Charese Fruge’ Talks To Keke
This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “Women To Watch” series, written by Charese Fruge on September 26, 2021
As the voice of Chicago millennials, Keke was named a “2020 Rising Radio Star” by Radio Facts Magazine, and an “African American Future Radio Leader” by Radio Ink Magazine. She continues to create viral content and deliver compelling celebrity interviews and is also a Television and Digital media personality making multiple appearances on ABC 7’s “Windy City Live” and Fox 32’s “Later with Leon”. She is a co-host of the popular “What More Can I Say” Podcast, and when she’s not on the mic, you can catch Keke reporting from the hottest events, or hosting “The Kickback with Keke”, her after school program for underprivileged kids in the south suburbs of Chicago.
“I began my career as an intern in 2009 at iHeartMedia/Chicago,” says Keke. “In 2011 I landed my first job as a continuity coordinator. I was later promoted to traffic manager, and in 2017 I finally conquered my fear and submitted an on-air demo and began my on-air role at WGCI. In addition to my on-air role, in 2018 I also accepted a position as the Digital Content Manager for the iHeartMedia/Chicago cluster.
I got into the business after landing an internship with UB Rodriguez who was the afternoon jock on WGCI-F at the time,” says Keke. “After UB gave me a shot, I began working closely and interning for the program director at the time, Kris Kelley. I learned a lot as an intern and worked hard to land my first paid position. I fell in love with radio at about 10 or 11 years old. As a kid, I used to call my local station (WGCI in Chicago) and ask the jocks if I could work there. They would always tell me to stay in school, so I made up my mind at 11, that radio would be my career.”
Keke feels privileged for the opportunities she’s been given as a result of her career in radio. “I’ve been blessed to experience so many exciting things,” she says. “A few of my highlights include getting the opportunity to travel to LA for the BET Awards, making my first television debuts on ABC 7 Chicago and FOX 32, and hosting concerts on stage in front of thousands of people at the United Center.”
Like most in the business, in the beginning, conquering your fear is a big challenge. So far, it’s been one of the biggest of her career, according to Keke. “Fear has been my biggest challenge. Although I knew at 11 years old, I wanted to be on the radio, when I arrived at my dream job as an intern, I was terrified to admit that I wanted to work on-air. I worked behind the scenes for years, afraid to turn in a demo because I did not think I was good enough to touch a microphone. Fear held me back for so long, but one day a co-worker forced me to send in a demo and since then, I have been truly living my dream.”
Another big challenge for Keke: “The pandemic has been one of the biggest. Working through a pandemic challenged me for the better though,” she says. “With the world shutting down, I was forced to tap into a higher level of creativity that I didn’t even know I had! I was able to broadcast from my bedroom closet, interview my favorite celebs virtually, and invite my listeners into my home in exchange for an invite into theirs through their smart speakers and devices. As a digital content manager, it forced me to provide non-stop news and entertainment from my brands. Through the pandemic it was my goal to be that constant companion for our followers as we all stared into our phones, watching the world transform like never before.”
Since Keke is a Digital Program Director, I asked her if she had any desire to be a traditional Program Director. “Yes!” She said. “As an intern, I watched and worked closely with a very powerful female program director named Kris Kelley (RIP). Through that experience I developed an interest in programming and leading radio stations. As an industry, we need to empower more women, coach future leaders, and share knowledge. One of my goals is to start a mentoring program for women across the industry. Having a mentor is so important and valuable at every stage in life,” she says.
What keeps Keke up at night? “My desire to be the best,” she says. “I am so hard on myself, and I tend to overthink everything… I spend a lot of time thinking about my future and the constant evolution of radio. My passion for the industry runs deep, and I want to be sure that I accomplish all that I dreamed of as a kid.”
She does manage to maintain some balance and sanity in this ever-changing industry. Her foundations? “My faith in God and my family,” she says. She also manages to stay busy outside of her many job responsibilities. “In my spare time, I love to spend time with my family. My siblings and I are very close so any moment that I get away from work, I love to spend time with them. I also enjoy traveling and hosting my after-school program for underprivileged youth in Chicago.”
As for the future, she’s going to be very busy. “My podcast! The ‘What More Can I Say’ Podcast was a passion project birthed in the pandemic and the response has been amazing. My co-host and I plan to continue to elevate and deliver the unfiltered content our ‘Pod fam’ loves. Also be on the lookout for more ‘Keke Tees,’ my new merch line dropping this holiday season. And of course I plan to keep elevating my radio show on WGCI-F. Catch me on-air Saturdays 2-6pm.
Follow Keke everywhere: @OnAirKeke and visit my website: OnAirKeke.com