A lot of siblings use the weekend to call each other and catch up. Few, though, have strangers across the country eavesdropping, or joining the conversation.
The five Dolan sisters will be doing just that on Saturday, when their radio program "Satellite Sisters" debuts on KABC-AM (790) and other ABC network stations. The show, which originated with a two-year run on public radio in 2000, features the five women, ranging in age from 37 to 47, chatting about subjects from momentous to minuscule.
"The core idea of our show is, we want to talk about the things real people talk about, the way real people talk about them," said Liz Dolan, the show's creator, who co-hosts with her youngest sister, Lian.
They're joined in Los Angeles by middle sister Sheila, and they connect with Monica, the second-youngest, in Portland, Ore., and with Julie, the oldest, in Moscow. The result is only slightly more formatted than a family conference call.
"The sound and the subject matter is exactly what we want it to be -- it's spontaneous. It sounds like we're not trying to be 'professional broadcasters,' " Lian said.
Scheduled topics for this week's 6 to 9 a.m. show include identity theft, children in Afghanistan and workplace stress. On one recent program, they hashed out themes ranging from the portrayal of women in advertising and homeland security to losing your keys and the etiquette of gift-giving. When Sheila talked about her distaste for receiving gift certificates, because "I'm forced to go to that store, essentially," she was met with a round of derision from her sisters.
"People like the sound of people who like each other," Liz said. "Within that, you can talk about things that are very serious, or very silly."
Lian said the result resonates with listeners, who she said tell the Dolans, "Boy, you remind me of my cousins when we get together."
"We're like your family, without the fights," she said.
"We wanted," Liz added, " to do conversation radio, not talk radio."
She got the idea for the show after quitting her job as vice president of global marketing for Nike and realizing that among all the programs on talk radio, "something was missing -- the way women talk when they talk to each other." Liz pitched the idea to her sisters on a weekend get-together while they simmered in a Calistoga mud bath.
"She might as well have said, 'What if we get into a rocket and go to the moon?' It was such an impossibility," Lian said. So, they figured, why not agree?
"They were humoring me," Liz said. "Now I've got the last laugh. Now they all have to get up at 5 in the morning."
But waking early to do the show live -- unlike its earlier, taped incarnation -- allows the Dolans to take calls from their pool of listeners. And since its inception, the program has spawned a book, "Uncommon Senses," and a regular column in Oprah Winfrey's O magazine.
"We'd like a live Broadway musical," Lian said, "but that may never happen."
Erik Braverman, program director at KABC, said the show appealed to his station and the network as a whole because "the concept is unique to talk radio. The idea is fresh and innovative, and things that are fresh and innovative are rare in TV and radio.
"They're proven to have an audience and a following," he said. "The people who listen to them are fiercely loyal." He acknowledged that the majority of the talk-radio audience is men, fans of political-issue shows such as Rush Limbaugh's or Larry Elder's. "This is something I think can make our station appeal to a female audience," he said of the Sisters, but stressed that men can also enjoy the program.
"I watch 'The View' just as much as women do," Braverman said of the ABC television show in which Barbara Walters leads a five-woman discussion group. He compared the experience to Democrats listening to Republicans on talk radio. "You get to hear a perspective that's not your own. It allows you to sort of look through the keyhole," he said. "I love the show, and on radio, these women have the same opportunity."
Because of similarities in discussion format and in gender, "View" comparisons are common. But Liz Dolan prefers a different analogue. "Our show is like 'Sex and the City,' with less sex and multiple cities," she said.
Budget cuts hit public stations
Earlier this week, as two Southland public-radio stations were appealing to listeners for money, they discovered that finances are even tighter than they thought. KKJZ-FM (88.1) and KCRW-FM (89.9) were in the middle of fund drives Monday when the Bush administration released its proposed 2004 budget. The plan cuts a Department of Commerce program paying for equipment upgrades at public TV and radio stations, and instead suggests that the Corp. for Public Broadcasting make up the difference by taking $100 million from its $380 million budget.
The shift would take a large bite out of the money that the federal entity hands out to about 700 public radio stations every year, accounting for about 13% of their budgets, on average.