For the longest time, Rita Daniels didn’t consider herself a morning person. But now in her supercharged role as news director, morning host and reporter for 93.5 KNCE-FM, she arrives at 5 a.m. at the radio station’s irreverent location: an Airstream bus outside of Taos Mesa Brewing.
Without hesitation, Daniels dives in by reading the news wire, making calls, fact checking and preparing her newscasts. The morning show, “Wake Up, Taos! with Rita Daniels,” airs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 7-9 a.m. Starting in January, the show will broadcast five days a week.
“I come in early and I’m on the air hosting and playing music and anchoring,” Daniels said. “I always do several rounds of news headlines. I find out what is the latest breaking news, not only in Taos, but in our region of New Mexico and southern Colorado.”
Daniels has a deep well of life experience and accomplished journalism skills. But perhaps most intriguing is the fact that she grew up here. Daniels graduated from Taos High School in 1997.
“My parents were hippies. We moved into the big city of Taos, out of the rural country in Abiquiú. Back then, there was no school choice, which I find fascinating as an education reporter. Now there is so much choice,” she said.
When asked what it was like to grow up in Taos, Daniels explains that her mother was a librarian and they went to Taos Pueblo for feast days. Her mother tried to raise her in the Catholic Church, so as a young girl, Daniels attended Mass in Spanish. “We had no TV. We relied on radio for entertainment and connection to the outside world,” Daniels said.
Perhaps this culturally diverse upbringing could explain why Jerry Schwartz, one of KNCE’s founding partners, calls Daniels “a natural-born ‘newsie.’”
“Rita is multitalented as a broadcaster and morning show host. She is able to combine her infectious love for pursuing and creating original news content with her affinity for people and our community. She has a great sense for finding stories that impact our community,” he said.
Daniels knows what she is doing. Prior to joining KNCE, she was a general assignment reporter in public radio. Based in Albuquerque for four years, she served as the local host of “All Things Considered” on National Public Radio (NPR). She reported on everything from crime to the environment, oil and gas, the arts and education – and won top awards for her insights.
“Pretty early on, I started being recognized by the New Mexico Broadcasters Association for ongoing coverage of various beats. From 2013 to 2016, I have won several awards, such as best feature work and best breaking news in the state. I was competing in the largest market in New Mexico up against television as well. It is quite an honor. I have also been recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists,” Daniels said.
Schwartz, too, makes note of her solid credentials. “We were impressed with her work with NPR and were wanting to expand KNCE from mostly music to having an inclusive morning show that focuses on the various issues that affect and inspire Taoseños,” he said.
Daniels reflects on her Albuquerque reporting days without sentimentality. “Initially, there was this sense that I was living in this impoverished, high-crime, politically corrupt environment because those were the stories I was hearing on the news and reading in the paper. The gift of being a general assignment reporter taught me how to balance stories and find the beautiful stories in the news, even if there are sad and tragic elements to it. I learned about our state and who lives here,” said Daniels.
Schwartz says Daniels makes constructive and positive contributions to the community through her platform. Tuning into her show, a listener will discover a mix of news, music and features. As an example on one particular day, Daniels had an interview with an award-winning composer who is a Wurlitzer fellow. This composer has synesthesia (the ability to see color related to sound) and has done some painting.
The rhythm of Daniels’ day includes producing news for the afternoon and producing features for the following day. As soon as her radio show wraps ups at 9 a.m., she leaves the station and is out in the world.
Her interest in people and her empathy have been long-running threads throughout the fabric of her life. Daniels attended Emerson College in Boston, where she had her first radio show as a young undergrad. “It was a Sunday night show called ‘Boston Blues Boogie’ and featured blues musicians. I’d go out to open mics and meet old-timers who would come in wearing three-piece red velvet suits and bringing in slide guitars. I would focus on one artist per show,” she said.
Daniels also was a founding producer of “Snap Judgment,” NPR’s entertainment show. This show was seminal in giving rise to the hot trend of storytelling programs sweeping the nation today.
NPR’s Bob Edwards once wrote that radio is a collection of people, programs and genres spanning generations and having nothing in common but the microphone and an audience.
While the presence of an anchorwoman on the air today is commonplace, Daniels stands on the shoulders of pioneering radio women, such as Mary Margaret McBride, who attracted about 8 million listeners to her daily broadcast during the 1940s. Daniels is aware that radio is a feast for the auditory sense, making it possible for people to feel present at events occurring far away.
“I go around town with my microphone all the time,” she said. “People know me with my microphone. I think there’s power in hearing voices. I capture the sounds of our community and of our time. One time, I was interviewing the cross-country track team and a young girl told me, ‘I just have to keep going.’”