For years, Heidi Hansel tried to keep a terrible secret from her co-workers: The vivacious blond brand-marketing manager had been—gasp!—a Redskins cheerleader.
“It’s not a career helper, that’s for sure,” says Hansel, 38. After a decade or so in the field, she figured out that she was not long for the corporate world. What some women call a glass ceiling, Hansel calls “a brick wall that I had to pound my head against.”
When she was laid off from her last marketing job three years ago, Hansel, who lives outside of Middleburg, Va., decided to start her own talk-radio show.
“I didn’t think earlier about how talk radio is even more of a man’s world,” she says. But it felt like the right decision. Hansel’s husband, who’d co-hosted a radio talk show about environmental economics, had been pushing her to make a demo; everywhere he went, he heard talk-radio fans bemoaning the dearth of female voices on the air.
In 2002, Hansel recorded a conversation between herself and friend Lara Dyan, 36, who lives in New York City. The two had struck up a fast friendship while working for a telecom company years earlier. Since meeting, the two had mostly e-mailed and talked on the phone, but on the few occasions they’d actually met in person, they’d drawn an audience.
“We were at the Ritz Carlton at Tyson’s Corner, having cosmos,” recalls Dyan. “The hostess almost fell over the back of the couch we were sitting on trying to eavesdrop on our conversation,” which she remembers was about their love lives.
Hansel’s husband played the women’s demo for a radio consultant, who was immediately receptive. The consultant found Hansel and Dyan a wealthy private investor, and soon, the two were on the air with ChickChat. Syndicated by Sirius Radio, the show airs every weekday afternoon from 2 to 4 p.m. Eastern Standard Time; it’s also online at chickchatradio.com.
Once a week or so, Hansel and Dyan will invite a guest—recent ones include Cosmopolitan Editor in Chief Kate White and relationship guru Greg Behrendt, author of He’s Just Not That Into You. But the rest of the time, it’s just the two of them yakking: Hansel talks about living in the country, her marriage, her kids; Dyan about being single in Manhattan.
“We’re kind of like Sex and the City meets Desperate Housewives,” Hansel says, nailing the show’s anti-Lifetime schtick. She never tires of advising her listeners to join her in the war against frumpiness: “Just because you’re a mom or a single woman who turned 35 doesn’t mean you have to be boring. Go out, get a tattoo if you have to, wear a do-rag, go try out for cheerleader.”
But Hansel and Dyan aren’t afraid to tackle the hard topics: During a recent episode titled “Would You Eat Chalk?” they giggled about pica, a condition that makes people want to eat things such as chalk, raw rice, and paint.
ChickChat, however, will not be tackling the really hard topics: “If you just get on and talk about rape and hunger every day,” says Hansel, “[it’s] a death knell for talk radio.” She insists on sidestepping politics—although during last year’s presidential elections, she and Dyan did debate who the cuter candidate was (“Definitely Bush”). The rest-from-reality formula seems to be working. Hansel estimates that ChickChat averages 100,000 listeners per quarter-hour.
When asked if she’s a feminist, Hansel says, “I don’t think they’d have me.” After all, she’s a former NFL cheerleader who likes Barbie and loves beauty pageants.
But ask her about talk radio, and she does start to sound like a bit of a bra-burner: “We’re over half the population, and there’s just nothing for us to listen to. Men are making the programming decisions,” she says. “Somebody’s got to change the world.”
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Photograph by Charles Steck.