Women To Watch: Leslie Fram

(By Charese Fruge’) Leslie Fram is SVP of Music & Talent for CMT where she oversees music across CMT platforms, franchises Next Women of CountryListen UpEqual Access, and books talent for CMT Tentpoles and music specials.

On the side, Fram is getting back to her radio roots. “I am back doing a morning radio show at 99X in Atlanta. The radio station came back last year due to the overwhelming success of 90s Alternative and being one of the original alternative tastemakers. It’s been fun to work with my former colleagues/friends and play the music that represented a large part of my career!” she says.

“Growing up, I was a shy kid who listened to the radio as my form of entertainment,” says Fram. “I was always intrigued by the theatre-of-the-mind aspect of radio and had a chance to start in High School through the Drama Department. I immediately got the bug for both on-air and programming. For 20 years I did a morning show and was a Program Director! Those hours really taught me discipline in how to prioritize my life!”

“I started in High School working on the weekends in my hometown of Fairhope, Alabama at WABF,” explains Fram. “In college, I worked on-air at WABB (Top 40) in Mobile and eventually became the Program Director. I moved to Atlanta in 1990 to do a Morning Show/Assistant PD with Rick Stacey at Power 99 (Top 40). We changed formats in 1992 with the explosion of Alternative. It was the best time to experience that cultural shift and be part of such a legendary radio station (and work for Susquehanna) for 17 Years (as Program Director and on-air)!”

“In 2008 I had the amazing opportunity to Program WRXP in New York – a rock/alternative hybrid for Emmis Broadcasting and do a morning show with the legendary Matt Pinfield! Everyone needs to live and work in NYC once in their life! Emmis sold the station in 2011 and I was suddenly at a crossroads in my career. Stay in radio or explore other passions? My lifelong mentor, Brian Philips encouraged me to widen my search. At the same time, he had an opening at CMT in Nashville. He offered me a chance to run the music department and I said ‘yes’ without even thinking about it. It was a chance to work with Brian again (we worked together in Atlanta at 99X) AND be back in the south and work in a city I loved: Nashville!”

Fram has experienced many career milestones, but a few of her favorites: “I am so grateful and honored to be the first female recipient of the TJ Martell Award in recognition of performance in the music industry. In 2009, I was inducted into the Georgia Radio Hall of Fame.”

Her success over the years hasn’t been easy. “It can be challenging as a woman in a male-dominated field, especially when advocating for yourself. It’s important to lead with integrity and believe in the power of walking away from any situation that compromises your values,” says Fram.

“As far as my transition from radio to television, as I mentioned, I was at a crossroads when our radio station in New York sold, and the format was changed to News/Talk. I started to look outside radio and trust my instincts. Brian Philips/President of CMT at the time, offered me this incredible opportunity to move to Nashville and run the music department. I must credit the amazing staff/family at CMT who really took me under their wing and the incredible Nashville community. I completely changed my career path (radio to television) and format (rock to country). I put my head down for a year and set out to meet a whole new set of people (from managers/labels/publicists/publishers and artists), learn the job and do a deep dive into country music.”

Over the last few years, Fram has been one of the loudest voices for the advancement of Women in a field and format dominated by men, but she hasn’t had to say much. Fram is a Woman of action. “My first year at CMT I noticed women disappearing on terrestrial radio and then playlisting,” she says. “I wanted to create an opportunity for female artists through airplay, touring and content. This led to CMT’s Next Women of Country franchise in 2013 and a tour that started in 2015. In 2023 we celebrated our 10 Year Anniversary with over one hundred women who have been through our program.”

“We are constantly looking for ways to expand on this support. In 2020, we started CMT Equal Play programming to make all our video channels 50/50 male/female. We have two 24 Hour Video channels and program videos in the morning on CMT. I must credit the amazing team at CMT who work on all these initiatives with so much passion, creating brilliant content and producing amazing events.”

“Two years ago, we formed CMT Equal Access with mTheory, founded to build and support creativity and diversity in country music. We are about to announce the recipients of our third class. This program is for artists and serves as a pipeline for the industry. Outside of CMT, me, Beverly Keel and Tracy Gershon started ‘Change the Conversation’ in 2014 to support female creatives in country music by providing mentorship and education.”

As far as moving the needle on DEI in the industry, “We haven’t done it as much as we would like to see,” says Fram. “My hope is for all gatekeepers to come together to make a seismic change. So far, Rissi Palmer with Color Me Country, Holly G/ founder of The Black Opry, and Hunter Kelly/Apple Music have all moved the needle and been at the forefront.”

“When working to bridge the generation gap and engage the younger audience, in terms of music, it’s important to understand the audience and follow the trends. Whether you are discovering artists on TikTok or streaming services, there is a big shift towards country going back to country!” says Fram. “Yes, that sounds funny, but I remember some artists being ignored because they were too country for ‘country’ radio and were only supported in Americana. Gen Z and Millennials are driving a new way of consuming music.”

“I personally love Zach Bryan, and some found him on YouTube and others on Yellowstone. We are finding ways to support him through videos and CMT ON-Demand playlists. How exciting that artists can break and find an audience through social media, television, brands, and other methods. I remember when we produced Crossroads with Zac Brown Band and Shawn Mendes, Zak said he traveled in a van for 10 years grinding it out on the road. Shawn was discovered through a video on Vine! We’re finding new and exciting ways to support the next generation of artists. The CMT Digital Team, led by Melissa Goldberg, has created so many amazing initiatives to highlight music discovery from the Viral to Verify series to Studio Sessions.”

It’s hard to imagine that Fram has any time to think of anything other than her responsibilities at CMT, much less her other job. “CMT is my full-time job!” she says. “I think everyone should explore all of their passions, so I find time to work outside of business hours for 99X, Change the Conversation and a few of the Boards that I’m on! I also find time to binge my favorite shows (!).”

“But SO MANY THINGS KEEP ME UP AT NIGHT!” she adds. “Most of the time, it’s detail-oriented tasks that I don’t want to forget, so I have many ‘To Do’ lists! My advice, when you wake up at 3am, do not check your email or social media!”

“Finding balance has always been a work-in-progress for me. I do believe that I’ve gotten better after the pandemic. For some reason, we were all used to going out every night and then when the world came to a screeching halt, we realized we didn’t have to! Now I pick the most important things for work and pleasure and really strive to find a balance. FOMO is a thing of the past!”

As for what’s ahead for Fram, “The CMT Music Awards in Austin, April 7th on CBS/Paramount +! It’s our biggest show of the year and the MOST fun! You never know what to expect. Come to Austin, enjoy SPECTACULAR performances, and eat some BBQ!”

Follow Leslie Fram:

  • Instagram: @lesliefram1
  • X: @FramLeslie
  • Facebook: Leslie Fram
  • TikTok: @lesliefram