Charese Fruge’ Talks To Joey Fortman

This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “Women To Watch” series, written by Charese Fruge on June 1, 2021 

There was a point in her life that Joey Fortman gave up on radio all together. As it turns out, it was the best decision she ever made for both her personal and professional life. She’s currently the Digital Strategist and Morning Show Host on 96.5 KOIT in San Francisco. She joined the station and re-joined radio just before the pandemic hit. She described her new role for me. “The music is the star, but I’m the messenger. I don’t look at it like a radio person. I know moms don’t sit in their cars waiting for the answer to a trivia question anymore,” she says. “They’re on Facebook laughing at memes in the car line. I look at it like an influencer. I have to find ‘HER’ and remind her that radio is still alive. It is a totally different experience for me than ever before. After being a woman in radio I was told women are meant to be seen and not heard, so to be on a station where EVERY personality is a woman? It was a no brainer for me to return. Especially after the ugly experiences I had in a previous ‘man’s world’ of radio.”

Joey’s is an interesting, yet inspiring story. “My 1st radio job was in 1998 at a 100,000-watt Country station, Froggy 103.7 while going to Murray State in Murray, KY. I was ‘Sally Mander.’ Oh, how I loved those frog names! I then went to 93.7 The Bull in St. Louis, back to Kentucky to do top 40 mornings on Electric 96.9 in Paducah. I’m proud to say I was the first female on that station – ever! From there I went to co-host mornings at a Bristol Broadcasting sister station in the Bristol/Kingsport/Johnson City market. I spent a year and half there. Then after I visited a girlfriend in Chicago and fell in love with it, I went back to Bristol, turned in my two weeks and with less than $100 in my checking account took off for market #2!! No job–oh, the things we do when we’re young! It paid off though. Thankfully!

It was a wild ride in Chicago. In the first two months – I broke down doors driving program directors crazy. I was on a mission! I auditioned for Mancow (Hated it. Talk ‘dirty old man’ content. Not my style.) I was swing/fill in on WTMX, then hired to do afternoons at Star (WSSR). Then within the first year I landed the morning co-host spot at 9FM (JACK Format). It was a dream job!

I ended up marrying a guy who hit up the place I was bartending at and told me he owned a radio station. I told him I just moved to Chicago to look for a radio job. Needless to say, I gave him my number. Little did I know he just worked at a radio station! We moved to Philly so he could program 97.5 The Fanatic. In the first year I landed middays at Ben FM. In 2008, the day I returned from maternity leave – my position was eliminated. I was devastated but relieved when I started hosting a television show called “Better Philly.” I got the call to do afternoons at Now 97.5 and it lasted only a couple of months. As radio luck would have it, the station flipped, and the AM sports station became the first FM sports station in the market. (That sports station? My husband was the PD! Dinner that night was not very peaceful. However, I got a girls trip and a handbag out of the deal. A girl’s gotta work it!)

At that point, the way it went down, I was done with radio. In a sports/rock town trying to do Hot AC and being let go from 2 different stations in a year? Too much to handle as a new mom going through postpartum depression for sure!”

It’s at this point that Joey’s life changed considerably. “At the time, ‘mommy bloggers’ became a big thing. Going through my postpartum I started sharing my story on a blog. I got deep in my new mom world with vulnerable, real and raw stories about what I was going through,” she says. “It exploded and some of my closest friends today came from that hard time in my life. Women all over the world reached out to me with their own stories of new motherhood and told me my story made them feel more human,” says Fortman. “During that time, I know by sharing my voice through my fingertips I was able to help thousands of women to fight harder to end the stigma of postpartum depression. It was one of my greatest gains from my radio loss.”

“I knew I had the opportunity to build a massive personal brand with my television/radio experience. All the other mom bloggers were just writers,” says Fortman. “They didn’t have the media experience I had at that point. When brands started tossing money and opportunity to mom bloggers for their influence? I knew radio was in trouble considering millions of dollars were being diverted to mom bloggers and their businesses. Hence, radio was losing the money that I needed to be hired again. I realized – if I can’t beat ‘em, then I have to join them!

I built an influencer agency with income and experiences beyond my wildest radio dreams! I became a regular contributor on the Today Show, GMA, FOX, I did red carpet work, television commercials, a Beaches (resorts) Mom, a Disney Mom, a Walmart, Best Buy and every mom and more. I made a career out of motherhood! I became a travel/tech and toy expert doing media tours for brands all over the country. I took my on-air talents to the internet, and it paid off… big!”

Joey has certainly learned a lot from the constant change in direction of her career and she is a true entrepreneur. “I left radio in 2009 and started Real Mom Media in 2010. I wanted to ‘pull back the curtain as a mom in the media.’ All in the days when social media was beginning – and exploding. (Before Instagram!) Fast forward to 2020 and just by luck I’ve been given the opportunity for a radio do over,” she says. “I’ve never felt more hopeful for radio since working for Brian Figula at KOIT in San Francisco. He totally gets the influencer aspect and gave me a shot! My love of Christmas music doesn’t hurt either. I always felt like I lost my voice when I left radio. I found it in digital but realized when I returned to radio – I feel like I got my voice back!”

As they say, everything happens for a reason, and things really did come full circle for Joey. “I originally got in radio because my Program Director in Murray, KY told me ‘You’re a female! Women in radio are few and far between – you could write your own ticket!’ I believed him! And to this day, I continue to appreciate him for believing in me and encouraging me to be bigger than what I thought I could be. Thanks Kelly Green!”

Obviously, Joey learned a lot about herself from being out of radio for a while. Most importantly, “I learned that I DO belong. I learned I DO deserve a seat at the table,” she says. “In fact, I learned how to build the table. It was built out of matchsticks at times, but I’ve learned a lot about life along the way. I learned that I can still be talented without a radio stick or radio ‘schtick’ for that matter. I learned women must support each other. We’re bigger and better when we collaborate together!”

According to Joey, her kids are her biggest accomplishment over the years. “They made me what I am today. I couldn’t have done it if I didn’t have a story to tell that other moms desperately needed to hear. I became a regular contributor on national and local television shows. Being able to fly my mom in to do a segment with me on ‘Kathy and Hoda’ was special. I got to fly in a cousin to do a segment on ‘Dr. Oz’ and she had never been to New York City before. I had a garage filled with toy samples that every kid in the neighborhood loved! Yep–that one topped them all! The Coolest Mom on the Block Award.”

As you can tell, it wasn’t an easy road to success for Joey. “As an entrepreneur there are a LOT of challenges. More than I thought when I started. I fell out of a lot of trees without a safety helmet,” she says. “I have a degree in theater, not business! Starting and scaling a business is hard work. Especially on the internet! Another big challenge was being a trailblazer for the influencer community. The ‘OG’ influencers had to get brands on board for the new Instagram influencer mom to make bank for their pretty posts!”

Joey offers fantastic advice for women looking to get into the business and succeed. “Get your act together on the internet first. Build up an online audience of some kind. Learn to collaborate with other influencers and not just radio people. Be a MEDIA COMPANY first. A radio talent is the icing on the cake.”

She also offers great advice on finding balance in an industry which is constantly changing. “I love my swear word adult coloring books. Those were LIFESAVERS during COVID!” says Fortman. “I’m also OBSESSED with hip-hop dance classes. I always wanted to be J-LO from ‘In Living Color.’ Who said a 40+ year old woman can’t dream?”

As far as what’s coming up for Joey in the future: “Moving to San Francisco a few years ago when my husband got a job programming 95.7 The Game was living the dream. I spent the past few years being more in mom mode than anything,” she says. “It’s hard work to move across the country for a radio guy! I’m sure many of you can relate. My biggest project moving forward is my success at KOIT. And I can’t wait to go to concerts again! I started the week before the pandemic and isn’t that what we all get into radio for?” Joey Fortman will also be one of the featured panelists for the “Women’s Forum” at this year’s Talent Master’s Morning Show Bootcamp in Chicago at the Swissotel, August 12th & 13th, hosted by All Access’ Charese Fruge’.

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