Twenty-two years and counting for ‘Jonathan and Kitty’

The popular Madison morning show radio co-hosts have made the Best of Madison list every year since 2003.
Radio morning co-hosts Jonathan and Kitty stand on either side of a Bucky Badger statue that is dressed like a Madison hippie
Courtesy of Kitty Dunn
Jonathan Suttin and Kitty Dunn, popular Madison morning show radio cohosts since 1999.

The other day it dawned on me that this September will mark 20 years since the 9/11 attacks, an event so seismic most people remember where they were when it happened.

I know I do. I was in the studio of 105.5 WMMM Triple M radio in Madison. I appeared every Tuesday morning to talk about the city’s shenanigans and the characters who populated my newspaper column.

The Triple M morning show was called “Jonathan and Kitty in the Morning.”

Two decades later, that show is still called “Jonathan and Kitty in the Morning,” and if that doesn’t qualify as seismic, it’s certainly remarkable.

Jonathan Suttin and Kitty Dunn have been doing their show — same time, same station — since March 1999, 22 years this month, in an industry notorious for fast goodbyes and constant change.

The show itself has not changed a great deal, either.

“The basic concept of the music format,” Suttin said, when I caught up with the duo by phone last week, “is we’ll play stuff you know and we’ll introduce you to new artists you haven’t heard.”

Dunn still does the news, though less of it now that people get school closings and other matters of import sent straight to their phones. She even does a bit where she’ll just read a headline, like this one recently that pretty much said it all: “Two Irish Nuns Busted Breaking Covid Quarantine Rules to Attend an Exorcism.”

What has endured is their back-and-forth banter, often humorous, generally (but not always) affectionate, informed now by a shared history rare in radio.

Few would have predicted it 22 years ago. After the first “Jonathan and Kitty in the Morning” show aired on March 15, 1999, station management took them to lunch. It was smiles all around, and then Dunn said, “I think it should be ‘Kitty and Jonathan in the Morning.’”

Management developed an intense interest in their place settings. No one spoke.

“I had to convince her later,” Suttin says, of keeping his name first. “It took a six-pack of Leinie’s.”

But Dunn had arrived first at Triple M. Originally from Stevens Point, she had a couple of other radio jobs and a stint with the Wisconsin Assembly Democratic caucus before landing at the radio station in 1994. She worked the morning show for five-plus years with John Urban prior to Suttin’s arrival in 1999.

Suttin is originally from the Chicago suburb of Deerfield. He, too, had numerous radio gigs prior to Triple M. One of them was for Indianapolis-based Network Indiana, which provided newscasts and talk shows to small stations around the state. Suttin did news. One of the program hosts was Mike Pence, the future vice president.

“I would sometimes be sitting near him when he prepared his show,” Suttin recalls. “Once I said to him, ‘Dude, do you really believe that stuff or are you just doing it for the radio?’ He said he was just having fun.”

Well, if radio isn’t fun, why do it? Dunn recalls the time she and Suttin interviewed rocker Robert Plant. “We were told that if we mentioned Led Zeppelin, he’d hang up,” Dunn says. “We were only supposed to ask about his current musical project.”

At one point Suttin said, “Do you still live the rock and roll lifestyle?” Plant replied, “Can you tell me what that is?” Dunn said, “Wearing leather pants and jumping up and down on the furniture.”

“If you can come up with that at this hour of the morning,” Plant said, “I’d like to get to know you better. What’s your phone number?”

Dunn didn’t give it up.

Fifteen years ago, I helped — through my newspaper column — with Suttin and Dunn’s ill-fated attempt to get Madison an official city song. “It was a flippant idea I had,” Dunn says, “because I saw St. Louis was trying to decide on an official city song.”

Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, a friend of the show, got involved. I personally lobbied hard for Lou and Peter Berryman’s “Oh, Wonderful Madison.” Others were nominated and Cieslewicz appointed a commission to sort it out.

It failed. After a year, they’d listed four songs as finalists. There was one last meeting to pick the winner. Cieslewicz emerged from the meeting and announced, “We have taken the four songs and narrowed them to five.”

For a time, I think Madison really had five official city songs, but the whole thing appears to have faded away.

The ‘Jonathan and Kitty’ show, meanwhile, remains.

“We just kind of keep going,” Suttin says. “If the key fob opens the door, we know we have another day.”

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