Charese Fruge’ Talks To Erika Jay

This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “Women To Watch” series, written by Charese Fruge on December 7, 2021 

Erika Jay is the new midday host on WLTJ (Q92.9)/Pittsburgh. No stranger to the market, she crossed the street from Froggy 104.3 where she did mornings for seven years. She got her start in the business in college. “I worked all 4 years at WWNW 88.9 Titan Radio at Westminster College in New Wilmington, PA. I even got paid to work there in the summer and was the PD my senior year,” she explains.

“My first ‘real job’ in radio was part-time at Cumulus’ K105 in Youngstown, OH (where I interned). I worked there from May 2003 to September 2005,” she says. “After taking a break for several years, I got back into radio in October of 2012 at Forever Media’s Froggy 95 in New Castle, PA, doing afternoons until November 2014. Then I was promoted/transferred to do mornings for Forever Media/Pittsburgh at Froggy 104.3 from November 2014 – April 2021. Now I’m at Q92.9 and really getting into the Pop format.”

Erika knew from an early age that she wanted to get into radio or television. “I was the kid that called into Pittsburgh stations every night to make requests and dedications,” she says. “I spent so much time using a cassette recorder and microphone, trying to host my own radio show. During my senior year in high school, I loved doing the morning announcements and always volunteered to take over if someone didn’t want their shift. That led me study Broadcast Communications at Westminster College in tiny New Wilmington, PA. I went there wanting to be a news anchor. I quickly realized that I was way too silly, and my personality was way too loud for a job like that – but radio was a perfect fit!” says Jay. “I spent all 4 years working on my college station, including summers, and my senior year I was named Program Director. My internship with Cumulus Media in Youngstown, Ohio, led me to my first ‘real’ job working part-time for their Country station.”

One of Erika’s biggest passions is working with kids in need in her community. “At my last station, we won a PAB (Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters) Award for ‘Outstanding Station Sponsored Event’ for our ‘Santa Cop’ program where we collected thousands of toys and worked with multiple local police stations to have them deliver the toys to local kids in need,” she says. “I considered that my baby. Unless you’re in the industry, most people don’t realize the amount of work that goes into putting on a station promotion. With ‘Santa Cop,’ I worked behind the scenes for months, connecting with local Police Departments and Walmarts, setting up all timelines and schedules, writing promos and imaging for the event. And of course, being on site, broadcasting live on the days that we collected toys. Even going out with one of the departments to deliver the toys, which to me, was the most fulfilling part.

We’re so lucky, we are in an industry that is so fun! I feel so lucky to be in a position where I don’t dread going to work,” says Jay. “I don’t hate Monday’s. I don’t get anxiety about going back after a week of vacation. How lucky are we that we get to play music, share celebrity news, make people feel good, etc., and get paid to do it?! If you don’t love what you do, make a change! Whether it’s a different station, different time slot, different format, etc. Life is too short to be unhappy!”

According to Erika, her passion for supporting kids in need has been a blessing in her career. “Through my job, I have become buddies with the sweetest little 14-year-old that received a quadruple organ transplant 6 years ago. Before I met her, I wasn’t an organ donor. But I quickly changed my status after educating myself and learning how beautiful and life changing organ donation is,” she explains. “I love to share her story, and love to share the good work that UPMC Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh is doing. You can learn about her at Kyree’s Dream Team on Facebook.”

Erika has certainly faced her challenges rising through the ranks in radio over the last 10 years. Her biggest, was adjusting to the world with the onset of the pandemic. “Like so many in the industry, working through COVID has been the biggest challenge. It’s been sad to see so many good people let go due to budget cuts,” she says. “I was so used to being out at events and concerts and getting to know my listeners and then, I started having to wonder… ‘Is anyone listening?!’ Thank goodness for social media because there were times when I would just go to Facebook or Instagram Live just to check in with people, have a happy hour beer with them and see if they were OK. I’d take song requests, talk about the artists with them, talk about what they were having for dinner, etc. Just staying real and ‘normal’ during a time when things were averything but.”

The image of the radio industry has taken a hit due to all the recent budget cuts, talent cuts, “corporate programming,” lack of diversity, etc. I asked Erika what we could do overall to improve the image moving forward. “Personally, I would love to see more women taking on leadership roles, myself included!” She says. “I am always so happy when I open the trades and see that a female has been promoted into a management role, even if I don’t know them! I think things (more women in management) are turning around, but I think it’s what you make it too. Be vocal, know what you want, and go for it! Learn as much as you can and show up!! Trust me, people notice!”

Erika’s long-term goals also include management and longevity. “I have always wanted to work for the same station for 20+ years. I want to be that person that someone says, ‘I grew up listening to you, and still do!’ I’m also very into the music and artists. I would love to be a Music Director,” she adds. “I think it’s fascinating how the songs ‘go for adds’ and then rotate through the categories at the radio station. I LOVE to meet brand new artists, and then watch them grow – everything from getting their first #1, to their first award nominations, then selling out arenas. I also have the desire to be a PD someday. Definitely have a lot to learn!”

Erika feels blessed to work for Steel City Media, one of the smaller broadcast companies. “The company I work for now is owned by three brothers. Those brothers share a corner office in our suite and are there every day,” she says. “I think that’s big, to be able to put a face to their names and know that they are accessible at all times. And knowing that they are there to support us. Also, going back to the whole pandemic thing and job loss. I think the smaller companies have worked very hard to try to keep their people in place. Working for a small radio company is very similar to going to a small college vs. a large one. You really are a name, and not a number.”

What keeps Erika up at night these days? “Career wise, wanting to know what my listeners are doing. This is my first time working middays,” she says. “Are they at home? Are they listening at work? Are they in the car? If so, why aren’t they at work? Are they hearing me in a doctor’s office? My gears constantly turn,” says Jay. “And personally, having a teenage daughter keeps me up at night! I constantly worry about her. And she’ll be heading off to college next fall, so I just want to spend as much time as possible with her right now.”

The good news is her husband brings her balance. “We are very different! I’m loud, he’s quiet,” she says. “I’m a partier, he’s a homebody. I love to shop, it’s his least favorite thing to do! But he is always there for me. Always lets me vent, always gives me a shoulder to cry on, and always supports me no matter what.”

And of course, music brings Erika sanity as well. “I left the Country genre for Pop, which I always liked too. But I’m enjoying learning about the Pop artists a bit more,” she says. “I have Bieber Fever – and I’m not ashamed to admit it! I also love Taylor Swift and Dua Lipa. Ed Sheeran’s “=” album is my favorite right now. And for new artists, I really like The Kid Laroi. Plus, I’m that girl that listens to Christmas music all year round! Pentatonix and Brett Eldredge are my favorites there. “

Obviously, Erika is a big fan of the holidays. “My best holiday memory – I had the opportunity to cheer in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade when I was a senior in high school!” She says. “My parents sent me to New York City for a week so that I could learn the routine. The organizers had a jam-packed itinerary for us – including getting to take in all the sights of NYC. I have memories that will last a lifetime and still try to get my family to watch my parade on VHS tape every year!”

As for 2022, Erika is excited to be a new part of the Q92.9 team. “I was hired in early May and our morning show host was hired shortly after,” she says. “As two new females to the station and format, we are ready to do whatever it takes to get our names out there! We have a very forward-thinking Promotions Director, and I’m anxious to see what 2022 brings for our station promotions. I love event planning and being out in public with our listeners.”

Follow Erika Jay @erika_on_the_radio on Instagram, @erika.jay.q92.9 on TikTok, and Erika Hink Jevcak on Facebook.