Charese Fruge’ Talks To Katie Neal

This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “Women To Watch” series, written by Charese Fruge on June 2, 2020

She went from market 242 to market 1 in just a few years, has been nominated for an Academy of Country Music Awards for Major Market Personality of the Year and just won a Gracie Award from the Alliance for Women in Media for Large/Major Market Personality of the Year. Katie Neal, midday personality for New York’s Country 94.7 has mastered both sales and programming despite having discovered her passion for radio by accident. According to Katie, she hated the sound of her own voice, but was required to take a radio class to graduate from college where fate stepped in and she fell in love.

Her journey wasn’t easy says Neal. “In 2011 I started working for 101.5 WBNQ in Bloomington, Illinois, voice tracking the night show, assisting in production, promo and digital–a little bit of everything. I graduated from Illinois State’s Media Management program in 2012 and then got laid off at Cumulus. Classic radio,” she says. “So I started looking for a job within the company in other markets. Everyone at BNQ was incredibly helpful in my search and used all their resources to get me an interview with New York Market Manager Steve Borneman. I applied for a sales assistant job because I was willing to do just about anything to move to NYC but when I got there Steve offered me a job as a seller instead,” says Neal. “I had no idea how to sell anything but I said yes! And at the very end of 2012 I drove cross country and started 2013 as an Account Executive at 95.5 PLJ.”

“I sold for three years and every once in a while would voice a spot or two for production. Which is how John Foxx found me,” says Neal. “It took a few years but in 2016 he let me audition for a weekend shift on NASH. So for a year I sold Monday thru Friday 9-5 and worked every Saturday or Sunday and any time Foxx would let me in there,” she says. “Late in 2016, I started auditioning for the full-time midday job. I’d literally be auditioning and taking client calls in between breaks. My stress levels then were thru the roof, but it all worked out. Flash forward to February 2017, I got the job as the midday host and here we are today!”

According to Katie, having experience in both sales and programming is a large part of her success. “Having experience on both sides has been really helpful to me. When I was selling I knew the best way to put together a campaign that would sound good on the air and how to write copy for the jocks that wouldn’t sound like a cookie cutter commercial. Now that I’m back in programming it’s helpful to be able to speak the sales lingo and understand the client perspective. I’ve been the translator between departments a time or two.”

Over the years Katie’s experienced plenty of excitement in her career. “Right before my two year anniversary as a full time talent in New York, I got nominated by the Academy of Country Music for Major Market Personality of the Year. And that about knocked the wind out of me,” she says. “At the time I’d gone from a really small market to market 1 in less than a handful of years and was struggling to feel like I belonged or even deserved a seat at the table. But that nomination really gave me a significant boost in confidence and changed things for me,” she says. “And, OF COURSE, winning a Gracie this year is an achievement that I’m incredibly proud of. I’m so grateful. It felt very surreal at first. I had to re-read the email 14 times to make sure they sent it to the right person. If you talk to any woman in the industry they will tell you winning a Gracie is such an accomplishment. And I am truly honored.”

One of the most challenging things Katie has experienced in her career is “Imposter Syndrome.” “As silly as that might sound. When I got the full time midday job at 94.7, I somehow convinced myself that I had tricked some of the best programming minds in the business into giving me a job,” she says. “I was a ball of anxiety that first year and really struggled to feel confident in my ability to be a major market host. I got through it with a lot of John Foxx’s famous pep talks and a whole lot of Lizzo. I’ve realized that it’s much harder for other people to be confident in your abilities if you aren’t.”

That’s a great lesson to take away from this feature. Katie also offers some great advice for young women looking to get into the radio business. “Keep your head up and keep going,” she says. “Every PD has a different style and a different vision for what makes great talent. One may tell you don’t have what it takes for X, Y, and Z. Another one will say you were born for A, B and C. You won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but don’t let that discourage you. Radio is full of all kinds of characters and you just have to find your place,” she adds. “Also, this business is so small. Your reputation good or bad could potentially be the topic of discussion for all kinds of job openings. So make sure it’s one you are proud of.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has definitely changed Katie’s life, since she’s living and working in NYC, the hardest place hit by the virus. “We all joke that there are no snow days in radio. Turns out there are pandemic days…and a lot of them,” she says. “Those last few days when we were still going in to the studio in the city were very strange. To see New York City come to a halt like that was pretty unsettling. And since then it’s been very quiet. Except at 7p, when everyone comes outside to bang on pans and clap for our frontline. This has changed everything for me,” she says. “I started broadcasting out of my closet on March 18th and went from having the world’s craziest schedule of concerts and events to literally nothing. For me this time has been a good time to get back to the basics of what makes great radio: local and relatable content. And to focus on what’s coming out of the speakers.”

What keeps Katie up at night? “Wondering if I left the stove on…again.” (In NYC that’s a legitimate concern.) What keeps her sane? “My people. Blessed is not a word I use very often but when it comes to friends and family I really do feel like I am. They keep me grounded.” And what does Katie want to be remembered for? “Being hilarious? I love making people laugh. If you tell me I’m funny I’ll take that as the highest compliment,” she says. “But also for being kind, kindness is underrated and we sure could use an extra helping of it these days.” And what’s ahead for Katie?” Well if anyone knows Lorne Michaels I’d really like to host SNL, but on a more realistic note I’m really enjoying getting more involved with our Radio.Com team at Entercom and hosting virtual events for listeners. I look forward to doing more”

Follow Katie Neal: @heykatieneal on insta, facebook and twitter + heykatieneal.com