Where do you want to fly?
Kelly Collis and Tommy McFly in their new basement studio. Photograph of Collis and McFly by Jeff Elkins.
A few weeks after WIAD-FM abruptly canceled its popular morning-drive program, The Tommy Show, last October as part of a major station rebranding, the cohosts planned a thank-you event for fans at the downtown DC restaurant Carmine’s. Within an hour, all 100 spots were full and they had a 250-person waiting list. Similar events filled Maryland and Virginia venues as well. But none of that outpouring ended up helping Tommy McFly, Kelly Collis, and Jen Richer find a new spot on the radio for their 7½-year-old music-and-chat show.
So perhaps taking a cue from DC punk, The Tommy Show is heading underground: Collis’s basement in Cathedral Heights, to be precise. There, she and McFly have built their own studio to broadcast a resurrected Tommy Show. The new program will be available from services such as Spotify and iHeartRadio and also via a custom-built app (available for iOS and Android). What should listeners expect? “Think, like, fun NPR,” says McFly. They plan their first broadcast for February 25.
He and Collis built the studio with the help of friends and family in a room where Collis used to store Christmas ornaments. It sports a custom desk that can accommodate the two of them—one running the mixing board—plus two guests. The setup may seem a bit humbling for a couple of radio stars who once accounted for a third of their station’s listeners, but the fact is that much of the Tommy Show aesthetic was pretty DIY even back when they were on the air.
There are two big changes, however. Cohost Richer elected not to join them. (“It’s just not the right fit for me,” she says.) And at least at first, the new show will be heavier on talk than before.
The show will broadcast live from 7 to 9 am on the app and then repeat throughout the day, but the team is hoping to grow into a 24-7 operation. For now, they’re busy working out details such as ad sales (McFly) and operations (Collis). The important thing, they say, is just to get back into listeners’ daily lives—and enjoy their newfound freedom from the demands of a mass-market platform. “When you don’t have to play Taylor Swift every seven minutes,” says McFly, “you have time to do other things.”
This article appears in the March 2019 issue of Washingtonian.