Donna Groves Retires from WKYX-WKYQ News Dept.
By Bill Hughes
PADUCAH, KY - A staple of local morning radio signed off Friday morning. Donna Groves read her last newscasts on WKYX and WKYQ, and then retired at age 49.
Groves' legacy as News Director is the most-awarded radio news room in Kentucky. The Associated Press recognized her as 2013's Best Radio Reporter last Saturday, as well as in 2007-2010. The station has won 36 awards between 2007-2013, with Groves winning 22 of those. AP award records are not fully accessible before 2009, and Groves hasn't kept track - she's been busy covering the next story.
Groves has been reporting news since 1984, when she graduated from Murray State University, and became part of the News Department at WKYX-WKYQ in 1986. Other than short stints at WCBL and WDDJ (before it was owned by Bristol Broadcasting), and a few years at the Paducah Sun and WKMS in the 90's, Groves' entire career has been with the same stations.
Many people have figured out that she's not "retirement age", so the big question is, "Why?" Donna explains that she and her long-time boyfriend Stefan Jagoe have big plans.
"Stefan and I are getting married May 5, and we've been talking about where we want to be in our lives. We had been going to church camp at Kanuga for seven years, and we just fell in love with the area, and decided that's where we wanted to be when we retired. And that's where we've decided we want to start our married life," Groves said.
Kanuga is a camp in Hendersonville, NC where the couple has taken the Youth Group from Grace Episcopal Church each year. Jagoe is a retired Sergeant from the Paducah Police Department who has been Youth Minister at Grace for eleven years. After being unofficially engaged for many years, Donna got a ring from Stefan in June 2012.
It's no secret that the last 18 months have been tough for Groves. Her mother, Nellie was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in August 2011, and outlived everyone's expectations before passing away last December. Donna brought her mother to her home for the final months of her life.
During that time, Groves learned she had poor circulation in both hip joints, causing them to weaken, so she has had both hips surgically replaced. She amazed doctors, bouncing back from both procedures much quicker than the average patient.
The upcoming change of scenery is a surprise to many who know her, since she has always been a hometown girl, turning down job offers at Louisville's WHAS, among others. Groves was reporting news on WKYX when it switched formats from music to news/talk, and said it was an exciting and creative period.
"It was interesting from the perspective of a news junkie, trying to get other people to be on the same page," she said.
It could have been a daunting task for Frank Carvell and John Stewart, who had been talking between songs, but now had to fill the entire morning show.
"Fortunately, John was a news junkie, too, and Frank was to a degree," Groves said.
She remembers listener reaction to WKYX was pretty balanced - some loved the idea, but others resisted the change. This is a concept she understands, having resisted every step in the technological revolution in the radio industry over four decades. When she started, editing an interview meant marking and splicing reel-to-reel tape, and big printers spit out every news story available from the Associated Press, so sifting through them to find useful topics took some time. Groves used carts, cassettes, and mini-discs, before computer software became the quick and easy way to do a newscast. Groves said she kicked and screamed through each technological advancement.
"I hated every single change! After I learned them, though, I was fine," Groves said. "I do really like the ability to edit audio electronically, though," she said.
Groves has worked in three different news rooms at the station, one of which was the station bomb shelter, with no windows. Frank and John had to yell to her so she would know when a newscast was coming up.
Her worst on-air moments include times when a spider visited the newsroom, or a mouse ran across the floor, and she once she said an accidental curse word while trying to pronounce "West Kentucky Farm Center". On another occasion, during election coverage, a reporter was explaining that a candidate had surged ahead of his opponent, and Groves wanted to say that this was "big news." Unfortunately she said, "That is good news!" and couldn't understand why the other announcers gave her puzzled looks.
Her favorite stories are not necessarily the ones that won her awards, but they are the ones that made a difference in the community. Among them, Groves recalls reporting on a high number of early retirements at the Paducah Police Department while Randy Bratton was Chief, indicating the work environment was not what it had been before. She is also proud of the undercover employee recordings in 2011 that exposed illegal euthanizations at the McCracken County Humane Society, leading to positive change at that organization.
Groves fondly remembers calls and comments after the 2009 ice storm, when WKYX staff kept listeners informed of the ever-changing availability of fuel, firewood, groceries, and assistance. She remembers many people saying, "You were my only lifeline."
When long-time General Manager Gary Morse came to Groves in 2009 with the idea of a news website called WestKentuckyStar, she wasn't sure what to think.
"He said, 'I need you on board with this.' I saw what he wanted to do, and hoped I could do it. But as I got into it, I saw that this was a new way of bringing news to people, and it re-invigorated my career."
So, after Groves retires and moves to North Carolina, will she be glued to 24-hour news networks?
"Not as much as I do now, but I'm sure I'll watch, and things will drive me crazy about how they are doing it. I'll critique, but I won't micro-manage like I have done here at times," Groves said.
As a person who resists change, Groves has some inner turmoil about leaving a career, getting married, and moving away all at once. But her focus drifts back to the things that are not changing.
"I have a really great guy, and we're starting a new chapter in a new place. And when you walk with God, some things never change, and that's comforting. Fear of the unknown is offset by excitement I've never felt before," said Groves.
Stefan and Donna decided they needed business cards as they meet people in a new town, even though they don't have businesses. His card reads, "Genealogist", and her card reads, "Animal Advocate". These are their passions, and they will continue to pursue them. Groves has been treasurer of Project Hope No-Kill Humane Society in Metropolis for some time, and is already interested in the Humane Society in Hendersonville, which operates a no-cost spay and neuter program. She plans to report back to her friends at Project Hope after she learns more, because she says it's needed in this area, too.
Donna and Stefan will make frequent trips back to Paducah, since she owns rental property and Stefan's two grown sons, Marc and Eric, live here.