The Journal Gazette
Sunday, August 01, 2021 1:00 am

Podcast provides 2nd chance

Dwenger grad's job pivot uplifts others, herself

BLAKE SEBRING | For The Journal Gazette

When Lucia Morales was a little younger than her current 10 years, she described the first day of school as being “ex-cared” – a combination of excited and scared. That's how Laurel Morales, Lucia's mother, describes making a huge career change.

The 1991 Bishop Dwenger graduate was a 20-year multiaward-winning radio journalist working for an NPR station in Flagstaff, Arizona, when she realized three years ago she needed to do something different. She was burned out by the relentless daily grind and the trauma of some of the stories she'd covered.

Then on a drive home from Phoenix, she became distracted and almost slammed into a rock wall.

“That is for certain a moment where it shook me and I thought that could have been it,” she said. “Is this the way I really want to go out, having not fulfilled this dream?”

So she pitched her bosses a podcast plan that would allow longer-form storytelling, letting her dig deeper and tell more compelling narratives. They agreed to a three-month assignment to produce seven podcasts, and they were well-received and found a loyal following.

But after three months, the radio station needed her back doing her regular job of filling air time. Morales understood, but also better understood this was her time to switch. Through counseling work, she'd realized she was suffering a secondary form of post-traumatic stress disorder, and this was her moment to seize, and she left the station.

That's when Morales wanted to do something else and began a new podcast program called “2 Lives.”

It is named after the Confucius saying, “We all have two lives. The second begins the moment we realize we have only one.” The theme of the 20-to-30-minute recordings is about people who have faced darkness and how those incidents changed the trajectory of their lives.

The first season of “2 Lives” consisted of seven episodes from March 19 to April 30. The stories are unique, intriguing and come at listeners from unexpected angles. The stories are so sharp, the descriptions so crisp, they don't require video. And once the tales are started, they almost require they be completed.

“We got such great feedback that these stories were meaningful and people were looking for connection and found it in these stories of people who were courageous and resilient,” she said.

On June 15, Morales started her second season at The first show was about Hopi Tewa artist Duane Koyawena and his battle with alcohol.

Mirroring his father's struggles, Koyawena was failing and had been pulled over for four DWIs, including three felonies. Help from his sister and the birth of a daughter finally forced Koyawena to change and end the cycle. Though he's been sober for 12 years, it's still not an easy story to tell.

“It's just a lot of how much she really digs into the story,” Koyawena said. “She really makes it comfortable to convey what's inside. There was some depth and she was very aware of how much to dig and if it was uncomfortable, and that really allows you to express and share.”

Morales' stories, full of empathy and compassion, focus on compelling subjects and can appeal to a wide audience regardless of geography. Her voice is understated, soothing and smooth as she effortlessly transitions through subjects, telling the tales in her own way.

“Laurel brings a genuine compassion and gentle curiosity to her storytelling,” said Camila Kerwin, her editor and podcaster. “She cares about the people whose stories she's telling – they can sense that, and that's why they open up to her, often about really difficult experiences.”

The podcasts allow Morales more time at home with her husband, Matt, and daughters Scarlett and Lucia. Sometimes, she'll take a study break to jump on the trampoline for 10 minutes with the girls before heading back into the studio.

Morales' radio journey started when she was interning at a San Francisco station 20 years ago. A woman who had been blind since birth called in to the station commenting that she had never been able to imagine what a whale looked like until she heard a story on the station.

“I thought, wow, something so powerful, I would love to be a part of that,” Morales said. “That's where I fell in love with radio.”

Her own journey to radio started when she was 8 years old and received a Sanyo cassette recorder for Christmas, which she used to terrorize her two older siblings by recording their misdeeds. After graduating from Bishop Dwenger, she attended Miami (Ohio) University to study English literature and women's studies before bouncing around internships and then attending Northwestern University for her master's in journalism. After taking the job in Flagstaff, she met Matt within a month.

Morales hopes the podcast will eventually make money, but her real purpose is to honor the people and their stories. After all, they are trusting her to tell them with care.

“There are stories of people who have faced darkness, as we all have at some point in our lives,” she said. “These are all people who have transformed somehow in a surprising way. All of these people I found amazing and inspiring and they have all evolved in some way.”

And, really, so has Morales.

“I have looked forward almost every day to this job and I've never worked harder,” she said. “I want to get it right because these people are sharing the most vulnerable pieces of their lives.”

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