Beloved Canadian Broadcaster Comes Home to UI
Marilyn Denis was a typical teenager when she started college at the University of Idaho in the fall of 1976. She had big dreams to become a broadcaster, and was determined to chase them in Moscow.
“I knew I wanted to be in broadcasting, and I knew at UI I didn’t have to have a certain grade point average to be on air,” said Denis, who now hosts Canada’s most-watched daytime lifestyle show, “The Marilyn Denis Show” on CTV, and co-hosts “Roger & Marilyn” on Toronto’s No. 1 ranked radio station, 104.5 CHUM FM.
On her second day on campus, she began her mission to find out how she could be on the radio.
“I remember my dad parking in the parking lot of the student union building. We went to the radio station, and I said, ‘Hello I want to be on the air.’ I immediately signed up for Thursdays at 3 p.m., my debut was Sunday, September 5, 1976.”
In addition to the opportunities offered by UI’s student-run radio station KUOI, the Moscow campus had another attraction for Denis: It was close to her home nation.
“I was born in Canada, and at three weeks old, we moved to Pittsburgh for my dad’s job,” Denis said. “In my senior year of high school, my dad took a job in Alberta. My mom and dad wanted me to go to college somewhere that would be one plane ride away from Calgary, so that’s how I ended up at the University of Idaho.”
Denis did apply to other schools out West, but she was accepted to UI first, so she packed up her bags and moved to Moscow. It wasn’t easy. Denis admits that she wasn’t the best student, and after her first year, she thought about dropping out.
“I called my dad and said, ‘I can’t do this. I’m going to work at the bank’,” she said. “My dad told me, ‘Marilyn you are so bad at math, you need to stay at the university.’”
She stayed, and in 1978, she started a weekend position on the air at KRPL in Moscow, becoming the first female disc jockey in that station’s history. However, in order for her to do more than weekend shifts, Denis needed to become an American citizen. In 1980, Marilyn attained her U.S. citizenship, and started a Monday through Friday shift at KRPL AM/FM.
“I wanted to do this so badly; it was worth it to become a citizen,” she said.
Denis graduated with bachelor’s degree from what is now the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences (CLASS) in 1980. A year later, after earning her U.S. citizenship, Denis moved to Calgary, Alberta, Canada. She worked at CHFM and CJAY-FM and was a sports, entertainment and weather announcer at CFCN-TV and TSN.
“It was hard, breaking into this industry, and there were many times I wanted to go back home to Moscow.” Denis said.
However, she stuck with it, and in 1986, she moved to Toronto, where she got a job on CHUM-FM’s morning radio show.
“It took me two years, but I worked my way into a co-host position,” Denis said. For almost the last three decades, she has been co-host of the “Roger and Marilyn” show.
In 1989, she was selected to be the host of the nationally syndicated daytime talk show “Cityline.” She hosted that show for 19 years. In 2011, the nationally syndicated “The Marilyn Denis Show” began — which remains Canada’s most-watched daytime lifestyle series.
“They wanted to call it ‘Marilyn’, but I insisted it be called ‘The Marilyn Denis Show’ because my dad was still alive, and I wanted to give him credit for my success.” Denis said. In fact, her dad was her first guest on the show. “He was tickled.”
Denis credits the University of Idaho with giving her the opportunities to launch herself into the real world, and she says she owes much of her success to the professors, the friends and the radio stations in Moscow.
“I would not be where I am today, if it hadn’t been for the University of Idaho,” she said.
In May 2017, Denis returned to Moscow to receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, recognizing her professional accomplishments. She was the spring commencement speaker, addressing more than 1,400 graduates and their families. Denis also met with JAMM students and toured UI’s Radio-TV Center. Here are some of her reflections on her experience: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJNEBFrZJZU
“I remember my graduation well. My parents and my younger sister were there, cheering me on,” Denis said. This time around, her sister will be sitting in the audience once again, as will her adult son, and some of her lifelong friends that she met during her college days.
UI surprised Denis with the announcement of her honor during a live-taping of her show earlier this spring. The announcement included a visit from Joe Vandal and a taped greeting from CLASS Dean Andrew Kersten.
The recognition leaves Denis full of pride and gratitude.
“What a great responsibility, but what an honor,” she said.
Article by Gemma Gaudette, University Communications & Marketing
Photos courtesy of Bell Media