Charese Fruge’ Talks To Ali Mac
This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “Women To Watch” series, written by Charese Fruge on August 5, 2020
Ali Mac was exposed to COVID-19 early on in the pandemic, so she channeled her fears and fourteen day isolation, as well as her passion for radio and community, and used that energy to help connect herself to her new audience in Jacksonville, where she is currently the morning show host on Cox Media’s Easy 102.9, WEZI. She’s been there for about a year now. She got her start in the radio business in her hometown in 2004. “It wasn’t until I had been in the business for a year that I realized it could be a career,” she says. “I was a promo intern for Q100 in Atlanta during my freshman year at GCSU in Milledgeville. Every weekend I drove 2 hours back to Atlanta just so I could work events and hand out stickers for free! When I realized this weekend hobby of mine could turn into an actual paying job, I dove in.”
She’s worked at Z97, WMGZ in Milledgeville, done several tours at Star 94, WSTR in Atlanta, and got her first official morning show gig “Styles & Ali in the Morning,” at the legendary 97.5, WABB in Mobile. Her next morning gig was “Geoff & Ali in the Morning,” on 93.7 WGYL, Vero Beach, Florida, and then she got the opportunity to go back home. She went back to Atlanta to host middays on Kicks 101.5 WKHX. A little over a year in to that job, she was promoted to AM Drive as the Co-host/Producer of “Cadillac Jack & Ali Mac Mornings.” Fast forward to now, and she’s hosting her own show in Jacksonville.
“I’ve always worked in an ensemble cast situation with morning drive. When I made the move to Jacksonville and Easy 102.9 I knew I’d be taking on a brand new challenge I haven’t experienced yet,” says Ali. “I’m now a solo morning show host, on a newer station, and I don’t have a co-host to endorse me and let the listeners know it’s cool to like me. It’s completely up to me to win over each and every person in Jacksonville and it’s a huge challenge that I’m loving! I’ve been using everything I can to win them over one by one through social media, getting embedded in the local scene, and being open and honest about who I am. So far it seems to be working and it’s incredibly rewarding to know all my efforts are noticed.”
The COVID-19 pandemic is a completely different kind of challenge for Ali, especially in a new city and away from family. “It’s meant a lot of solo time for me.” she says. “I broadcast from home for 2 months and am so grateful to be back in the studio now. You get a new appreciation of how efficient working in a studio is vs being at home, and I think it’s made me a much better radio personality.”
“If I feel it, I say it,” says Ali. “That uncertain feeling you have about 2020? That depressed lonely isolating feeling you have? That crazed ‘I’m annoyed with my family’ feeling? Everyone has all those feelings and I’m leaning into them for content. I’ve recorded podcasts where I call my loved ones and ask how they’re doing and I’ve talked to business experts about how video conferencing communication can be improved,” she says.
“For me, 2020 is all about taking everything I feel and relating to the listeners as best as possible. Early into COVID-19, I was exposed to the virus and needed to quarantine. I was the first one of anyone I know who had to do this and I almost felt dirty in a way.
Because I had that weird unsettling feeling, I knew others out there felt the same, so I made a video about it. I explained that I was scared and really didn’t know what to do with my feelings. That video got so much engagement and so many people reached out saying they had felt the exact same way, but were too scared to admit it.”
In her attempt to remain sane and focused during these extremely challenging times, Ali put good use to the downtime she’s had. “I bought a Cricut! I thought arts and crafts would be a great way to pass the time, but honestly, I’m still trying to learn how to use the dang thing,” she says. “I’ve really been leaning on books, checking out all my radio friend’s shows (hearing how others are talking 2020 is so interesting), and getting in lots of runs to pass the time.” She also admits binge watching has been a big part of her therapy. “I’ve seen it all! Everything!” She says. “I saw that stat that said it would take 4 years to finish everything Netflix has to offer, but I don’t buy it because we’re 7 months into 2020 and I’ve watched it all. My favorites have been every 90 Day Fiancé spinoff, anything on Bravo, The Handmaid’s Tale, and The Office is such a good comfort blanket on a bad headline kind of day.”
Fitness seems to be Ali’s answer to balance. “Fitness keeps my head straight. My mind is like a reverse Jenga game. When the blocks are all crashed in a mess, that’s my ‘before’ exercise pic,” she says. “After getting some cardio in, the blocks straighten up into that perfectly placed tower. I’m really big into running right now and know if my head’s a mess I need to hit the pavement right away.”
Another big part of the balance for Ali is being able to do what she loves. “Every single day in the radio business is an accomplishment.” She says. “I’ve been lucky enough to be on-air in my hometown of Atlanta, I’ve gotten to meet my favorite artists, but I really love giving back to the community. I love the radiothons, the charity events, the parts of radio that can be so emotionally draining, but show you what you’re doing is making a huge impact.”
“One of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done is move the typical ‘feel-good’ segment into action,” she says. “I would talk about John Doe collecting blankets for a shelter on-air and then off-air get to work on collecting hundreds of blankets to randomly drop off to John Doe to help his effort. One of the best stories was a woman who used grocery bags to weave mats for the homeless and we collected thousands of bags to take to her! She was thrilled.”
Ali has been fortunate enough to have some great mentors in the business. “Rob Stadler and Scott Lindy were the first ones to take a chance on me in Atlanta,” she says. “Rob taught me about all traffic and news reporting which was invaluable (the man is in the GA Radio Hall of Fame)! Scott listened to all the dozens of air checks I sent him and really groomed me as a talent and eventually put me on in morning drive as a co-host. I owe a lot to them.”
“Mentoring is so important in this business,” says Ali. “Mainly, I owe a lot to the lovely ladies of radio. With every station I work for I always try to find my girls. They’re my ‘safe zone.’ It’s not that women have extra challenges, but we have different challenges to deal with and having those relationships is so important. We need each other. Rachel Ryan, Dallas McCade, Checkacee, Kaitlyn Henderson, Rachel Carr, Abby Murphy, Amber Glaze – these are just a few of my radio sisters and I don’t just admire them, I learn so much from them.”
We as an industry have a lot to learn from Ali. Her mind never stops working and she has big plans for the future. “Hopefully many more years of radio and tons of side projects,” she says. “I have a Podcast called, ‘Chasing Wellness’ where I try the new hot wellness trend of the moment and see if it works before you spend your money on it. I’m a sucker for wellness products anyway so it’s a win-win. I hope to grow that brand into so much more.” She says. “I’d also love to create a parody social media account everyone waits for posts from like @girlwithnojob, @dudewithsign, or fill in whatever Instagram account you love here. I have a reality television idea for an Instagram account going on in my head too, and now I just need to make it all happen.”
Follow Ali on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @alimacradio