It can be tough being twenty-something and not quite sure what you are destined to be doing. Throw a child in the mix and already a couple failed attempts at a passionate route in life and voila—you have radio personality extraordinaire Molly Penny.
And most people trying to figure their life out.
Molly is relatable. She is friendly. You can hear it in her voice that streams the many airwaves, specifically KOWZ/KRUE radio located right here in southern Minnesota.
Molly grew up in Vienna, Virginia—a suburb of Washington, D.C. and did some moving around as a child of a father who was in the political arena. Eventually ending up in Minnesota, Molly graduated from Waseca High School in 2000. She left her small town and set off to St. Paul to attend a private art college, later switching her course to St. Paul Technical College where she studied about a year of American Sign Language. She eventually left and after the birth of her daughter moved back to Waseca.
So, she did what anyone would have done—participated in a life planning workshop (duh).
“You took a quiz to find out what you should be, and mine was a librarian or elementary school teacher,” said Molly. “I am the loudest person I know, so there is no way I should be in a library setting. Then I thought, I could be a great teacher. For me, teachers have been some of the most influential people in my life.”
And so it goes, Molly started school in Mankato to become a social studies teacher. As she was finishing up, she wound up in Owatonna and tried to get a job with the school district.
“I was actually hired on, but then later found out it wasn’t going to be available so I was stuck,” she said. “I was a single mom with now two kids so at that point I was just looking for something to make ends meet. I started at Papa Murphy’s working for minimum wage. It was a humbling experience, but I would actually sort of pray and meditate while doing the dishes, telling myself I had talents beyond what I was doing there. We could only get one radio station at the pizza place and that was KOWZ 100.9. Then one day, I had turned the dish water off just in time to hear an ad for females who were interested in working with the morning show and had experience with pop culture, current events and stuff like that. I submitted my resume. I tweaked it to showcase my personality so I would get noticed. Witty, charming, fast-thinker. I wrote the whole thing in a comical way to get their attention and it did.”
She applied for a position she was told received approximately 100 applications. Out of those 100, 20 were interviewed. And from that pool of 20 candidates, it was narrowed down to the final three who were to audition live on the air, and one of those three was Molly.
“I was nervous, but I loved it,” she said. “I wanted to grow in that position. I thought it was a long shot for me to land that job, but it would have been a dream come true. And then two weeks after the audition they called and offered me the morning show job on the spot. It was extremely part-time so I had to keep my stupid job at Papa Murphy’s and pick up another at Family Video. But I made it here every morning on time. I was dedicated.”
Dedicated enough to recruit the help of high schoolers so her kids could get to daycare and she to work on her bicycle. In case you didn’t catch that, Molly was without a vehicle. Why wouldn’t she be? Every individual who has experienced some hardships knows that not being able to independently get where you need to go is just part of it. It’s like a requirement when you are trying to get your shit together. And if any of you are wondering how Molly made it home with her kids, she strapped a Burley to the back of her bike.
Three jobs and struggling to raise two kids, but Molly made it work. Molly started her career with the part-time position on KRUE, but with her vibrant personality was offered a sales position that had opened up within the radio station. She pursued that for about 10 months, but a full-time on-air personality position was where she belonged. When one became available, Molly swooped in and couldn’t have been happier. Happiness much similar to the horse who found friendship with a squeaky rubber chicken. Yeah, that kind of happy.
She began her full-time gig on the air in October of 2012. Molly reflected on her childhood and how where she is now in life is where she was always meant to be.
“I thought the results of that life workshop was what I supposed to be doing,” said Molly. “My family thought I was supposed to be a teacher. But growing up, I actually loved radio. I listened to it religiously, everything from NPR, Rick Dees Weekly Top 40 and Casey Kasem American Top 40 countdown. And I loved music. That was my thing. Going to punk shows as a teen, collecting music and vinyl records. I actually used to record songs off the radio on to a cassette and then I would record over with the ‘Molly Penny Radio Show’. I had guests, funny bits and my brothers would get involved.”
Life does a really good job of kicking you in the wrong direction, but what screws us up the most is this picture in our head of what life should be. It happens to most of us. So where is the girl who was raising two kids on her own, working minimum wage and ruminating over a kitchen sink?
To start, she finished up her final credits at MSU and achieved her BS in social studies with a history concentration while working full-time.
“My employers were gracious enough to let me finish up my final 12 credits. I did this during a split shift so I would work the morning in Owatonna, go to school, then be back to Owatonna and on the air by 1 p.m. It’s funny, I was running late one day so I was speeding and got pulled over. I told him why I was speeding and he knew who I was. It was super cool to receive that kind of recognition.”
And she got herself a vehicle—a red 1988 Buick Oldsmobile, which she will attest was the best car she has ever had.
While being at KOWZ/KRUE, she has also took on the responsibilities as the director of social media, music and promotions. She is the cohost of the Morning Mix with Andy Gott, and she definitely isn’t the typical female assistant you hear on other radio programs.
“We are friends first so it is easy to get along with each other on the air,” Molly explained. “We split hosting duties 50/50. I am not the sidekick. I am a feminist. Like, fuck yeah I was here first!”
She is on the air in the morning on KOWZ 100.9, KRUE 92.1 in the afternoon and can also be heard on Mankato’s Hot 96.7 and Q102 out of Willmar. Adding to her glorious resume, Molly received recognition for the Best Morning Show in 2015 by our very own SCENE magazine and won another title in 2016 as Best Radio Personality. She has been on the panel of judges for the Steele County Battle of the Bands and spends much of her time volunteering or MCing events across the region.
Molly is recently married to an Owatonna native, Wes Johnson, whose proposal was so grandiose it got picked up by The Daily Mail out of London with a story titled, “So romantic! Boyfriend makes epic, blood-soaked six-minute movie proposal.” They live in Mankato with their three kids, one of which I admire dearly with her hot pink hair and Totoro leggings. And her plans for the future?
“Being a teacher is still a possible goal of mine. I could see myself retiring from this business to get a master’s to teach. I could go and teach about broadcast.”
Either way, Molly loves what she does and grants quite a bit of credit to her supportive family, husband and employers.
To all of you who are on the track of never-ending letdown like the band Nickelback, hang tight. You may have a really great story to tell someday.
Autumn Van Ravenhorst is a staff writer and columnist for SouthernMinn Scene. If you live in the Owatonna area, she’d also be happy to sell you an ad in this wonderful magazine. Drop her a line at AVanRavenhorst@owatonna.com