Charese Fruge’ Talks To Keisha Nicole

This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “Women To Watch” series, written by Charese Fruge on June 16, 2020

She’s spent many a night sleeping on a radio station couch to get to where she is today. Keisha Nicole is the Queen of Middays in Houston on the legendary 97.9 The Box, and now a new member of “Good Morning H-Town” on The Box as well. She always knew what she wanted to do growing up, radio was in her blood. “I can remember hosting rallies in high school and doing the announcements over the intercom for practice,” she says. “I later enrolled in the radio program at Long Beach City College and that’s where it all started. We took a field trip to 93.5 KDAY. I took my resume with me. They called me the next day for an internship interview and that’s where it all began.”

“My internship turned into a receptionist role and my receptionist role turned into an on- air weekend shift role,” says Nicole. “When I first got into the game, I got to work with some of the people that I looked up to and listened to growing up. It was such a surreal experience. For three years I was a receptionist by week and on the air on weekends. My drive to and from work was an hour and a half. I would often stay after I was done being a receptionist to shadow some of the other personalities, which ended up with me sleeping on the couch at the station,” she says. “One day my program director walked in and said I was the first to be there every day, the last to leave and the least to get paid. That put a lot into perspective for me, because I wanted to elevate, and knew I had to leave in order to grow.”

“I took an afternoon drive position in Louisville, KY in 2010. I was there for five years before taking a position doing afternoons in Indianapolis with Radio One. I was there for two years. I always told myself I would get back to a top 10 market and I gave myself two years to do so,” says Nicole. “When the two year mark hit in Indianapolis, I got offered a position in Houston for middays. I’ve currently been here for 3 years,” she adds. “At the beginning of this year I got blessed with the opportunity to start a new morning show in Houston with two other guys called ‘Good Morning H-town.’ I’m currently on the morning show as well as the host of the midday show and on air on weekends in several different markets.”

One of the hardest things Keisha has had to face in her career was leaving her family to relocate to Louisville to follow her dream. “It turned out to be the best move of my life,” she says. “My cousin called her friend who she used to be in the military with and asked her to let me stay with her until I got enough money to get my own apartment. I’m forever grateful for Wendy. I wasn’t making a lot of money and during that time my lights got cut off several times and my car got repossessed. I didn’t have enough money to pay my bills, but I knew I had a dream and God would work it out for me.”

Moving to Houston is a bit of a culture shock for some, at first, with all of the flooding, the hurricanes, and the everyday challenges of one of the biggest and fastest growing (and most humid) cities in the country. But Keisha feels lucky to be a part of a radio station that is a pillar for the community. “Whenever something happens in this city they immediately look for us to be right there with them to get them through,” she says. “A couple months after I moved here Hurricane Harvey hit. I remember being on the air for hours (like 10 straight) and taking calls from listeners on where they were stuck so we could be the middle man to get them help. Our station was able to help build a house for a family who was hit hard from the hurricane, and that was so rewarding to watch.”

Another challenge, COVID-19, and its impact on Keisha’s life has made her a lot busier than usual. “We had just started the new morning show when the pandemic hit. Also, I got offered a few more shows in different markets on top of my two shows here, so I’ve been working double time through most of it,” she says. “Here in Houston, on the morning show, we stepped up and kept our listeners informed on where to get tested, how they can get assistance, etc. if they’d lost their jobs. It really helped to make an early connection with our listeners. We also found other ways to make sure we kept our engagement up during this time with Instagram interviews with not just celebrities, but also tips from experts on mental health, wellness and more.”

The recent death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer had a major impact on his home town of Houston. “Houstonian’s felt it on a different level,” according to Keisha. “You always say to yourself this could be my brother, son, cousin or anyone I know. For some here in Houston, it is. So many people here knew and loved him,” she says. “We opened the phone lines to allow callers to express how they felt during this time and some of his friends called in to speak to his legacy. He was mentor to many young men here in Houston so it’s very personal,” she says. “We’ve all heard the stories of him baptizing the youth and his community outreach. Thousands of people across the world protested in the wake of his death. The black voice has been ignored for as long as we can remember. We’ve been dealing with death at the hands of police for too long and enough is enough. There has to be change in our criminal justice system and those officers need to be held accountable and the community is ready to fight for it.”

She goes on to add that “Houston Strong” is something this city lives by. “The community has been through so much and continues to stand together when tragedies hit,” she says. “For me, it’s important that I not only talk about what’s happening, but also that I am able to offer a safe place for our listeners to express how they feel without censoring them. We stopped the music one Sunday morning and for four hours had a town hall conversation. It broke my heart to hear the pain in the voices of our black men and our black mothers.”

Another very important cause for Keisha is something you don’t hear a lot about these days, but I’m betting that’s going to change now thanks to her. “Last year I had to have a Myomectomy to remove large growing fibroids. I didn’t know so many black women are affected by fibroids. I became very vocal and transparent about my operation, so much that I have women from all over reaching out to me about their stories with fibroids,” she says. “This past year I’ve been working to put together a cause to bring awareness to fibroids and issues with women’s health. I want to make sure women know there are different treatment options out there that your doctor won’t talk to you about.”

This woman is on a clear path to leave an amazing legacy. She wants to do more than just be successful, she wants to make an impact. “The work you do matters. Legacy is impact, purpose, sacrifice and service,” says Nicole. “Having a clear balance between spirituality, family, love, charity, purpose, health and wealth is what matters to me. I’m still on the journey and it’s so important to make sure you enjoy the journey. That’s where you build character. The process of achieving a goal is much more fulfilling than getting it right now. If I get it now, then what will I look forward to? Now what? I’ve always been taught not to glorify things. You can lose things, power and money. Enjoy and trust the process. Live fully. Refuse to give up. But more than anything, GIVE! Give this world love and light.”

One of the ways Keisha is giving back is by being a great mentor for women who want to get into the radio business. “The best lesson I’ve learned is to find your purpose and let that guide you. If not, it’s easy to get caught up in the industry part of the business,” she says. “I always ask young girls ‘what’s their why’? Why are you in this business? What are you using your platform for? I’ll never forget K Sly telling me that when I inquired about getting into radio, ‘It’s not going to happen overnight.’ Long gone are the days where you’re just a personality. Get in and learn EVERYTHING. Also, it’s about the listeners and not you,” she adds. “Never compromise who you are for a dollar or a laugh. The listener knows when you’re being authentic and when you’re not. Stick to your brand and don’t flip-flop. Also, social media is imperative. That’s another job in itself. Social media is your resume. Make sure what you post is a reflection of your brand. Most importantly, have fun. That’s what it’s about. Smile. People want to know you’re having fun.”

We have a lot to look forward to with Keisha Nicole. She has several plans already in the works for community outreach and creating a safe space for youth in Houston. She’s revamping a platform called “Under The Influence’” designed to bring more substance to life. And she’s making plans to create an outreach program for young females to encourage them to be all they can be and increase their self-esteem. “It’s my goal to have a program that is career driven and is a constant form of encouragement,” she says. “I want to instill in them some of the same values that have allowed me to reach my goals and prepare me for some of the amazing opportunities that I have been fortunate enough to receive.” Follow her @keishanicole

After completing this interview with Keisha, we learned of the tragic loss of one of our dear friends and radio sisters over the weekend. Grisel Barajas was an inspiration to so many on a personal and professional level. Keisha wanted to share this message Grisel sent to her. It’s one of many examples of how Grisel was a light in everyone’s life who knew her.

“Keep humble, keep working, keep striving, don’t lose the essence of who you are along the way. Take time to make friends, take time to expand your heart and your mind. Keep doing something because you still have passion for it, not because you must. And always, no matter what, check-in with yourself, constantly ask yourself …Why?!, why am I doing this? Why ?… if the answer still fills your soul and gives you a motive beyond yourself, then keep through. And if it doesn’t, it only means it’s time to knock on a different door….” – Grisel