It’s “How are you?,” she said, chuckling a little and noting its always well-intentioned. “But I’m OK. Better than OK.”
She has ditched her alarm clock, for one thing. As the KSRO morning news anchor, that alarm was buzzing around 2 a.m. every day. No more.
“I was running on about four hours of sleep, and you can’t give that up without something giving way. My disease jumped in and said, ‘You are primed and ready and let’s go.’”
So along with addressing the drinking, Kerrigan took stock of her schedule, of her work and life balance, and of all of the pieces that go into mental and physical health. And that reckoning meant the alarm clock was gone. And that meant her work life as she knew it.
But walking away from the grinding schedule did not mean she was ready to walk away from broadcasting. She wanted to come back, but in a way that was healthy and reasonable.
“I went back to them in April of this year and said, ‘We are inexorably tied together, me and you, so it makes sense for me to come back and do some stuff,’” she said.
So Kerrigan will craft her “specials” for KSRO, but she is also launching a podcast “Pat Kerrigan Unleashed,” which will tap the same kind of newsy conversational veins she hits in her radio work.
The hope, she said, is to dip her toe back in without drowning in schedules and deadlines.
Kerrigan knows her distinctive voice takes people back to those terrifying hours and days in 2017 when the Tubbs fire raged and when so much was lost for so many. She has been widely lauded for her calm, informative delivery as well as for her Herculean on-air stamina.
And it’s been hard in these parts to recover, what with the threat of still more wildfires becoming an annual and very real threat. Kerrigan knows this and knows her place in that story. She described it as part of radio’s intimacy.
“The rage of fires elicited such a very, very personal and dramatic story in this community and it continues to wreak its havoc,” she said. “We don’t need to be in the middle of a raging wildfire for people to be triggered. It only takes the blowing of the wind or the faint smell of smoke.”
To that end, Kerrigan said she’s essentially on-call, should the news team at KSRO need all hands on deck again. She’s made herself available, all while hoping she’s not needed.
“I hope nobody hears from me in that regard,” she said.
She won’t have her alarm clock set, but she doesn’t expect to be called to action by a phone call either.
“I have a feeling they won’t need to call me,” she said. “I have a feeling I will know when I have to head to the radio station.”
You can reach Staff Columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @benefield.
Columnist, The Press Democrat
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