On the air with Dayle Ohlau
by Tony Evans
Idaho Mountain Express
Ketchum resident Dayle Ohlau knew what she wanted to do with her life when she was in second grade, wrapping a jump rope around a plastic flute to fashion a microphone to interview her little brother.
“I knew I wanted to be in radio when I was 6 years old,” said Ohlau, now 59 and soon to take over as general manager of KDPI, the local nonprofit community radio station based in Ketchum.
Ohlau grew up in San Diego, where her father attended barber school, ran three salons and worked with the Chamber of Commerce to help develop the town of Chula Vista.
After her parents divorced, she led a peripatetic existence with her mother, attending 16 schools in nine years from California to Indiana.
“My mother needed to explore,” Ohlau said. “Moving around taught me resilience and how to meet people.”
In fifth grade Ohlau interviewed a disc jockey to learn about the craft of hosting a radio show. During her senior year at an Indiana high school she worked at the student-run WGBD. From then on, her life has been punctuated by a series of radio station call letters, beginning with WNON in Lebanon, Ind., where she cut her teeth in commercial radio by driving 100 miles round trip to work the 7 p.m.-to-midnight shift.
At DePauw University she worked at student-run station WGRE and joined Sigma Delta Chi, founded in 1909 and now known as the Society for Professional Journalists.
“The goal of the organization was to grow the idea of ethics and truth in journalism,” said Ohlau, who also joined the Association for Women in Communications, a national organization geared toward supporting female journalists.
Ohlau returned to San Diego to work at several stations, eventually hosting for three years an award-winning public affairs show called “Time for Women” at KWXY.
Tragedy struck when Ohlau’s brother committed suicide, and she soon found herself in an acrimonious divorce. She hung up her microphone and came to the Wood River Valley in 2002. Her son and daughter entered the school system and she put down roots.
“I didn’t want my kids to have the wandering life I had as a kid,” she said.
Ohlau taught communications classes at the College of Southern Idaho campus in Hailey and worked for two years as news director at three local radio stations before a staff consolidation left her again jobless.“The new owners basically used stories from the Idaho Mountain Express and so they no longer needed their own news director,” she said.
With her children old enough to take care of themselves, Ohlau journeyed to Spain to walk the Camino de Santiago, a medieval Christian pilgrimage route sought out by those in need of change.
“I had a lot of things to let go,” she said, “including my brother’s death, a divorce and family dysfunction. It turned out to be a transformative experience that recalibrated my life.”
Ohlau, who had previously earned a master’s degree in human behavior, decided to return to academia. She enrolled at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco to pursue a Ph.D. in the School of Transformative Studies.
Two and half years later, she has completed her coursework and is preparing an 80-page thesis proposal titled “Homo-Spiritus: Radical Compassion, a New Paradigm for Spirit-Based Journalism.”
“My work is theoretical rather than quantitative,” Ohlau said. “It traces our history from the end of World War I to today, and studies media biases that led us to where we are now, with a distrust of the media and a weakening of the Fourth Estate [journalism]. We have become so tribal. Due to our confirmation biases we only listen to or read what we already believe.”
A recent $11,000 donation from 100 Men Who Care, a local philanthropic group, drew Ohlau back to the nonprofit station that she had helped General Manager Mike Scullion get started in 2013. She will be able to draw a small salary putting together new ideas for the station.
“For me this will be a synergy between my studies and my radio career,” she said. ‘It’s an opportunity to generate compassionate and ethical communication in our community. I think of it as harkening back to the days of the town square.”