‘Spirit Mornings’ radio hosts give listeners much more than weather updates, small talk
September 21, 2023
“It is a Spirit Morning in the Spirit Catholic Radio Network. I’m Bruce McGregor along with Jen Brown …”
If so, you might be hearing in your head the smooth voices of McGregor and Brown, morning fixtures of Catholic radio in Nebraska, western Iowa and beyond.
They might be part of your weekday morning routine as you prepare for work or school or listen to them on your drive.
Like other morning radio hosts, they’ll update you on the time and weather and make small talk. But mostly, as Catholic radio hosts, they’ll give you prayer and inspiration as you begin your day.
They’ll remind you of Jesus’ love for you, as they did on a recent morning.
“Let Him penetrate your heart today, this hour,” Brown beseeched listeners.
And if your day goes sideways by noon, “just go right back to Him,” she said, “and say ‘Jesus, I need to feel Your love.’ And let Him love you. … Turn to Him. Let Him love you.”
With locally and nationally known guests on the program, McGregor and Brown offer listeners Catholic perspectives on current issues, help them understand Bible passages, point them to Catholic resources and events, raise awareness of needs in the community and provide ways for the listeners to help.
The broadcasters’ reach is wide.
Spirit Catholic Radio’s signals reach more than 2.1 million people, covering 95% of Nebraska and extending into Wyoming, South Dakota, Kansas, Missouri, Wisconsin and Iowa, according to Valeri McMahon, marketing director.
With its mobile app and internet streaming, Spirit Catholic Radio reaches even more people across the nation and around the world – with Spirit Catholic Mornings as the network’s flagship program. Listener surveys consistently give the show a top ranking, McMahon said.
The show’s hosts are “average pew sitters,” Brown said in an interview at the Spirit Catholic Radio station in southwest Omaha. “That’s who we represent on Spirit Mornings, your average pew sitters.”
“Yeah, just reminding everyone we’re on a journey to Heaven,” McGregor added. “That’s what you’ve got to be mindful of.”
On their show they try to ask guests questions and discuss topics that would be relevant to average Catholics. Like their audience members, these two hosts have had ups and downs in their lives, joys, challenges and crosses. Those experiences help shape their live show.
After partnering together for 10 years, their back-and-forth comments continue when the microphone is off.
“I mean, we’ve been working together for a long time,” Brown said. “The old adage ‘finishing each other’s sentences’ works out fine because we’re good friends, and we’ve been hanging out together a long time.”
Both are radio broadcasting veterans who found success at secular music stations before they joined Spirit Catholic Radio. Brown has 32 years in the field, while McGregor has 52, for a combined 84 years of experience.
McGregor – who’s now part-time at Spirit Catholic Radio – worked at stations in his hometown of Duluth, Minnesota; as well as in Minneapolis; Grand Forks, North Dakota; Springfield, Illinois; Omaha; Detroit; Orlando, Florida; and Baltimore.
“So it’s kind of like an Air Force brat in radio; you move around a lot,” he said. “I was a program director for rock stations. I had a pretty hot hand programming. Every station that I went to was successful. I had a pretty good thing going with that.”
He had the opportunity to reach a huge market in New York but opted to head back to Omaha and put his faith to work, joining the still-fledgling Spirit Catholic Radio in 2004.
As McGregor puts it, he “got tired of chasing ratings” and decided to “start chasing souls.”
He has worked as both an on-air personality and program director at Spirit Catholic Radio. After nearly 20 years there, the avid golfer and member of St. Stephen the Martyr Parish in Omaha, now puts in just four or five hours each weekday.
McGregor is the more laid-back of the two morning show hosts.
“We call him the wise sage,” said Jim Carroll, executive director of Spirit Catholic Radio. “He has years of experience. … He’s going to be a listener more than a talker. But when he speaks,” everyone at the station listens, Carroll said.
“And with Jen … she is high energy. You can tell that when she’s speaking, she has a smile on her face, she loves what she does.”
Brown – a member of Corpus Christi Parish in Council Bluffs, Iowa – has become the more public face of Spirit Catholic Radio, appearing at numerous events for the station and speaking or emceeing at dinners and fundraisers.
“Since we’re a nonprofit organization, we have to sing for our supper,” she said. “So that means events, that means going out to dinners and traveling. We are a radio network, so we go all the way across the state of Nebraska.”
The events often require overnights in hotels and extra time and energy. It’s physically demanding work, Brown said, especially because of her physical limitations, caused by a motorcycle-SUV collision 24 years ago. She has limited use of one leg and walks with a brace.
“But I find that by your gifting of yourself to a mission, the Holy Spirit helps you, carries you through,” she said.
“I get energy from people, but I also get all kinds of energy from being near the Tabernacle and the Eucharistic face of Jesus. … I get energy from that silence as well. … That’s been one of the things that I’ve learned here is how to slow down.”
Brown and McGregor infuse their work day with prayer.
The two begin their day in the station’s Eucharistic chapel with a prayer to the Holy Spirit and a litany of saints, asking for their intercession.
“Then Bruce says a lovely prayer, Brown said, “just to tie it together.”
It’s a prayer that McGregor has fashioned over the years:
“Lord Jesus, help us to be witnesses of Your love and presence in our lives. Be with our listeners and our guests this day and every day as we bring forward the true teachings of the Catholic Church, Your true Church on earth.”
The prayer is “perfect for what we’re about to embark on,” Brown said. “Then we say ‘All for You, Jesus. All for You.’”
“Then we walk into the studio and turn the microphones on,” she said. “We’re just kind of like, ‘Here we go, Lord. We want to bring the masses to You. We want people to hear what Your good news is.”
“And away we go,” McGregor said.
‘THE LORD’S GOT YOU’
Sometimes the unexpected happens, like on a recent September morning when the two weren’t able to connect by phone with a planned guest. Only at the last minute were they able to reach him.
They use “radio tricks” for all kinds of problems: to help stretch out time if they need to while waiting for a guest or for a problem to be fixed, or to help them come up with a word that’s on the tip of their tongue.
They practice ahead of time words they might have trouble pronouncing. The two scribble down words or phrases to help lead them to the next question in an interview or to help frame a question right.
The two jump in to help each other on air when needed.
Panicking when things go wrong only makes things worse, Brown said. Instead, she does the opposite, “because I know the Holy Spirit is at work.”
“So all I do is take a deep breath and slow things down.”
When problems arise on a live program, it can be tough, McGregor said. “But the Lord’s got you.”
Brown said she often reminds herself, especially in the chapel, “that this is Jesus’ radio station, and I’m small and He’s big.”
She said she knows that the same Christ in the Tabernacle “my entire life has been preparing me to do this. He’s been preparing me through the struggles, through the difficulties, through the joys and the crosses.
“I’ve been prepared to be a witness for Him, to ask correct questions for a guest to share.”
She knows the same is true for McGregor and his experiences.
Now they use their experiences and backgrounds “in a different light,” Brown said, to inspire and encourage others.
“But we have to make sure that we continue to … keep that focus, keep that humble discernment of heart, make sure we stay with Jesus, be a servant of God and continue to do what He wants us to do.”
The move to working part-time in the last couple years has allowed McGregor to help his wife – and former morning co-host, Kris McGregor – with her “Discerning Hearts” podcast apostolate.
“And like I said, I play a wee bit of golf,” McGregor said. “I’m playing more golf this year than I have in a long time.”
In October, he and Kris will reach their 40th wedding anniversary. They have three children in their 30s, the “best kids in the world,” according to their father. Two are on the autism spectrum.
McGregor said he has no immediate plans for retirement. “We’ll leave that up to the Lord.”
In a past radio life, he interviewed and met rock legends like Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, Sammy Hagar…
Name a rock musician, he said, and he’s likely met that person.
A rock-n-roll lifestyle and its lures can “take you away from where you need to be,” McGregor said, “but eventually God pulls you back.”
Now he and Brown interview celebrities in the Catholic world, like musician Matt Maher, speaker and author Father Mike Schmitz, bishops and cardinals.
McGregor is a lifelong Catholic, but like many people, he was “not always practicing the way I should have.”
“I mean, when you’re in rock radio, there’s all of the temptations that go with being at concerts and hanging with rock stars and all that kind of stuff. You get a little full of yourself from time to time, and Mass isn’t quite as important as it is now.
“But my mom made sure I went to Mass, so that was imprinted in there, along with the Rosary.”
McGregor said he and his wife began praying the Rosary together around 1988, when he and Kris were living in Detroit and she discovered Mother Angelica and the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN).
Kris, he said, was unbaptized, until she was 19 and working at a hospital where she saw victims of horrific traffic accidents and abortion. “That kind of changed her perspective on stuff. … It had a profound impact on her, so she became Catholic.”
After they were married, she led the way back in rediscovering the faith, “and that kind of pulled me along,” McGregor said.
Brown started as a DJ at a roller rink and nightclub before giving radio a shot. “I opened up the phone book, and I called every station in the phone book,” she said. “One guy called me back and said ‘Hey, why don’t you come babysit my AM station on Sunday mornings?’”
“I got super lucky,” Brown said.
Once she started a radio career, she was hooked.
“I love being in radio,” she said. “I love the idea of a microphone turning on and being able to broadcast. I love that feeling of broadcasting.”
Brown worked for a handful of local country and rock stations before rising to a nationally syndicated station.
Then she followed her heart to Spirit Catholic Radio.
“There was a completely different feel,” she said, one she got excited about, “talking about the good news of Jesus Christ, with Jesus on the other side of the wall” in the Eucharistic chapel at the station.
“I want to draw people into Christ,” Brown said. “I want to draw people to listen to the radio station, but the primary objective is to draw people into Christ.”
Her life experiences – including being a single mother and crash survivor – shapes who she is on the radio program, she said.
The collision happened on an autumn day in 1999, when her son, Jackson, was just 2½-years old.
“My brother and I were on my dad’s Harley – a cherry red Harley Fat Boy – and we were just a few miles from home on our way back from a nice ride in Glenwood, Iowa, watching the trees turn colors as we’d done many times,” she said.
On the other side of the highway, an SUV driver swerved to avoid hitting a car ahead, crossed into the oncoming lane and collided with the motorcycle head on.
Her brother, Josh, who was 22, died almost immediately.
“I was launched off the back of the bike and flew about 70 feet and broke everything that you could possibly break: a skull fracture, bleeding on the brain, internal bleeding” and fractures to her arm and the area of her pelvis and hip joints.
“It’s called acetabular fractures. … It’s where your hip and your pelvis meet. … They were both broke, but this one on this side completely dislodged and ripped through all of the tendons, ligaments and muscles on this side.
“So I have metal brackets that hold my pelvis together, but I also severed the sciatica nerve at the spine. So that’s why I have a brace. It keeps my foot at a right angle. I don’t have any feeling or use of this whole half of my foot.”
“I didn’t stand for three months.”
Her parents helped care for Jackson while she recovered and underwent 16 months of physical therapy.
“Praise be to God for my parents,” Brown said. “I was in a hospital bed in their living room for quite some time.”
“I survived,” she said. “I got to raise my son. He’s a wonderful, thriving member of society who loves Jesus.”
She started working for KVSS when Jackson was in high school. When she became an empty-nester, she said, she was able to be even more focused on KVSS’s mission.
Brown and McGregor bring their unique experiences and personalities to “Spirit Catholic Mornings.”
“We’re different human beings,” McGregor acknowledged.
“Which is good,” according to Brown. “And I think it’s good for our listeners, too. It’d be kind of boring if we both were homogenized, the same bent on everything.
“Bruce is more laid back, I’m more upbeat. We bring a different view to a story or questions.”
“We have a really good time,” she said. “We like a lot of the same things. We are kind of Star Wars nerds and Marvel nerds … football nerds.”
“We’re having fun doing the morning show and learning a lot,” McGregor said, and working with a good person always helps.
Despite their differences, they are grounded by the mission of Jesus Christ, Brown said. She calls His mission their “guiding star,” and “it doesn’t really matter how far apart we are on the other things because of our guiding star.”
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