Charese Fruge’ Talks To Charley McCain
This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “Women To Watch” series, written by Charese Fruge on November 2, 2021
It took Charley a minute to figure out what her career path would be as an adult, but she attests that her mom had a lot to do with leading her to her passion. “I actually didn’t know I wanted to be on the radio per se, because I always thought of myself as a bit awkward and unsure in conversation,” she says. “I never considered that I had the personality for it. But my mom always had music on in the house, and I’ve been a music lover from the start. My obsession with rock stars and MTV in the 80s made me enamored with the music business overall. After college, I planned to move to Los Angeles to work for a record company,” says McCain. “That move fell through, but my desire to work in the music business was still strong. A few years later, when the opportunity came to intern (read: work for free) at The Fox in Charlotte, I jumped at the chance!”
Here’s how it all started for Charley: “I was bartending at a club in Charlotte, and one of the bouncers started working at The Fox. I was talking to him one day about how cool his job must be. He said I should go in and talk to TC, the Promotions Director. I thought I would join the street team or something,” she says. “TC told me, ‘You’ve got a great voice, you should be on the radio.’ Um…ok!?! So, I started working with programming learning and doing anything they would let me do. After a year, I met Chris Rozak from WEND and he referred me to the PD, Jack Daniel. He gave me my first official on-air shift which was sometime in the wee hours of 1996!
At WEND, I hosted the local music show. I loved being able to expose listeners to the talented bands in the region,” says McCain. “One of the artists that was just coming up at that time was Jennifer Nettles. She was in a duo called Soul Miner’s Daughter and also her own band. I had her play two showcases for us because I loved her voice so much. It feels so good seeing her enormous success and to feel like I had a tiny part in helping her make new fans. Being first on board for artists that you just know in your gut are going to be huge is so satisfying. I’m in radio because of music. Getting to see and meet so many of the people who have filled my life with their songs is beyond words.
I’ve been in Radio for over 25 years now, so narrowing it down to just a few amazing experiences to share would do my adult life a disservice!” Says McCain. “There have been so many opportunities to help and get to know each community where I’ve worked. Every time a person tells me they listen to us or repeats something funny they heard us talk about on the radio, it feels as good as the first time I heard it. I’ll never get used to the fact that thousands of people listen to me talk every day!”
Charley’s 25-year career has not come without its challenges. “Starting out, I think it was just getting someone to notice me and give me a chance,” she says. “I had NO experience, so it was easy to stick me in board op positions, but I wanted more than that. I worked every single shift they would let me, including overnights after working a bar shift. You have to put yourself in management’s faces (even if it’s just by saying ‘hello’), let them know you want it, tell them what you want to learn, and keep asking if it doesn’t happen in reasonable time frame,” says McCain. “I’m still doing that. We are all doing so many jobs with so few people that no one has time to just look around and see what others might want to learn about the business. So, you have to ask for it. Over the years, I had to learn how to talk to strangers, speak first, make a point of saying hi to people I don’t interact with regularly, and make sure people know and remember I’m there. I tend to keep to myself and just do my job because I’m actually awkward and self-conscious. Becoming more assertive was a big step for me! Still working on that one, too.”
As Charley’s career progresses, she is becoming increasingly interested in Programming and Management. “I have been in the APD role, but I’ve never overseen the entire station. When I was younger, I didn’t think I wanted to because I was afraid it would take me away from my first love – the music,” she says. “As I’ve gotten older though, I realize I’d love to program! And I think I’d be very good at it. It’s just finding the right opportunity. I’ve been talking to my PD and learning more about the nuances of his job so that I can be ready when an opening presents itself.”
This is good news for the business as we continue to encourage more women to become interested in programming radio. The gender gap is 88 to 12% male to female. So, I asked Charley how we could encourage and elevate more women into programming roles in the business. “I think the answer is two-fold,” she says. 1. It starts in management. The ‘old boys’ need to either change their way of thinking or move on. Today’s women are so much more than the ‘Weather & Giggle Bunny.’ They are smart, driven, have fresh ideas, and dominate social media. Stop hiring and re-hiring the same guys you have worked with for 30 years! If Radio is going to continue, it needs to put a knife in the ‘Old Boys Club.’
And 2.” McCain adds, “We, as women, need to speak up. Tell your boss what you’re interested in learning. If he/she doesn’t respond, ask another PD in the building. Learn at least some aspects of every job possible! When you’re standing around with a salesperson at a remote, ask them what it took to get the account and what it means for you to be there. And NETWORK,” she says. “I can’t stress this enough. Meet every single radio person you can, no matter their ‘status.’ This industry is so small, and you just never know when that random person you met at a conference, on an airplane, or even in my own neighborhood (this really happened!) will move on and up and remember you for their staff. Take Seminars – I still do this every chance I get and have made some fantastic new connections just recently. Join groups like Women in Radio. Never stop meeting new people. Connections are VITAL to survival in this business!”
Like many, the pandemic is still impacting Charley, both personally and professionally. “When it first hit and the large companies were rolling out the RIFs, I, like any other sane radio person, panicked,” she says. “No one was safe! I started scrambling trying to decide what I was going to do ‘next’ when I’ve worked in radio for 25 years. I’ll admit, it was a scary time! Thankfully, I did keep my job, but it helped me realize two things 1) I do have amazing skills that can translate to other careers in the ‘real world’ and 2) I don’t want to work in the real world…I love radio! I also learned that although I am absolutely capable of working from home (I always thought I’d be too distracted), I need social interaction like a drug. It gives me life! Once we were able to get back to the studio, I had a new attitude. I’m trying to put a little extra dose of effort into every part of my job, and an extra dose of ‘happy’ too. I know I’m lucky to be here and I want that to show!”
What keeps Charley up at night? “If you work in radio these days, I can’t imagine that the looming RIF cloud doesn’t give you bad dreams. It’s scary to think that the bottom line determines your fate, no matter how hard you’ve worked,” she says. But she works hard to keep some balance in her life. “Knowing I can reach out to the connections I’ve made over the years, and they will do what they can to help me find a new job if the situation arises is helpful,” she says. “Knowing I have a super supportive friend network and a loving boyfriend and his son who are always there for me and don’t even care that I talk on the radio for a living, also works.” And when she has free time, she spends it on the lake. “My parents were ‘lake people’ and it’s still my absolute happy place,” she says. “I also enjoy trying out new breweries and wineries. Live music is a must. Cheering on the Indiana Hoosiers, Carolina Panthers, and Chicago Cubs. I also bowl in a league – I’m not great but it’s really fun!”
As for what’s ahead for Charley, “Quite honestly, I’m just working on doing the best I can and making myself more valuable at WSMW,” she says. “I’m researching and learning new programming skills, and always networking and trying to give my fellow radio ladies a cheering section. Being on each other’s side is the most important thing we can do to help females take over the power spots in radio!”
Follow Charley McCain on social media: FB: Charley McCain, Insta & Twitter: @charleygrlradio, TikTok: @charley336