Charese Fruge Talks To Ellen Perez
This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “Women To Watch” series, written by Charese Fruge on October 19th, 2021
Ellen Perez is the new morning co-host on Classic Rock KUFX (98.5 KFOX)/San Jose! “Every morning I get to rock the airwaves with the legendary Chris Jackson on San Jose’s only LIVE and LOCAL morning radio show!” she says. “Prior to this new position, I was a show producer for about 4 years at our sister station, KMVQ (99.7 NOW). As St. John’s producer I would produce and create daily content for the show, record and produce all his videos, do local research on what’s trending with the listeners and assist with the execution of all his contests,” Perez explains. “I also kept a close liaison with community leaders to set up Interviews and events for St. John.”
As a first-generation Mexican growing up in the U.S., her household growing up was very strict. But she has an inspiring story. “As the eldest, there were a lot of expectations for me, a lot I was not allowed to do, and I had to work with my parents from a young age to help pay the bills. Growing up I was afraid to speak up, I felt like I didn’t have a voice because of how strict my household was, and didn’t ever want to get my family in trouble coming from a mixed status home,” she says.
“Radio has always been an escape for me. I would listen to the radio and admire how open the on-air jocks were. How they weren’t afraid to speak their mind, speak up for others and just had a great time!” says Perez. “It always felt like they were my friends just hanging out. Even when I moved to the Bay Area, not knowing anyone. The first thing I did was turn on the radio and I immediately felt connected. I knew that I wanted to be that to others! Be that ‘Radiotherapy’ that when you tap into it, you take something out of our sessions. Something that will motivate you. A resource that can help guide you, a good laugh, a good morning soundtrack to start your day and be your overall hype woman!” she says.
“Fast forward to my adult years–I began my radio journey in the summer of 2011 when by ‘Fate’ I stumbled into KCRH 89.9 FM at Chabot College, says Peres. “I didn’t even go to that school, but I heard music and was drawn to the building immediately. With no shame I opened the door, not realizing I was opening the door to my life’s passion! I enrolled in the program that same night. During those four years I took part in a few college radio shows. I had the chance to interview a long list of local Bay Area artists. I eventually took on the role of Promotions Director for a few years, creating assemblies for our partnered middle schools and organizing college events. That is how my internship with one of the leading stations in the Bay Area, 99.7 NOW began in 2014. I was given the opportunity to be in studio help for some of the biggest on-air legends in the Bay!” she says. “Radio helped me find my voice and be able to finally speak up. Not only for myself but for those who feel like they can’t the way I did growing up.”
As Ellen starts her journey as a new co-host for 98.5 KFOX, she is very aware of the fact that starting off as a producer, is a big part of her current success. “I would not trade my process and path for anything,” she says. “Being behind the scenes for so long gave me the rare opportunity to shadow some of the greatest to ever do radio. It helped me understand and break down what makes a great show and how to really connect with the listeners. I was able to see the direct impact when I would call them about the prizes they had won and by the end of the conversation I felt like I had just got off the phone with one of my friends! It gave me the time and space to really hear them out and see what they loved about the show and what we could do to make it better,” says Perez. “Being a producer not only helped me build my confidence up but my skills as well. I think it’s important to be versatile in radio and learn as much as you can, so being a producer gave me the opportunity to do that!”
Perez has had an exciting career so far. “Oh man, So many experiences to name. My whole journey has truly been exciting!” she says. “Like that rush that you get at the station concerts, it’s such an indescribable feeling, being a part of the process then seeing it come to life. Even as an intern I would find a moment to sneak off and find the highest point I could go to and just take a deep breath, look around and soak it all in. Seeing everyone so happy, so connected, singing along at the top of their lungs in unison with their favorite artists! I would leave those nights feeling so energized and proud to have helped create such an experience for so many folks,” she says.
“St. John’s Segment ‘Community Tuesdays’ #GivingBackTheAirwaves is also one of the most exciting things I have experienced in my career. I have met some of the most amazing folks doing great things for our communities!” says Perez, “And Of course the latest most exciting career highlight right now is being Chris Jackson’s co-host. I’m still on a cloud and can’t believe I get to rock the airwaves with such a legend every single morning!!!!! I just got chills right now even saying it. I’m forever grateful for this opportunity and looking forward to all the adventures Chris and I are about to get into together.”
Like any other profession, radio doesn’t come without its challenges. “When you first go into radio the financial part can be a big challenge,” says Perez. “In order for me to be able to stay in radio I had to work two full time jobs, so that meant 16–18 hour days. I was a hotel Night Manager, so I worked graveyard 5 days out of the week and then during the day a radio show producer. Mentally and physically, it was one of the hardest things I have had to do, it challenged me a lot, but giving up was not an option! I knew this was really what I loved to do and was grateful to be with St. John.” she explains. “Yes, I lost a lot of sleep, sacrificed a lot and changed my priorities, but doing something that I truly love made it all worth it.” “I did almost step away from radio when my sister suddenly passed away. I had never felt so lost and without purpose, she says. Then the opportunity for me to be St. John’s producer came up and it’s what brought me back! St. John and my close loved ones did not let me step away and lose myself. They believed in me, and radio gave me that purpose again. The impact we had on listeners, the smiles we brought to them every day and the lives we touched with our community involvement. A strong support system, not being afraid to admit that you need help, trusting your process and not ever forgetting why you are in this industry in the first place is what has kept me going.”
The pandemic was also a bit of a wakeup call for Ellen. “It made me reevaluate what I was doing in my life and had me refocus my attention on what was next for me. I was so used to being behind the scenes as a producer and I did love it, don’t get me wrong, but I knew it was time to step out of my comfort zone and take the next step in my career!” she says. “During the pandemic is when St. John and I came up with his #CommunityTuesdays. With businesses and schools closing there was an immediate increase of folks in the Bay Area who needed assistance and we knew we had to do our part to get the information out there the best way we knew how…by giving back the airwaves! So, every Tuesday we would put a spotlight on an organization, an event, program, or resource to help connect those who needed the extra assistance or anyone who was looking to donate to it. I had people that would reach out to me directly asking if I knew of any programs helping specific needs they had, and it was an awesome feeling being able to pull up a list for them and helping link them. Radio kept us connected and kept us going in many ways during the pandemic.”
Outside of her professional life, Ellen seems to be pretty active. “I live for spontaneous adventures…there’s a cave? Let me see what’s inside (I don’t recommend it). That’s the hottest pepper in the world…Ouu let me see for myself! Oh, you want to dance battle? Hold my horchata and put a napkin over my chilaquiles real quick! Want to go to the beach? Sure! I’ll bring a bucket so I can collect rocks! There’s a Barnes & Noble there…say less! I’ll be at the notebook and pen section on the ground reading a self-help book!”
And when things get to be stressful are overwhelming, she’s got a good recipe for balance. “I’m big on self-care and paying attention to myself. It sounds so easy, but it took me a long time to understand this and apply it to my life,” Perez explains. “Listening to your body and mind, it really is important to take the time to take care of yourself and find those rituals that help ground you when you’re feeling all over the place. It’s different for everyone, but for me being with my godsons and family is huge,” she says. “Nothing crazy, just something easy and light like going on a bike ride with them or for a hike. Then for those days that I just need a moment for myself I run to nature! I will take my journal and favorite pen, get a little meditation action going and just write. Let it all out on paper and just breathe. And there is nothing wrong with treating yourself once in a while too. Get those nails done, your hair done, buy that cute outfit you have been eyeing and eat all that dessert. Get to know yourself enough to find what brings you balance and make it a priority.”
In the meantime, Ellen is adjusting to her new morning show role. “I love a good cup of coffee; I might even drink two! Especially now, I need to drink so much coffee now with this new morning schedule,” she says. “But also need to make sure that I am prepared the next day. That I bring the energy and the content to everyone tuning in every morning. Your mornings really set your tone for the day, and I think about how I can do my part to make it a great day for the listeners! I also stay up looking up unnecessary fun facts and go down a rabbit hole of research and fake news. So, if you ever want to know a random fun fact let me know! If full of them!” says Perez. “I’m excited to grow within my new morning host role, challenging myself and getting to grow in the radio business! Community involvement is on top of the list for me too and I’m looking forward to all the wonderful things I will be able to be a part of this holiday season with 98.5 KFOX!”