Charese Fruge’ Talks To Carol Handley

This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “Women To Watch” series, written by Charese Fruge on April 5, 2022 

We kick off Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM) with the prefect candidate for “Women to Watch” this week. Carol Handley is the Director of Music Programming for KNKX-F/Seattle (dual format – Jazz, Blues and NPR News) as well as sister station 24/7 HD2 and jazz stream Jazz24.org. I just recently had the pleasure of meeting Carol in person, and I could tell right away she had a passion for Jazz. You could see it in her face and hear it in her voice. It was very refreshing. She’s been in the business for 3-plus decades and she still seems as excited, as if she had just gotten her first job as a Music Director.

Here’s a look at Carol’s background. “My first programming job was on Seattle’s only 24/7 jazz station. A music format I became familiar with in college,” she says. “From there it was onto what was basically a Triple A station (really a pre-cursor to what became AAA) where I was an on-air Music Director holding down middays. Then it was onto Smooth Jazz. I programmed KWJZ for 15 years and hosted middays. After I flipped that station to a Modern Alt AC, I started my own streaming station and became a concert promoter in the smooth jazz world before returning to the prior station group to program Seattle’s heritage AC (KRWM). I am now back in the format I started in, Jazz at KNKX, which lives in the public radio universe.”

Her radio career started for Carol in college. “While extending my education in visual media with photography, film and video, the instructors were not deeply informed about audio production and soundtracks,” she says. “I decided to take the radio broadcasting courses to round out my audio experience. Three months in, I was the Program Director of the college station, and I was off and running.” Says Handley. “Also, always a lover of music, I was the friend in school that made mix tapes.”

Throughout her 30-plus year career, Carol has made incredible memories. “There are so many exciting things to recall over the years, so I’ll hit a couple of high notes,” she says. “In Smooth Jazz we used to giveaway vacations. I have broadcast from Barbados, the Virgin Islands, Paris, and Hawaii. That long-running promotion allowed us to build a database to touch 30% of our listeners at the time, over 150,000. I also created a two day, eight band annual music festival. It was crazy successful selling out in a week, four months in advance of the weekend. It became a must-have ticket and summer event for fans of the music. Even after the station went away, the music event did not,” says Handley. “And taking Seattle’s heritage AC to over 1 million in cume when we were NOT programming Christmas music and maintaining 900,000+ weekly listeners during my tenure. The market at the time was 3.9 million, another highlight.”

She recalls one of her fondest memories from her time in the business. “One of the funniest nights I can recall was MCing on stage at our local symphony in a gown. I then changed into jeans, sweatshirt and riding jacket and road my motorcycle to join some friends for bowling.”

For Carol, getting into public radio is both a programmers dream and challenge. “The dream is that you get to experiment with specialty programming and try things on for size,” she says. “For our Jazz and Blues programming, we are stretching the boundaries taking the format from a ‘classic’ one into the world of modern jazz, acid jazz, hip hop flavors and blues grooves highlighting the history and deep contribution of the artists in these Black American art forms. The challenge is pivoting a large heritage station into the future.”

“One of the biggest challenges in the radio industry in general is always stability. Navigating the changes in format, staffing and ownership with grace and professionalism has always been the biggest challenge. I navigated it in a large field three times in my career. Sometimes knowing what was about to happen before my own team. You handle it with as much truth and honesty as you can.“

Carol’s focus for the immediate future is on the on-line and digital platforms. “The audience has so many new ways to get music and entertainment,” she says. “We are content creators. Sometimes in shorter form storytelling segments about the music and artists who make it and sometimes stretching out to tell the stories in blocks of music programming. Discovering all the ways to get that content out beyond the airwaves and digital delivery is my current focus and learning environment. It’s only going to get more diverse and I’m sure will take me the rest of my career to keep up.”

Carol has great advice for women looking to get into the industry. “Learn from as many people as you can. Want to learn something deeper? Want to understand why something is done? Take a colleague to lunch or coffee,” she says. “I once had a better connection with my community of radio broadcasters through a summer baseball league. We are a group of passionate people and there are many who would love to share their experience and expertise with you. Smart women will always rise to the top. Be curious and learn as much as you can about other departments so you can add intelligence to any conversation. Or at least ask good questions.”

So, what keeps Carol up at night? “Usually work. So much music, so little time,” she says. She does find balance in her family and friends though. “I love to hang with friends, go hear live music and garden. And like everyone else this past year I binged the Queen’s Gambit, Ted Lasso and Bridgerton, but lately I’ve been binging all the Oscar nominated films.”

Finding balance for Carol will be a good thing for her moving forward. She’s going to be extremely busy. “In the coming months we will launch on-demand for KNKX,” she says. “We will start with our specialty shows. I have also been working on archiving and arranging almost 20 years of the KNKX live studio sessions with world class musicians into streaming content. We will make those available on-demand latter in the summer. It’s getting good y’all!”

Follow Carol Handley on Facebook and on the web at: carolhandleypresents.