News & Community

After Decades of Not Being Her True Self, WYPR’s Ashley Sterner is Finally Saying Her Name on Air

Before her transition, Sterner’s on-air job and her off-air life were disconnected.
—Photography by Mike Morgan

On a Friday morning in late May, Ashley Sterner seems more conductor than radio personality. Her hands float over the audio board—pushing buttons, sliding bars, adjusting presets, and then right at that coda, comes in that voice, “This is your public radio, 88.1 WYPR.”

It’s a familiar, friendly tone that’s been gracing the local NPR affiliate for nearly 20 years. But while her job as the local Morning Edition host is old hat to Sterner—dispensing local news and witty banter during station breaks—some things have changed this past year, both small and large.

For starters, she’s abandoned her car for a bicycle and can be seen rolling up to the Charles Village station a little after 4 a.m. on a purple and pink 12-speed road bike. And in early January, she officially became Ashley on-air, after almost 18 years just using Nathan. Ashley, with her brunette curls, lovely smile, and propensity for patterned shirts and statement necklaces, is who Sterner has really been since she was a student at American University in the 1990s, after growing up in rural Pennsylvania.

“I had already started making mistakes and saying ‘Ashley’ on air,” laughs Sterner, 44, who has a delightful if slightly mercurial manner—one second ticking off broadcasting facts that only a true radio expert would know and the next indulging in a bit of good-natured self-deprecation. “I have been Ashley in my personal life since I was 18 years old. My wife has never called me anything but Ashley. I feel like I’ve always been Ashley.”

But for so long, her on-air job and her off-air life were disconnected. It was emotionally draining to be two different people simultaneously.

Unlike other individuals who have done so more privately, Sterner’s transition was literally broadcast. “I don’t know how I could not do it publicly,” she shrugs. But it also took place with little fanfare. No big announcement. “I’m not the news,” she says. But in a way she is. “Obviously, I’m trans.”

It’s said with the relief of someone who had unsuccessfully tried to transition before and who had “handled” the stigma by suppressing and ignoring who she really was.

“I thought that was the price to pay to live in this world,” she says. “I thought I had to be Nathan as the price to be in radio. It turns out that I don’t have to do, either of those things.”




The pandemic was a turning point for Sterner. “When all our routines broke, so did I; I was in a very bad place,” she says. But her voice never betrayed her. Not a quiver, not a sniffle. “I was still good at portraying as much happiness as I possibly could, but I wasn’t feeling it all. And now, we live in a messed-up society, but I am personally happier than I have ever been in my life.”

There is a joy to her voice each time she gets to say Ashley Sterner. With every episode, she unlocks a little bit more of her true self.

“For my entire life, there have been pieces of me that have been partitioned away that practically no one sees,” she says. “I don’t have anything to hide and it’s liberating to just be myself all the time.”

So far everyone has been supportive, from management to listeners. “People have been nice. And the difference is, I feel like now when people are being nice to me, they are being nice to me rather than being nice to a character that I was playing for everyone’s benefit.”

After wrapping up work around noon, she rides home to Lauraville each day, happy with her quiet revolt.

“I feel like I am doing the most positive thing I can do by simply being public and present and doing my work as best as I possibly can,” says Sterner. “Existing as trans is a form of protest, isn’t it? And as such, I am doing that every day on the air.”