Cooking Host Marilyn Harris Thanks Her Loyal Listeners

Jan 23, 2020

Marilyn Harris wants to thank the loyal listeners who tuned in to Cooking With Marilyn for nearly 33 years – until she was terminated last week in the nationwide iHeartMedia radio cuts Wednesday, Jan. 15.

She asked to do one final show last Saturday – but managers of iHeartMedia's WKRC-AM wouldn't let her say goodbye. So I will.

Harris hosted "Cooking with Marilyn" from 1987 to 2020.
Credit Courtesy Marilyn Harris

"I got a call and was told, 'iHeart is laying off 1,000 people today, and you're on the list, so don't bother to come in on Saturday,' " she told me.

"I called Tony Bender, an old friend at the station, and asked him, 'Can I come in Saturday and do one last show, and thank my listeners?' He called me back and said, 'No, they don't want you in the building anymore.'

"I just wanted to say 'Thank you' to the listeners. I would have been nice (on the air). I wouldn't have said anything nasty. I wanted my listeners to reminisce. I wanted to know if there's a favorite recipe they  got from my show that they've used all their life.

"I wasn't going to say that an (expletive deleted) fired me in a phone call – because that's what they would do."

For more than 32 years, Harris arguably was Cincinnati's food authority. People listened to Cooking With Marilyn 1-4 p.m. Saturdays on WKRC-AM for recipes, cooking tips and recommendations on restaurants or wine.  

Born Marilyn Marion in Mississippi, the former beauty queen and high school valedictorian learned to cook at Le Cordon Bleu. She came to Cincinnati with her husband, Edward "EP" Harris, who taught German at the University of Cincinnati for 35 years. They were married for 54 years when he died in 2018.

One of three cookbooks by Harris.
Credit Courtesy Marilyn Harris

Harris operated the cooking school at H&S Pogue department store downtown in the 1980s, during which she started writing a column for the Enquirer's Food section. She has written three cookbooks.

She debuted on WCKY-AM in 1987 doing a one-hour show on Tuesday and Thursday. That soon grew to five days a week.  Cooking With Marilyn was so popular that WCKY-AM used her to promote the Cincinnati premiere of Rush Limbaugh's radio show. Queen City Metro buses were plastered with pictures of Harris and Limbaugh with the phrase, "From the frying pan into the fire."

When she celebrated her 20th anniversary on radio in 2007, Enquirer food writer Chuck Martin noted that Harris was once described as being "in charge of food in Cincinnati." Martin wrote: "Everyone laughed, but it is pretty much an accurate job description. Restaurant critics, food writers and trendy chefs come and go, but no one wields as much power on the local food scene as the host of weekly radio program, Cooking With Marilyn."

Harris looked back on her career when we spoke:

Credit Courtesy Marilyn Harris

RADIO DEBUT: A WCKY-AM secretary, who had taken a Pogue's "lunch and learn" class from Harris, suggested her to program director Bruce Still when the station's Tuesday and Thursday morning cooking show host left town in 1987. Years before the internet, Harris auditioned live with host Mike McMurray without bringing cookbooks or other references into the studio on.  She was hired on the spot.

"I told them that you can't look anything up live on the radio. You either have to know it, or you have to say you don't know it," she said.

RADIO FAMILY:  When she couldn't answer a question, a listener usually could.

"I felt like I developed a radio family of listeners. And they knew each other, too. One caller named Bruce would look up something, and call in to say, 'I've got it for you.' When he hadn't called in for a while, listeners would comment that they hadn't heard him recently. I had a regular caller from Oregon. She lived on a farm, and always had a rooster crowing in the background. We called it the radio rooster. I had a listener in Hawaii. I always wondered what time he had to get up to hear the show. I met so many wonderful people."

A RICH STEW: "When I first started, only women's voices were heard on the show. Years later, there were some shows that only the voices of men were heard.  Lots of men got interested in cooking during the recession. They called and asked really good questions.

"I talked to serious people and funny people. I talked to scientists. I had very intelligent people call, and people who didn't know where to start with cooking, and everything in between."

Credit Courtesy Marilyn Harris

SATURDAY'S ALL RIGHT: When Jacor Communications bought WCKY-AM in 1994, she was switched from a weekday show to 1-4 p.m. Saturdays on WKRC-AM. She welcomed the change because her consulting business – for Procter & Gamble and other companies – required a lot of travel.

"I was doing it (radio) from a phone booth in an airport, and I just couldn't do that anymore," she says. "I never wanted to do Sundays. It's a lot of hard work to talk on the radio for three hours."

BEING FIRED:  "It was a little startling. I'm fine. I'm a combination of being a little (upset), and a little relieved." Later she says, "I wasn't really surprised."

LOYAL SPONSORS:  WCKY-AM needed Harris because Trauth Dairy only wanted to sponsor a cooking show. Then came bigg's, Krogrer and dozens of local food or cooking businesses. Her show was always sold out, and made WKRC-AM lots of money, she says.

"At one point I had 12 sponsors. I had to do 12 commercials in every show, until the recession came. … I always did my own commercials. One guy called me Ruth Lyons," referring to the legendary Cincinnati TV host who did live commercials on her top-rated 50-50 Club show.

MOST REQUESTED RECIPE: "My Lean Lemon Meatloaf. I got a million calls over the years from people saying, 'My mom made a meatloaf she got from you.' " A running joke on her show was the Lemonade Cake recipe that she refused to give on the air. "It was a tacky recipe," she says.

LIFE AFTER RADIO:  With her radio show canceled, last Saturday afternoon "I went shopping and met some friends for drinks at Trio's. Three people came up to me and asked, 'What are you doing here?' "

HER LEGACY: "I always approached my radio show from being a cooking teacher.  I'd like to think people learned something, and it will stay with them. Cooking is a way of showing people you love them. I'd like to feel I made an impact on people who like to cook, or love wine."  

THE END: If another radio station calls, "I'm not interested. I've been there, and done that. I'm ready to play bridge, cook for friends, and hang out in my downtown place. It's the end of an era."

It sure is.