Charese Fruge’ Talks To Holly O’Connor
This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “Women To Watch” series, written by Charese Fruge on August 17, 2021
A well-respected member of last week’s “Women’s Forum” at the Morning Show Bootcamp in Chicago, Holly spoke her truth about how important mental health is and left with an overall good feeling about the annual conference. “The panel this year was amazing. The appreciation and respect that was given between all the women up there felt magical. And the best part was the encouragement shown to the people who asked questions. It truly felt like we were all on the same team instead of being in competition with each other. I felt a shift this year that I haven’t felt in years past and it makes me excited for us as talent to take our power back and band together.”
Holly started in radio while finishing college in 2004. “My college had a radio station that any student could apply to work at, and that blew my mind. I never knew I could talk on the radio like the people I used to listen to growing up. It had never occurred to me!” Says O’Connor. “Once I had my first shift I was hooked. Of course, at that time, my main goal was to be famous.”
I started with middays on WCKY/Findlay, OH, and Promotions Director for that cluster,” she says. “I also voice tracked middays on Mix 98.1/Defiance and weekends on Wild 93.9/Lima and The River/Toledo. I then moved to Panama City, FL, for mornings on Island 106 in 2008. I got to Play 98.7 in Tampa for one year, 2011-2012, then went back to Panama City in 2013, then back to Tampa in 2015 for my current station, Hot 101.5.”
It’s easy to understand why Holly is such a big advocate of mental health. “This might sound insensitive, but the most memorable radio moments of my life have happened during tragedies,” she says. “The first one I experienced was Hurricane Katrina. I was in Ohio, nowhere near New Orleans, but my PD at the time had the biggest heart and a drive to help others which led to our station broadcasting around the clock for days, camped out in the station parking lot, collecting donations for the victims. I learned from his example that the main purpose of our business is to help people,” she says. “Which is exactly what happened last year when the pandemic hit—our team was ready to do whatever it took to help our community. We stayed on the air until noon, changed our biweekly podcast to a daily “QuaranCast,” and talked to as many people as we could to offer hope and support in the face of COVID.”
The radio business can be challenging, especially when it comes to the turnover rate in management. “In our 6 years at Hot 101.5 we have had 5 PDs,” says O’Connor. “That’s a major challenge, because every PD rightfully comes into a station with their own ideas and methods of leading. Adjusting to a new regime once a year or so is exhausting and difficult. I am lucky to have Miguel Fuller as my radio partner. We have been together for 13 years now, so we have been able to weather a lot of storms by leaning on each other. I am grateful for our current PD, Will Calder, who has really helped bring everything together!”
Holly’s experience has made her a great role model for women in the industry, and she offers great advice. Her message for her 20-year-old self, “There’s no prize for getting the most people to like you. Having fans does not equal love. Figure out who you are, what you like, and share that with the world! You’ll help more people that way, and that will mean way more than artificial adoration.” Her message for young women looking to get into the business, “Take classes in business and psychology. I regret so much not understanding the art of business and how to run one. And if you can find out why you and the people around you operate the way they do, you’ll be a much better leader.”
You can also learn a thing or two from her about life after her experience with the pandemic. “It made me realize how much energy I was wasting on things that didn’t matter,” she says. “Now that life is ‘getting back to normal,’ I’m finding it difficult to stand firm in my resolve to keep my focus on the things that matter (like my family). It’s easy to get sucked into thinking that work is the most important thing in life, especially in this career. But the whole reason we’re able to do this career is because we live interesting lives. We have to keep that sacred.”
Besides her radio show, Holly’s got a busy schedule. “I don’t have a lot of spare time for just myself. I’m a mom to a very active 8-year-old, I care for my mother who isn’t well, and I have done a deep dive into psychology and mental health with my partner,” she says. “When I do have time for just me, I love learning about spirituality, crystals, moon water, and energy healing. And ancient aliens on TikTok. (Kidding! Kind of.)”
What keeps Holly up at night? “Wondering how the future is going to work out. I’m really good at staying grounded and present during the day, but at night I worry about my career, whether I’m honoring my true callings, whether I even KNOW what my true callings are, my daughter, my mom, my partner, and my friends,” says O’Conner.
As for finding balance, “I’m not sure I ever have,” she says. “Things are always tipping in one direction or another as I focus on different aspects of my life. Knowing that I’ve taken care of each facet of life as much as I can on any given day is about as close as I can get.”
With that, Holly has a plan for her future that involves embracing her passion. “At some point I would love to do a mental health and wellness podcast and maybe even write a book about my journey into self-discovery,” she says. “I know I have a big story to share that will help others, but I’m not quite able to share it yet. I’ll know when it’s time.”
Follow Holly O’Connor on TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter @RadioHolly.