Melissa Ross pulls back from the microphone and strides out of the studio and into her office at WJCT Public Media. The city’s chief interrogator is sitting down to answer a few questions from me. This week marks 10 years since her arrival as the host of First Coast Connect and, by extension, the on-air centerpiece of a rebooted and revitalized public broadcasting institution. In that time, she’s done probably 3,000 hours of live radio, plus a few special projects, in addition to hosting forums, panels, parties, debates and pretty much any conceivable format. The occasion is being celebrated on-air throughout the week, and throughout a city whose public life is greatly enhanced by her presence.
Ross came to the game after a broadcast career that won four regional Emmy Awards and took her to cities like Chicago, Cincinnati and Orlando, before she wrapped up with a long stint at First Coast News. She had transitioned to corporate life when fate intervened. Ross credits WJCT station manager David Luckin (who also hosts the Electro Lounge program) as the catalyst for her transition. “I knew that he’d come from the world of TV news, like me, and that we had a lot of friends in common. He encouraged me to apply, but I didn’t think anything would come out of it. About six months later, I got the call to come in and audition.” That was summer 2009, and she was on the air that August.
First Coast Connect quickly became the show of record for local affairs, political and otherwise. From hard news to human interest, Ross and her team shift gears in-show like Formula One drivers. The host and her crew—which includes producer Heather Schatz, director Michelle Corum and, of course, Luckin, whom she calls “the secret sauce” of the whole operation—are up before sunrise, five days a week, helping set the pace for public discussion, digesting the news while the newsmakers are digesting their breakfasts. The show has only gotten more interesting as the heat swells and political acrimony percolates in public. Ross bridges more gaps than a WWII pontoon boat.
Recently, nearly a decade into their run, Ross and her team took their boldest position yet: They brought me in to be a part of the show. I’m kidding, but seriously, our recurring cannabis segments (which run on Wednesday mornings, this week and next) have been going for the past six months or so, and they really do underscore the responsiveness and diversity that characterizes her work.
“It’s a fascinating evolution, so we really had to cover it,” she says. “It gets into politics, it gets into health, it gets into culture. That’s the pool that we swim in all the time, so it’s a natural fit for us.”
The response from the audience has been strong, and along with the podcast work being done by Jessica Palombo and Lindsey Kilbride, FCC has been crucial to boosting the WJCT brand in the era of streaming and social media. With new additions like the weekly “Florida Roundup” show, Ross’ voice will grow in prominence as this crazy super-election cycle proceeds. Through all the decibels and the dissonance, the radio personality maintains kayfabe as the amiable center, like a cross between a librarian and a referee, the calm in a storm that is brewing even as we speak.