Women To Watch: Charese Fruge’ Talks To J. Belle

This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “Women To Watch” series, written by Charese Fruge on February 23, 2021 

She’s the co-creator of the current Podcast series “Breaking the Ceiling” which highlights Black radio talent, rookies and vets who have made a name for themselves beyond radio. J. Belle (Jenelle Vannoy) has been through two major surgeries and the impact of 2020 on the radio industry, and has still managed to reinvent herself on several levels, including starting her own media production company, “J. Belle Media,” perfecting her digital marketing skills, and creating multiple opportunities to highlight her many talents, including her on air skills.

It all started for J. Belle in Las Vegas. “I started my radio career officially in 2010 after moving to work with the legendary station, KCEP (Power 88) as an intern. After 7 months of interning under their afternoon jock Chris Brown, I got a chance to be a part of their new morning show as their traffic/weather reporter,” Vannoy says. “Before graduating UNLV, I was hired at Clear Channel (now iHeart) in 2013, as a part time board operator/morning show producer for the “Bobby Bones Morning Show” on their country station 95.5 The Bull. I became a part time personality in 2014, left the company, worked for my local news station in my hometown of Winston Salem, NC from 2015-2017, got hired at Radio One as an Online Editor and then laid off by that company in 2019. I moved to Phoenix and now, in addition to owning my own media company hosting my Podcast “Girl Talk with J. Belle,” and co-hosting “Breaking the Ceiling,” I’m currently with Riviera Broadcasting as a part-time on-air personality/fill in Traffic reporter for their Rhythmic CHR station, KKFR Power 98.3/96.1.”

J. Belle fell in love with radio in college. “My love for radio grew while attending NC A&T State University in Greensboro, NC. I took a radio practicum class during my sophomore year at the college station, WNAA 90.1 FM. After a semester of learning everything radio in person, I was hooked and actually auditioned the next year to be a talent at the station,” she says. “But professionally, I got into the business with a lot of persistence and was hired by Chris Pickett who was the PD at the time for iHeart Las Vegas and gave me my real shot at commercial radio on the former station, MY93.1 before it was flipped to 93.1 The Party.”

Over the years, J. Belle has had some exciting experiences. “My most exciting was a chance to go to St. Jude’s for their ‘Celebration of Hope’ weekend,” says Vannoy. “First of all, I’ve never been to Memphis and I always wanted to go, but just to see in person what they do and how many kids they have actually helped for decades, it felt good to see so many happy kids getting a chance at living a full life. In addition to that,” she adds, “A lot of my fun experiences happened during my time at Radio One because I got a chance to connect with other Online Editors in other markets for their big events and connect with other radio personalities and program directors who have become my real friends in the past couple of years. Also, I got to go to a lot of concerts and do a lot of meet and greets with some of my favorite artists like Eric Benet, H.E.R. and Bobby Brown and Erykah Badu.”

Her success so far hasn’t come without its obstacles. “I believe one of my most challenging times was when my station flipped and because I was the last one hired, I was the first one to be taken off the air and it being the first actual chance to build my career, I was devastated. I was so depressed, I fell into a deep, dark slump where I just didn’t want to be a part of the business anymore. In the beginning, I definitely didn’t handle it well but after working through it and learning it wasn’t my talent, it’s just ‘the business’ (as many would say), I started putting myself back out there, sending out air checks, getting air checked by other PDs. Once I started really putting myself out there again and believing in myself it became a lot easier.”

2020 didn’t come without its challenges for J. Belle either. “I had just had major surgery a couple of months prior to the world shutting down and then I decided to go back under the knife for another major surgery at the height of the pandemic,” she says. “Add that part in with being furloughed from radio and my second job having us work from home daily, it’s been a kind of insanity I wouldn’t wish on anyone. But, on the upside of this, I’ve been able to really invest in myself and get new equipment & really expand my podcast and work with other content creators on projects I never would’ve done if the world hadn’t shut down. So, it’s been a 50/50 for me.”

Her advice for dealing with the impact of the pandemic and the downsizing of talent in droves: “I would say, do all of the stuff you wanted to do prior to being furloughed or laid off, do it now and expand upon that. A lot of PDs are definitely looking for talent that don’t just kill it on the mic but have extensive skills in the digital arena, because that’s the way everything is going,” she says. “And if social and being a content creator isn’t exactly your forte, find something that makes you happy, because at the end of day we all want to do what we love and make money from it somehow.”

During the pandemic, J. Belle has managed to make the most of the downtime. “I’ve worked on my podcasts, connecting with The Radio Fam and a fellow radio personality, Vicky Roe, out of Lafayette, LA and creating our current series, “Breaking the Ceiling,” that highlights Black radio talent, rookies and vets that have really made a name for themselves beyond radio, she says.” She’s also managed a little leisure time. “I have been binge watching shows on HBO Max because they have everything you could ever want in a streaming app. I’ve re-watched “Sex and the City,” and seeing that show at my age now is so different than watching in college.”

An important step in finding a successful path in the radio industry is having great mentors to help through troubling times. “I do have one mentor who helped me in a big way,” Vannoy says. “Her name is Lil’ D out of Dallas at 97.9 The Beat. It’s weird how we connected but I wouldn’t change it for the world. The world blesses you when you need it the most. But having a mentor in this business is definitely important. Especially one who’s been on the same journey as you. It lets you know that you aren’t alone in this,” she says. “I also believe having the right circle of people around is important too. Having people who align more with your career than your history is important because in this radio game, your friends on the outside a lot of times aren’t going to get the process of what’s happening when it comes to getting laid off or a station flipping, or even the station being bought while you’re literally on your way to work that day.”

What keeps J. Belle up at night is wondering when it will be her turn to really turn the world upside down with her talent in a full-time radio gig. “I keep getting close but haven’t closed the deal yet. I just want to help my parents for a change instead of them always helping me and this big dream I have.”

“My balance is my podcast and talking to my therapist weekly now. She helps me navigate through my present issues while I work through my past trauma. If you can afford it or your insurance allows it, definitely get a therapist. Self-care is everything, and It will be your biggest investment in yourself.”

J. Belle has many plans for the future as her success continues to grow. “Expanding on my production company more, continuing to do my podcasts and finally finding the courage to do my own camera work with “The Gossip Minute are on the list of priorities. I also hope to finally get that full time gig that’s perfect for me,” she says. “In addition, watch out for “Breaking the Ceiling” to continue and expand more. I’m hoping to build more on my own brand and get more freelancing on camera opportunities also. Prayers up and keeping the faith that God got me.”

Follow J. Belle on her website: https://www.jbellemedia.com

IG: https://www.instagram.com/jnellebelle

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jbelleonair

Facebook: fb.me/iamjbelle

Demo link: https://bit.ly/3q7oNm