Louisiana native Charese Fruge is proudly a life-long radio geek. With more than 25 years in the industry, she started working in radio in high school in Baton Rouge. In August, she joined Urban One as a dual-market PD for Houston’s “Radio Now 92.1” KROI and Indy’s “Radio Now 100.9” WNOW-FM, responsible for both CHRs, while also serving as CHR Format Captain for the Urban One group.
From Baton Rouge, Fruge segued to the big time in the New Orleans market and has continued to work in top radio destinations since. Her stops include “Sophie 103.7” KSCF San Diego, “Mix 94.1” KMXB Las Vegas, “The Zone” KZZO Sacramento, “Alice 105.9” KALC Denver and “Star 98.7” KYSR Los Angeles. Loftier titles include VP of programming for CBS Radio Las Vegas and VP of programming for what is now the six-station Entercom cluster in Houston.
Fruge also worked with Republic Records as a Radio Strategist and Consultant, and continues to be a sought-after voice actor and voice over talent in the Nashville and New York areas.
She is a member of the Nevada Broadcasters Hall of Fame and in 2012 was honored with the Genii Award for “Excellence in Management” by the Alliance for Women in Media’s Southern California Chapter.
In your new role with Urban One as CHR Format Captain—and PD in Houston and Indy—how do you balance working in two markets, while also addressing the disparate needs of a major market vs a medium-size market?
I am fortunate to have worked in multiple markets and formats on more than one occasion, so I have learned to organize and prioritize, and to make sure I have a soldier to help me in every market. It’s got to be someone who understands you, thinks like you and can basically finish your sentences in case you can’t be around for everything.
As far as a major market vs. medium market, they both require the same thing for success: a passion for the brand, the lifestyle, the music and the connection with the community. The competition is fierce regardless of the market size, the politics are the same, and let’s face it, the hits are the hits. There will be tweaks that are specific to each city and its culture, but you just have to be conscious of that, knowing that some records, artists and promotions are better for one station than the other. As long as you approach both with the right passion and understanding that the dynamics around the foundation will be different for each market and brand, you will be successful.
How is the culture at Urban One… and the company’s vibe about the potential of broadcast radio in 2018?
The culture here is unlike anything I’ve experienced. I attended my first set of company meetings in October and was fascinated that the CEO (Alfred Liggins) sat through all of the sessions with genuine interest. The warmth in the room at these meetings explains why everyone at Radio One loves their jobs, and why these meetings are so productive. The input and ideas came from the team, not just a few select people. Urban One’s commitment to traditional radio and it’s progression is clear with the development of new brands like “La Grande 105.1” (WNOW-HD3) in Indianapolis and the two top 40 brands in Houston and Indianapolis in a company of predominantly urban brands.
How about the company’s take on evolving technologies?
Streaming services have become a big factor in the audio landscape. One of the biggest benefits of Urban One radio brands is that each station has their own app for streaming. That makes a huge difference. Listeners and followers don’t have to go to a generic website or app, then search, enter info, follow, and get bombarded by other stations and playlists. Just download your favorite station app, and get immediate results.
“Radio Now 92.1” KROI is considered an under-performing station in Houston. How do you intend to change that?
Quite the contrary, it’s actually considered “The Little Engine That Could.” The frequency was a format wheel for a while, but come Jan. 4 of next year, the station will be celebrating two years as Radio Now with the mainstream Top 40 format. Add to that the hiring a dedicated format program director sealing the company’s commitment to the format, and it’s soon to be a force to be reckoned with.
You are a veteran voice actor and voice over talent. How’d this opportunity come about?
The opportunity was really organic as my radio career grew. If we needed a female voice for something on one of my stations, I was the girl. I also did mornings forever, so the acting part came easy. At one point I found myself voicing the majority of the CBS hot AC radio stations across the country. So I decided to start my own business in case anything ever happened. The most exciting time was jumping into the improv world when I lived in NYC, which did wonders for the acting part and got me connected with one of the biggest agencies in the city. I suddenly found myself on some of the biggest radio shows, brands and commercials in the country. It’s definitely plan B, but one I am very grateful for.
Houston vs Las Vegas vs Baton Rouge?
Hmm, Heat and humidity vs. dry heat vs. heat and humidity… Houston was close to home so I got to see my family a lot after being away from them for so long. I had some good times and tough times. I lost everything in Hurricane Harvey so I 1,000% relate to the people in the Houston community and I’m thrilled to be back in the market to finish what I started.
I did three tours in Las Vegas and swore each time I left the dessert I wouldn’t be returning, but the truth is, it was some of the most exciting and successful years of my career. I was very proud of the brands we created and the teams we built. Some of my best friends—the kind you consider family—still live there. I worked with some of the best talent in the country there.
Baton Rouge is sort of a blur for so many reasons… I was so young and inexperienced and so passionate about radio, and also there was so much tailgating going on in Death Valley for the LSU games. But I digress. Honestly, it was great to work in radio in a city like that and so close to home. It was close to New Orleans as well, which is where I got recruited right away because of the market overlap. My dream as a child was to work for B97. I don’t think I was in Baton Rouge for a year before I got the call from Randy Lane to do mornings at WEZB. My soul still lives in NOLA.
Amid your station stops over the past 20+ years, what success story are you most proud of?
Proving John Mayer wrong about the “Daughters” single. When I first got the “Heavier Things” album in 2004, I fell in love with the song and I knew it would connect with women. I was so frustrated with the first two singles off the album and decided I was just going to play the song regardless. It was not a priority for the label and John was so against it being a single that he literally called me and asked me to stop playing it. It was already showing signs of life and blowing up the phones. I was a “hot head” back then and there was no way I was backing down. A few other stations started to follow, leading to the actual release as the next radio single. A No. 1 record and a year later, John won two Grammys for “Daughters,” including Song of the Year.
Tell me if I’m wrong, but it seems there still are precious few female programmers in radio. What are your thoughts?
What can we do to encourage and incentivize more women to become programmers? I grew up in the industry looking outside of the business for mentors and idols because there were no female programmers. I felt like Gwen Stefani in a No Doubt song. According to the last gender study I saw, posted by MIW, said that female PDs represent only 11% of all radio. That number has stayed flat for the last decade. It’s getting better for the record industry, the sales side and the talent side, but there is little to no improvement on the programming side. We have to stop and ask ourselves why? And what can we do to mentor, groom and promote women into the decision-making positions for the product side of radio? After all, they are responsible for the majority of household spending decisions. Feels like a no brainer to me.
In the past 20+ years, what do you regard as the most dramatic industry evolution in radio?
In my opinion there have been three major shifts that have changed the business—on all three levels—as we know it: The decrease in the number of mom and pops and the ability to invest in each individual brand regardless of market size. The shift from the diary method to PPM, and the advancement of technology, which has led us into the streaming world. There are so many arguments as to why these shifts are good or bad, but there’s not enough space or time to cover that here.
What keeps radio fun, meaningful and full of ambitious spirit for you?
Celebrating ratings wins with the team. Watching the impact we have on listeners when we connect them with artists and experiences that money can’t buy. Watching members of your team grow and get promoted or syndicated. And being a part of the launch of new artists as they become stars.
What’s your favorite radio station, ever?
X107.5 (KXTE) in Las Vegas, 2012 to 2015. We had so much fun with this station. When I took over, it was barely performing. We had such a fun staff and they were all willing to be coached and to work to win. The imaging was all personality with Steve Stone as the “voice guy,” some brilliant behind the scenes writers and the combination of the Dave, Mahoney and DK morning show and the rest of the on-air staff. We took that station to some of the highest ratings it had seen since Howard Stern. It was one of very few alternatives that were successful at the time. I loved the brand, the job, the challenge and the laughter we experienced every day.
Okay, we’re on a roll. How about favorite song and artists?
A tie between Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” and Better Than Ezra’s “Briefly.” Favorite artists are Dolly Parton, Billy Joel and Better Than Ezra.