'The Bert Show' star honors her Tennessee home

You really can go home again, according to radio host Melissa Carter, who makes that trip every morning on the Nashville airwaves.

Carter, a native of Columbia, Tenn., is co-host of the Atlanta-based "The Bert Show," a nationally syndicated show broadcast in 14 major cities including Nashville. She's also Atlanta's first openly gay radio personality. In 2007, she was named Grand Marshal of the local Gay Pride parade, a testament to her large following within the community.

"The Bert Show," now syndicated for Nashville's new Top 40 station, I-106 FM, has drawn significant positive feedback since it first aired in June. Carter feels fortunate that her career is being spotlighted in her home state.

"My brother, sister and mother all live in the Nashville area, so I’m proud to be back in Nashville in this way," she said. "The beauty of Nashville is that it's really a small town, there are just a lot of people in it. There's an identity to it. I appreciate the fact that Nashville honors the past. It's a growing city, but it doesn't abandon its roots."

Carter's career began with a brief stint at Middle Tennessee State University, but she transferred before her sophomore year to University of Tennessee-Knoxville, where she majored in communications with an emphasis in TV news. Upon graduating, she took a telemarketing job with Turner Broadcasting.

She eventually secured a writing job with the morning show at Atlanta's X99 in 1995. In 2001, Bert Weiss joined sister station Q100 to produce "The Bert Show" and hired Carter for a news-anchor slot. Though her career was advancing at a rapid pace, she was experiencing difficulty in her personal life.

"In 1997, I came down with a cold," she said. "I learned there’s a reason they take all those tests---blood pressure, heart rate---at the doctor. At 27, I learned that I had chronic renal failure transplant. At first, even though I was going to the doctor regularly, I didn't take it as seriously as I should. Then I started dialysis at 31 and was getting my transplant at 32."

These unexpected life events had a profound effect on Carter. At first, she felt isolated in her own busy world. By finally sharing the news of her bout with cancer, she experienced new energy and clarity.

"Illness can make you feel like the loneliest person in the world but also part of a huge community," she said. "I was literally hiding it at work. Then I shared it on air and suddenly you hear of all these people to have had something like this happen to them."

Carter was off air for a couple months, and she returned to work with a new perspective and a commitment to living without regret. She's demonstrated thisdedication through her charitable work. Atlanta's Piedmont Hospital includes a wing with Carter's name---"something that will hopefully outlast my life," she says---and she volunteers regularly with the National Kidney Foundation, the American Kidney Fund and the Georgia Transplant Foundation. She also competes in the biennial U.S. Transplant Games, winning two silvers and a bronze since her debut performance in 2004.

Another cause close to her heart is the fight for gay rights. Carter has been out to the public since 1997, when she participated in a radio dating segment while employed at 99X. She insists that she felt no fear in speaking publicly about her personal life.

"There are plenty of DJs across the country who are gay," she admitted. "I've been in this business for fifteen years with the same people and have never had any problems. Now that I’m much older, I wish I could’ve been honest with everybody a lot sooner."

Opening up to her family about her homosexuality was a significant emotional hurdle. She attributes her survival to a "fiery personality" and their slow but steady acceptance.

The city of Atlanta has also shown her great support, and Carter notes that one of the most rewarding parts of her job is reading mail from people who are struggling with their own sexuality.

"I’ve never received a piece of hate mail for (being gay)," she said. "I have gotten hate mail, but never for being gay. One of the things that’s frustrated me is that New York and L.A. are always talked about (as gay-friendly locations). I’m in the heart of the South and have done whatI’ve done. It's never hurt my career. Radio, more so than any other medium, allows that strong communication between listener and host."

Though she's one of Atlanta's most respected radio personalities, she remains true to her Tennessee roots, proclaiming herself both a Titans and Volunteers fan. But not all of Nashville's offerings are to her liking.

"I hate country music and I don't know how to two-step," Carter says with a laugh. "It was definitely a rebellion against my parents who loved traditional country music. I do appreciate Nashville and it's certainly the music capital of the world. I totally believe in the energy in a place. So many artists come down to Music Row and use recording studios. It's great."

Though her show is broadcast on Top 40 stations, she recognizes that the genre boundaries in the music industry are now blurred, giving artists more platforms to reach new fans.

"There's a new generation of musicians who don't care about labels," she said. "I think the term 'crossover' is dated. An artist like Taylor Swift represents musicians who don’t have to stay within the lines."

Carter and her partner of five years, Katie, often argue over the radio dial during long road trips ("She just loves country music!" Carter exclaims in disbelief.) Despite their musical differences, the couple live together near downtown Atlanta, though they won't marry until it becomes legal in the United States.

"I'm not gonna take scraps from the straight table," she explained. "One thing I’m hoping is that now that it's such a hot button topic, that we can start to bring actual change. I've always lived by these words: you have to be willing to fight for something you may not see the rewards for."

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