The five Dolan sisters have discovered that the trick to making their radio show, "The Satellite Sisters," click is to sound spontaneous. Of course, that takes a lot of preparation.
"In advance, we decide together the topics we want to talk about and the guests we want to talk to," says Liz Dolan, 42. "We tend not to talk about problems. We don't want to give advice. We want to talk about things that happen to people and how they handle them."
"Satellite Sisters" began nine weeks ago on National Public Radio stations in New York, Detroit, Chicago and Portland, Ore. The hourlong series comes into the Los Angeles market Sunday on KCRW-FM (89.9) at 9 a.m. The show's Web site, http://www.satellitesisters.com, will begin operation June 17, when the NPR show goes nationwide.
Executive producer Marjorie Kalins describes "Satellite Sisters" as a "unique look at life through the eyes of these sisters. My belief, which they share, is that we can tackle any subject that has a legitimate interest or connection to these five very different sisters."
And just who are the "Satellite Sisters"?
Liz Dolan was the vice president of marketing at Nike until she chucked it all at 40 to get a real life. She now runs her own sports marketing company and lives in Manhattan and Portland.
Julie Dolan, 44, has been married for 20 years and is the mother of two teenage boys. She recently moved to Bangkok with her family.
Sheila Dolan, 41, is divorced, with a teenage daughter, and is the director of the New York City public elementary school she started.
Monica Dolan, 40, is single and works as a nurse and medical researcher in Portland.
Lian Dolan, 35, lives in Pasadena, and is married and a stay-at-home mom of two preschool-age boys.
Lian Dolan acknowledges there's been a lot of experimenting with the show's format in the first season. "We have tried to put the shows together by topics, as opposed to experiences, and we ended up sounding like a really bad version of the 'Today' show top 10. That is just not us. We found the most successful segments that we do come out of our own personal experience."
Discussions Inspired by Hosts' Real Lives
Lian, for example, has no life insurance. "When you are a stay-at-home mom, there is no box to check for life insurance," she says. "So a couple of weeks ago, I talked to a life insurance agent on the air."
Recently, she discovered a lump in her breast and quickly went to her doctor, who gave her a clean bill of health. The scare, though, made her realize she had never done a breast self-examination correctly. So she invited her doctor on the show.
"He led us through a complete breast exam, which you can do on the radio, of course, because no one is looking at you," says Liz Dolan. "We could stand there naked from the waist up and really do that.
"We did a credit card discussion with my sister Sheila. After she was divorced, she found herself in a credit card disaster. . . . You need to feel you are not the only idiot who has lost control of your finances."
Besides experts, the sisters also chat with friends like Robin, a new mother. "We talk to her every month about what that is like," says Liz, "because all of this stuff is happening to new mothers that nobody told them about. We talk to Robin a lot about the things that nobody tells you."
Another friend, Michael, talks about how much time he spends doing his son's school projects. "We want the show to feel like real conversations, which have those ebbs and flows," says Liz.
The sisters have recently begun to chat on the air with listeners, including one man in Chicago who tunes into "Satellite Sisters" every Sunday.
"This listener wrote to say he loved our show because it made him feel like he was eavesdropping in the ladies' room," Liz recalls.
"He wondered why women went to the bathroom together and now he knows why--we are all in there talking in this really funny way. But in the second paragraph of the letter, he went on to explain he is a Catholic priest who has no sisters, but 4,000 brothers. He counsels women in the transition from welfare to work. He just seemed like a fascinating and interesting person, and we liked the fact a Catholic priest was talking about eavesdropping in the ladies' room. So we called him."
Show Started as a Way to Bring Sisters Together
Liz came up for the idea for the show about four years ago, when she and her older sister Julie were complaining about their jobs. She was still working for Nike, and Julie was working at admissions at Stanford University and UCLA.
Julie's husband, recalls Liz, told them to try to find something they could do together.
"Julie said [to me], 'OK. You figure it out. But here are my two rules. I don't want to have to get dressed up, and I don't want to go anywhere.' So I went home and thought about it for a while."
She realized that all of the siblings loved National Public Radio. "I felt you could create a [radio] show with people who actually knew each other and liked each other, who would talk to each other about a wide variety of topics."
Liz got all of her sisters together for a weekend at mud baths in Calistoga, Calif., to pitch the idea of a radio show. "It was the first time the five of us had ever been together alone as adults where there were no husbands or children. It was just the five girls alone for the weekend. We talked about this idea, and we agreed at the end of the weekend if we could make something like this work, it would be great."
Of course, Liz says, "nobody did anything about it for a year, though I thought about it all the time. The summer of '97 is when I quit my job at Nike and I started to work on this in earnest."
The sisters are still trying to work out the logistics of doing the show. "I am often in Portland or New York," says Liz. "Lian will work out of the NPR bureau in Santa Monica. Julie has now been working at the BBC bureau in Bangkok. Sheila and Monica will be in New York or Portland. Every other month or so, we get together to produce a whole bunch of interviews in Los Angeles. This is not ideal and not what we intend to do. Ultimately, we will have a process where people are much more in their home city. We should have to rarely get together."
The Dolan siblings, who grew up with three brothers in suburban Connecticut, have become even closer doing the series. "You spend the first half of your life differentiating yourself from each other," says Liz. "If you are lucky, you spend the second part of your life coming back together. That is what I am experiencing now with my sisters doing this show. We are exploring the common ground we have after we had gone off and created these very different lives."
* "The Satellite Sisters" can be heard Sundays at 9 a.m. on KCRW-FM (89.9).