Charese Fruge’ Talks To Dana Cortez
This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “Women To Watch” series, written by Charese Fruge on May 25, 2021
The people who surround Dana provide her with the full support she needs to be successful. “My incredible team consists of 2nd mic, Executive Producer Hubby DJ Automatic (NBA DJ for the Phoenix Suns) and our BFF, stand-up comedian Anthony A. We all write, we all edit, we all work really hard at making sure that the show sounds the best it can,” says Cortez. “We also have an amazing team at SkyView Networks behind the scenes contributing. I’m lucky to be surrounded by people who aren’t afraid to WORK and who believe in our show. We talk real life issues in a way that’s entertaining and allows everyone to know they’re not alone! We’re open about relationship issues, concerns about our kids, pretty much everything, which really allows the people listening to trust us,” she says. “We do this on air and online and YES it can sometimes be embarrassing or sad or incredibly hilarious, but life isn’t one dimensional so neither are we.”
As mentioned earlier, Dana fell into radio by accident. “Long story short, my cheating Ex, who dreamed of being in radio, was sneaking around with an on-air personality and she kind of helped me get my first gig. (Damn, now that’s a show topic) Anyway, turns out, I’m pretty good at this and since I was a teen Mom, when I started in radio, I couldn’t believe I was actually getting paid to have FUN,” she says. “I’ve been a bartender, shined shoes, worked the graveyard shift at a convenience store, whatever it took to put food on the table and hosting a daily party seemed too good to be true, so I finessed it into a career.”
“As a woman, my first instinct is to say that my children are my biggest accomplishments, and they are, by far,” says Cortez. “But professionally, I’ve made a couple of appearances in the Emmy Award winning show ‘Breaking Bad,’ and I’ve won various radio awards, but if I’m being honest, the biggest accomplishment has to be becoming the first Mexican-American woman (Latina) to have a nationally syndicated morning show. I just read a study that showed Latinos only have 4.5% presence in English media which is very disheartening. Representation is important and I’m proud to be a part of ‘normalizing’ my culture, which is most often portrayed as a caricature of who we really are – just normal everyday Americans, same dreams, same goals, just a little spicier.
If we’re being honest, beating out real actors for my Breaking Bad role was a BIG moment, I had a cell phone pic as my headshot,” says Cortez. “Also, getting blocked by Cardi B seems to impress a lot of people and for some reason my youngest daughter thinks this is a badge of honor because Cardi knows who I am. Also interviewing Beyoncé was big- I was SO NERVOUS but the Queen Bee didn’t disappoint, she ended up being as sweet in person as she is online, so as a real fan, it was a great moment for me to find that out and take that information back to our listeners. I want them to feel like they’re a part of these incredible experiences.”
Dana’s success did not come without its challenges. “Having a baby at 15 was the most difficult. I was already facing great obstacles; I grew up in poverty, I’m a minority, etc., and here I go adding another hurdle I had to overcome” she says. “Let me tell you something, I wouldn’t change one single thing about this or any tough experience I’ve been through because they’ve made me who I am today. This particular moment taught me working hard doesn’t always mean you are rewarded, it’s OPPORTUNITY that makes the difference. I also realized adapting to change is necessary, patience is important and no matter how hard things seem, with a great support system and people who believe in you, anything is possible. Going back to the biggest accomplishment question, my 3 daughters are indeed my greatest!”
Another big challenge for Dana and her family, like everyone else, was the financial impact of the pandemic. “Personally, this was a tough year, my husband DJ Automatic normally travels and performs around the country, but when the pandemic hit, all of his gigs were cancelled which meant half of our income disappeared along with radio endorsements,” she explains. “We sat down at our kitchen table to decide what we’d be cutting and keeping from our budget and realized we weren’t the only ones doing this so we began planning a virtual job fair and three days later started it on Facebook. We did this five days a week for months, connecting people locally and across the country with jobs. We weren’t making the money we once had, but we were making a DIFFERENCE and it felt so good to see people go from being afraid to having HOPE. We had employers hiring workers while we were live, it was a moment I’ll never forget,” she says. “That job fair is now a weekly “LIVE,” and an extension of our radio show. It’s become another way to touch people online.
We haven’t missed one day in studio since the pandemic began,” says Cortez. “I actually felt it was more important than ever to be there daily, to give the most current updates and also comfort to our listeners during a difficult time. BUT I did start eating ICE CREAM every weekend, smothered in chocolate syrup, pecans, bananas, cherries and loads of whipped cream,” she says. “I have this segment on Monday called ‘The FAT Club,’ where we talk about health – well let me tell you, it’s been quite the conversation this past year because I’m not alone. A LOT of us have developed weird food habits, mainly eating too much of it. I’m working on it now!”
Her advice to those who have been impacted professionally by the pandemic? “You’re not done until you decide you are. Use your social media platforms to continue entertaining your audience & don’t be afraid to reach out to program directors both local & national to ASK for a job,” says Cortez. “Trust me, I’m not ashamed, I’m sure some of the ones I connect with a few times a month are reading this right now and they’ll tell you the same. Closed mouths don’t get fed.”
“Mentors can also help during this difficult time in the industry,” says Cortez. “I didn’t have traditional Mentors, but the people who helped me get on, JD Gonzalez, Pete Manriquez, Homie Marco, John Candelaria, still talk to me and offer me advice to this day,” she says. “I do love that there are more women to talk to in the industry now and network with. I remember before the pandemic one of the last radio seminars I attended, I was on a panel sitting in between Elvis Duran and Ellen K just NERVOUS – I mean these are living radio legends. Anyway, once I got comfortable, I started being myself and speaking my mind. I remember Elvis complimenting me on stage and that made feel so great, for someone at his level to acknowledge what I had to say was incredible, but it was what happened after that stuck with me most,” she says. “This beautiful, confident woman approached me and said ‘I heard you up there.’ My response was ‘thank you, I appreciate you’ and she repeated herself and looked me in the eyes, ‘NO, I HEARD YOU.’ That woman was Thea Mitchum. She didn’t have to do that, but she did and it means a lot to me because someone in her position doesn’t have to. At that time, I didn’t know who she was, but that’s not what matters, what she said is why I do what I do. I want women to know I speak for THEM, for US. I hear you…”
For someone who is so accomplished and balanced, I needed to know what keeps Dana up at night. “I think because of where I come from, it’s always finances. I can’t help it, I have a fear of being without,” she says. “Usually when I’m at a speaking engagement I begin with ‘I come from humble beginnings,’ which is code for poor. There was nothing easy about my childhood and honestly until I found radio, life was always tough. Once I reach one goal, I’m already thinking about the next, I can’t help it,” she says. But she does make an effort to stay balanced, and her secret is reading. “When I was little, books took me anywhere in the world I wanted to go, I could be anyone I wanted to be and I learned so many things. Without my love for reading and writing, I don’t believe I’d be here today.”
And as for what we have to look forward to from Dana, “I’m absolutely loving Phoenix, we’re on KKFR now, Power 98.3!” She says. “We just moved here and already so many wonderful things have happened – we were voted Best Morning Show, and my husband DJ Automatic is now an official NBA DJ for the Phoenix Suns so who knows what’s next? New York, Los Angeles, Chicago… whatever it is, I’m always ready so we shall see!” Dana will also be one of the featured panelists for the “Women’s Forum” at this year’s Talent Master’s Morning Show Bootcamp in Chicago at the Swissotel, August 12th & 13th, hosted by All Access’ Charese Fruge’.
Follow Dana Cortez on Instagram @danacortez and @danacortezshow