Charese Fruge Talks To Darlene Rodrigo

This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “Women To Watch” series, written by Charese Fruge on June 29, 2021 

Darlene Rodrigo is many things. She’s the Producer of KOST/Los Angeles’ “Ellen K Morning Show,” a special needs advocate, a wife, mother of two and two dogs, and has a baby on the way. She’s also a big supporter of the annual Giving Tuesday broadcast benefiting Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. It’s a lot to balance, but she’s doing a fantastic job. She started as an intern at KOST 103.5 in 2013. By the end of her internship, she landed a part-time job in news radio as a Production Assistant and worked there for a little over a year. She heard about a full-time job opening at KOST 103.5 and applied. She became an Assistant Producer there in 2015. Six months after starting, she was part of launching the “Ellen K Morning Show,” and became the official Producer.

Rodrigo describes her role as Producer as similar to that of a Wedding Planner. “A wedding planner oversees the wishes, plans, and ideas and works on getting them executed. The process is very time-consuming and involves lots of organizing but the pay-off is magical!” She says. “However, instead of planning a wedding, I’m developing and overseeing the plans and executing a morning radio show. All the magic is in the fine details. For me it involves being constantly thoughtful, jotting notes of what we can use on the air or maybe use for a future time and chronically observing life and turning it into relatable content.”

Prior to her radio days, Darlene worked at many other jobs. “I was in retail working customer service and selling at Best Buy, I was a Barista at Starbucks, worked for a hospital in the business office,” she says. “I would listen to the radio at work and was so intrigued. I wanted to be on the other side of the speaker. I felt connected to someone I didn’t know by listening to them every day. The connection got me through my days,” she added.

“I started having kids and found myself as a stay-at-home mom. My first-born was born with Down Syndrome. A new level of worried took over and I felt disconnected from the world. Slowly, I started feeling a connection again with various forms of media (blogs, TV shows like Oprah, social media, etc.) I began writing a blog of my thoughts and memories and sharing with other parents going through the same thing. It was my form of therapy,” says Rodrigo. “One day, I received a message back from another mom who read my post and said she could relate to every word I wrote about. At that moment, I knew I needed to figure out a way to get involved in media,” she says. “My husband sensed it and noticed how passionate I was and took me by surprise one day to check out a radio school. Within the next month, I enrolled at my local community college’s radio program and the rest is history.”

After a few years of success as the Producer, Darlene describes the necessary bond needed to make a solid team work. “We are a family where nothing is off limits, all hands are on deck, and we keep constant communication. If I had to pick the most active group text on my phone between my personal family and my radio family, my radio family would win!” She says. “Having that connection and bond is an unknown necessity for many, but obvious for us. We know each other so much, even down to the way we type.”

Some of the most exciting things Darlene has experienced so far: “Launching a brand new, female-led morning show on a heritage station in Los Angeles. Being a part of the “Ellen K Morning Show” and syndicated “Ellen K Weekend Show” with Ellen K has been beyond any professional experience I could have ever imagined,” she says. “Along with Ellen K being a Voiceover queen in the industry, she brought the team along to New York one year when she voiced the Grammys. We remotely broadcast from the iHeartRadio studios in Manhattan, and it was amazing! I had never been to New York up until that moment.” “Also,” Rodrigo added, “Reaching out to people on social media and getting them to come on the show is very fulfilling. As a humongous ‘I Love Lucy’ fan, I was so excited to contact Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s granddaughter Kate. We are friends now on social media and she agreed to share a heavenly birthday message to her Nana on the Ellen K Morning Show as a feel good. Also, did the same thing to Anthony Gonzalez, the voice of the little boy Miguel in the Pixar movie, ‘Coco.’”

With great success and balance comes many challenges as well. “Personally, I have many struggles and adversity I face. I’ve learned to embrace each challenge,” says Rodrigo. “My first-born daughter was born with Down Syndrome in 2007. Through the years, she has also been diagnosed with Epilepsy and Autism. It has never been easy and that’s ok, I don’t expect it to be. We just keep going. My family has also gone through the awful experience of the C word in 2014 when my little sister went through an awful Cancer experience. She was told to get her matters in order in case she didn’t make it through surgery, chemo and radiation. Miraculously, she survived, thanks to the City of Hope,” she says. “Another huge hit came in 2018 when I suddenly lost my father-in-law to a sepsis infection. He was the rock of our family and professionally, was my career compass. When he passed, it was the first time I had to make major decisions without his input and that was really hard. As you can read, I’ve faced much adversity in my life, but I believe it’s why I’m here,” adds Rodrigo. “You need someone that knows about real life struggle. People need perspective and I’ve learned that each connection I make heals my soul and fuels my fire. Some of my professional challenges have been taking on other job roles as the industry downsizes and tasks are constantly being revised and renewed. It’s a cycle of learning and figuring out how to keep up and improve. Finding ways to work smarter and not harder.”

Her advice to women who want to get into the business: “Fill in the blanks. Fill up the printer with paper. Fill up stomachs too. Help make life easier for anyone in your path. Figure it out. Also, learn how to do EVERYTHING! You need to know it all,” she says.

“Be a sponge, be open to a challenge and be for it, whatever it is, a new sales campaign or a new contest, support it. Also, make connections while you can and network.”

As she looks back over the pandemic, Darlene says she’s learned a lot. “The pandemic helped me realize I didn’t have a healthy balance between home and work. Having that time to recognize and value what I really needed has made me feel whole. At the same time, I was intrigued to watch the world make necessary pivots. As a show, we remained focused on staying positive and sharing a positive force during such a difficult time. We were also very mindful of any content we shared and wanted to make sure the listeners knew we were there for them when they needed us.”

And while the things that kept her up at night like her daughter Bella, who doesn’t sleep, deadlines and ideas, she also made sure she took care of her own mental wellbeing. “I BINGED! There’s so much to watch and anytime I have some free time, I’m on the couch watching something. Last Binge was ‘Mare of Easttown’ on HBO Max with Kate Winslet,” says Rodrigo. “Also, being able to experience this fun job with my family and sharing opportunities we never dreamed we’d be able to do, makes it all worth it and brings my soul the most peace.”

As for the future, she’s still got a full schedule to add to her Producer role: “My new podcast, ‘Casa De Locos Show,’ following my crazy family, juggling life and sharing updates on my final pregnancy.”

As for following her success: “Shameless plug: If you could help your radio sister out and get her to 10k followers, I could finally share SWIPE UP links on my IG story. Thanks!