Who the F*!k is Mary Lucia?

Mary Lucia’s final afternoon shift on The Current may be the last ever big broadcast for MSP. It’s only Rock ‘n’ Roll, but we’ll miss her. Here’s why…

by Isabelle Wattenberg

Talk to anyone who has tuned into Mary Lucia—longtime Minneapolis radio DJ and general music maven—and the phrase that consistently surfaces is ‘it’s like listening to a friend.’ To colleagues and listeners, anonymous and known, Lucia has effortlessly risen to acclaim as an on-air host who shares great music without guile or pretense. The root of it? She’s just herself on the radio. Oh, and she knows a ridiculous amount about music.

Mary Lucia’s radio career began in the early 90s as an evening host at REV 105 alongside roles at Zone 105 and KSTP. She grew up in musical company (a bit of trivia: her brother is Paul Westerberg of The Replacements), but was studying theater when she heard about the REV 105 role, which appealed to her tendency to attend punk shows in lieu of reading about playwrights. Until its sale in 1997 by an ABC subsidiary, REV 105 was one of just three alt-rock stations in the Twin Cities (another bit: REV co-founder Kevin Cole went on to become Program Director at Seattle’s KEXP). It was a haven for music fans who sought properly alternative music and the first place they were introduced to Lucia and her unexpected setlists, encyclopedic-like knowledge of music, and unapologetically honest point of view.

This intersection of bringing a truly human self to the airwaves and eschewing mainstream expectations is core to Lucia’s approach to DJ-ing. She plays first and foremost music that she wants to listen to. And as a result, she has attracted and connected with listeners who have deeply personal relationships with music and want to listen to someone with their own equally strong and individual—though never exclusionary—perspective.

“To think an on-air host loves everything they’re playing is hilarious to me,” Lucia said when we spoke via email exchange. “I’m glad to live in a world where everything is not meant for everyone. Sometimes you have to be willing to say, ‘Not for me, mate.’ ”

Lucia said the relative inexperience with which she entered the field worked to her advantage, allowing her own instincts to inform her selections rather than learning from or relying on old models—a practice that has earned her seven Best FM Radio Personality awards from City Pages.

“How I listen to music doesn’t follow traditional radio programming,” she says. “Ministry next to Dean Martin next to Spoon makes perfect sense in my head.”

The unpredictability of Mary Lucia’s set lists also flies in the face of what music journalist, and former Current colleague Andrea Swensson astutely calls “an industry that desperately wants to homogenize ‘content’ and automate the life out of radio.”

“Mary Lucia is living proof that vulnerability and authenticity are cool,” Swensson says. “She is so cool and so beloved because she’s remained completely and totally herself.”

Streaming services purport to anticipate what their users seek, but the algorithms (and often commercial radio, for that matter) cannot replicate the compassionate and fundamentally human relationship like the one Lucia holds with her listeners.

“Holding down the afternoon drive slot for 17 years had me imagining what people were doing between 2-6 PM,” Lucia says. “What music helps you zipper merge or scoop a litter box or wait for your MRI results? I take this responsibility personally.”

The weight of this responsibility is reflected in Lucia’s commitment to researching and learning music history, whether she’s creating demo lists in advance of her shifts or reading up on a band’s background. This depth of knowledge she has amassed gives listeners context—and therefore deeper connection—to each song she introduces. It also means that while she might have her own particular taste, it is not bound by genre, and she rejects the idea of the guilty pleasure. The afternoon segment she started at the Current called ‘No Apologies’ serves as an antithesis to the concept. Every weekday at four o’clock, the on-air DJ selects a single song that is typically tossed into the ‘guilty pleasure’ category—but it’s an openly celebratory playthrough, never a furtive one.

A 2005 thread on a message board for music fans chronicles the response to Lucia joining the then-brand-new station The Current. Titled “Mary Lucia back on Twin Cities radio!!!,” the thread’s commenters responded to The Current’s launch in real time, sharing their favorite Mary Lucia anecdotes and elation at the station’s eclectic set under her command:

“This is just great great great news. She’s a sight for sore ears. Erm, a sound for sore ears.”
“This is very good news! Love Mary’s voice and sense of humor.”

This passionate outpour was mirrored in the reactions to Lucia’s last set on The Current, which she left in April 2022 after seventeen years with the station. It was a rock-and-roll afternoon like no other that ranged from Cher to Margo Price to Sam Cooke, with bloggers, music journalists and co- hosts lauding and analyzing the set. One fan memorialized her set on Spotify, lamenting in the description that the playlist “unfortunately… does not have her talking.”

Swensson echoed just how meaningful Lucia’s commentary is, calling out how compassionately she has led listeners and colleagues alike through the grief of losing music legends over the past few years, from Tom Petty to David Bowie. And through our exchange, it was apparent just how keenly Lucia understands the impact of what she brings to the airwaves: Each song choice is a deliberate one, because she knows just how much music matters.

“Everyone has experienced loss and trauma. Thoughtful music selections are a great healing tool [that] along with sincere empathy, help me connect to strangers,” Lucia said. “That is a concept that blows my mind and will never be taken for granted.”

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