This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “Women To Watch” series, written by Charese Fruge on December 3, 2019
To say she is an “over achiever” would be an understatement. It wouldn’t do her justice. Grisel Barajas is simply DRIVEN! Open to all possibilities and determined to make the best of any situation. It’s a quality we should all strive to have. For the few years I have known her now, I have never seen her back down from a challenge. In fact, it’s hard not to notice the thrill on her face when she’s presented with one.
As the Program Director and afternoon host on Indie’s WNOW-HD3 La Grande 105.1 FM and content creator and on air talent for sister station Telemundo 19 WDNI-CD, Grisel brings her unique Spanglish style to viewers, listeners and followers combining two cultural worlds to entertain. Did I mention she also hosts middays on pop sister station 92.1 Radio Now, KROI/Houston? She’s got a lot going on.
Grisel graduated from the University of Southern Indiana in 2011 with Bachelor’s in both Social Work and Psychology. In 2014 she received a Master of Arts in Communications and became the first Latina to give a graduation reflection speech. Her radio career began with WEOA, a hip hop station in Evansville, Indiana where she started as an account executive. She later worked her way on to the air staff, doing middays there. She used her Spanish to spice up her segments and became the first bilingual radio host in the tri-state area. In 2015, she debuted her very own “Spanglish” radio show for WEDJ/Indianapolis. From there she became a household name among Latinos. In 2016 she was recognized by the City of Indianapolis with the “Champions of the City” Award. The rest, as they say, is history.
Oddly, Grisel never really set out to be in radio. “As a child I would pretend to have my own shows, but it was simply an outlet. I was always talking to people, to my family, my toys, to anyone who would listen really,” says Barajas. But according to her, it was just a fantasy. She never set out to actually do it. It wasn’t until she was working as a social worker and was invited to be a guest for a community show on WEOA that she actually discovered a passion for broadcasting. She became a regular on the show, and later asked for a job on the air. “Before landing behind the microphone, though, I did everything,” she says. “I mean EVERYTHING! I cleaned studios, worked promotions, worked in sales, was a board operator, and I did everything in between.”
The same can be said for the current position she holds now as a Program Director. “It was completely unplanned,” according to Barajas. “I never actually applied for the programming position. I just applied for the afternoon drive slot. After speaking with the higher-ups, their idea of what I could do was very different from mine. I think that alone is one of my most profound achievements,” says Barajas. “I am currently the PD of Radio One’s only Spanish radio station. As a Latina I don’t take lightly the opportunity to program a Mexican Regional station, especially as a woman.”
- When you started out, did you realize that broadcasting would be challenging for women, and if so how did you approach that challenge?
“Yes, I did. But not only because I am female, but also because I am an immigrant. I moved to the United States when I was nine years old. English was my second language, but it always felt like my first here, UNTIL I wanted to be on the radio. I experienced so much discomfort at times, being Latina. It was hard to get programmers to see past certain ‘stereotypes’ and it was sometimes even more difficult to get them to listen past my accent. I remember I would practice reading out loud for HOURS trying to neutralize my accent. Then one day I just remember thinking, ‘You know what, I can reach twice as many people. I speak Spanish, English and Spanglish. I’m going to do just that.’ That’s when everything changed for me.”One other challenge Grisel struggled with in radio was work attire. “I am a woman. By nature my style is feminine. I love being a woman with all the girly things included. Anyone that has ever worked with me knows that I wear heels to everything, unless something is seriously wrong, or I am seriously late. If I could work out in heels I would,” says Barajas. “I know that sounds silly but I am serious. I am not the jeans and hoodie kind of programmer. I love to dress up and that was difficult for me because any time I would get a great opportunity, other colleagues would think it was because of every reason OTHER than my hard work and determination.””Being a woman in radio is hard because the industry is so highly dominated by males,” says Barajas. “But I would fight the fight and walk the path (in my heels) over and over again if necessary. We need more women in radio with strong back bones. Not because we need to ‘defend’ ourselves, but because we can bring so much that is still needed to the table. We can help make it bigger, better and shinier!”
- What advice would you give to any newcomers to the business facing the challenges of the industry today?
“Be intentional and be you. Anyone can show up to a job, meeting or event, but not everyone shows up with intent. That will set you apart. People want to work with those that are intentional, that want to learn and to grow and help the business grow. Radio is more than just talking, or posting cool concert pics and artist interviews on social media. Radio is a commitment to people, community, culture and music. It’s an emotional engagement. When you are intentional about being involved, people will see that and offer you opportunities that you can’t even currently imagine.”
- And what is your intention? Why are you so passionate about what you do?
“My overall goal is to cultivate more opportunities in the business for Latinos and other minorities. I want to continue to pave the way for other people that want to get into mainstream media, and broadcast in their second or third languages. I am still that little 9-year-old Mexican girl who just wants to make her parents and family proud. I want to continue to show my parents and immigrants in this country that it is possible for us to do amazing things. That we bring so much value because we do speak with an accent and speak and think in several different languages at once. I want to continue to advocate for diversity within the industry and allow people to make a connection with the culture, after all that is how we win in this business: connect, entertain and create loyalty.”
Follow Grisel Barajas on social media @GriselBarajas #tuchavadelaradio