Charese Fruge’ Talks To Lauri Pearson

This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “The Bigger Picture” series, written by Charese Fruge on March 22, 2022 

Lauri Pearson is a lifelong music lover who has worked at major labels and on-air at radio stations since 1991. She owns and programs LauriRadio independently in Austin, TX. She launched the station a year ago and is a one woman show 24/7. “I am the owner and Program Director (and Music Director, and on-air talent, Social Media Manager…),” she says, and her list of responsibilities goes on and on. Here is how it all started for Lauri. “My career officially started in a parking lot when my best friend asked me why I wasn’t ‘doing something in music,” she says. “I was pre-med but hated it and it was so obvious to everyone but me that music was my true love. I had an idealistic outlook and emotional attachment to music and felt like making money at the business of music would take the magic out of what I loved. But the more I thought about it, the more examples I thought of where tremendous careers had been built around music. At the time there was no ‘Music Business’ degree, so I started taking Radio Television & Film classes with the dream of moving to New York City and working at a major label (I have always had a love affair with New York). It just seemed like the biggest dream I could conjure.”

“Within a couple of semesters, I did an internship at KISS FM in San Antonio, and was bitten by the cruel mistress bug that is radio. After a number of years on the air at Rock, Classic Rock, and AC stations, I decided to move to New York to work at a label,” explains Pearson. “My friends and co-workers at the station thought I was delusional. I had no job when I got there- just packed my stuff into a U-Haul and left Texas. I temped at labels until I landed my first official gig at Capitol Blue Note working Licensing and Copyrights for the Blue Note catalog. Later I worked for Sony Music/Columbia Records in Strategic Marketing, and also worked on projects with Sony Pictures. They were the golden years of record promotion–mid to late 90’s, and I formed lifelong friendships there,” she says. “It was as I call it, ‘boot camp for life’ and the music industry in general. I saw how the sausage was made and I saw things I can’t forget – for better or worse. Artists who weren’t actually singing got huge deals, and artists who were amazing got dropped for dead. The shine wore off. So, in 2000 I moved back to Texas, got back into radio, and worked a number of formats including News/Talk, Country, CHR, and Sports Talk. Since moving to Austin in 2013, I’ve worked remotely for two Boston start-ups as Marketing and Communications Manager while keeping up my side hustle of Voice-Over work, which I still do. I’m an independent contractor and work with some really great long-term clients.”

Picking up and moving to New York was a big deal and pretty courageous for Lauri. “How I went about working for a major label still feels like a huge accomplishment. Moving to New York with nothing but a U-Haul of my stuff, a couple grand in my pocket and a big dream was very formative for how I set expectations for myself,” she says. “More recently, starting LauriRadio is of equal par but very different. I didn’t know it was coming, but here I am. Women create something out of nothing. That’s what we do. And I don’t so much have a Plan B, you know?”

“I came up with the idea for LauriRadio after a dear friend in record promotion told me to listen to a station here in Austin that had once again changed formats,” she says. “Since

jocks are always looking for a job, we tend to swarm when a station gets blown out or changes format. I tuned in to this particular station (which had been Top 40 prior to their alleged format change), but the first song I heard was a Billie Eilish tune. Then they played Ariana Grande or similar- again, no big flip. But the station had given themselves a woman’s name, so I put that all together and said ‘oh shit. It’s an all-female radio station…brilliant!’ But as soon as that thought crossed my mind, they played Maroon 5. For a split second I was disappointed, but in that next split second I realized it needed to be done – and it needed to be me. I got chills that felt like a lightning bolt, and I knew.”

According to Lauri, the inspiration for the music and content of LauriRadio goes against that one ridiculous rule that some white guy who is at least 90 years old at this point made up a longtime ago about music scheduling. “Going way back to one of the first Program Directors I ever worked for, I was told, ‘we never play more than two female artists in a row or more than a couple an hour because they all sound the same and the listener can’t tell them apart,” she says. “That has changed somewhat since, but not by much. My programming has gotten more specific since I launched a year ago. I’m much more Alternative, Indie and Rock than when I started. What I’ve found is, we don’t need one all-female radio station that plays everything by any and every female artist. We need a bunch of them to serve different audiences. The music is there, the audiences are there. The music stands on its own. It’s not a novelty or a gratuitous acknowledgement. It’s a format like any other format, and it holds its own,” she says.

“As I started collecting songs for the station, the LGBTQIA+/Non-Binary music folded in naturally. If you asked me how many LGBTQ artists I played, I couldn’t tell you. They fit the format like the rest of the artists and are part of the collective, diverse voice of the badass female spirit,” says Pearson. “That’s the other thing- I wanted a station where you could feel your own power through the voices of the artists. There are no crybaby songs on LauriRadio. There are plenty of ‘take me back, I’ll die without you’ songs and stations out there. Not here. Ditto for the drops, comedy bits, and movie quotes. There’s a confidence in every stance each element expresses.”

Starting an online radio station requires more than just the basic knowledge of technology that comes with radio. It’s very in depth. But Lauri gives us an inside peek. “It is a 24/7 business. The barrier to entry is steep, as is the learning curve,” she says. “Ten, even five years ago, I would have had to have a corporate entity behind me to pull this off. That scenario would have forced something much more commercialized and controlled. Luckily, the technology is there now when it wasn’t before. I program with the industry standard, MusicMaster. My automation platform is PlayOutOne, and I stream on Live365, among others. I had to learn all three platforms in order to run all necessary aspects of the station. The tech support for all three is stellar, but it’s still a solo road. Not to mention figuring out a PC laptop. God, that was the worst,” she says. “I choose music based on a certain criteria and have purchased all of it except the tunes artists have sent me (which is awesome). I also pick the elements that play throughout the day. I configure the clocks, run the logs, edit the logs, show prep, and track. I constantly monitor the station and I have to remind myself every day that building a business takes time. After one year in, I can look back and say not one minute was wasted.

Philosophically, you could say my mission statement is I want to make more people feel the way the music makes me feel – stronger, impassioned, resolute, part of something bigger, yet more like yourself.”

Like most in the radio and music business, Lauri has had her share of challenges. One of her biggest: “Getting a callback on a cold call and being taken seriously about certain projects have always been tough gets,” she says. “In this industry, it’s hard to separate discouragement from constructive criticism, especially when someone might not know how far you’re willing to take an idea. When something like that frustrates or discourages me, I know it’s because I need to push through it. That’s a lot easier said than done. The 99 times I’ve failed at something were lonely and empty. Friends and family are a huge support, but it’s the long, dark nights of the soul that make you question the very idealism you might be known for. I’ve used up 99 so many times, only because I wanted it more than I wanted to quit,” says Pearson. “My advice? Just keep moving. Don’t let anyone take you out of the game. Not anyone!”

As I was trying to get to know a little more about Lauri as a person, I found out she’s got a great family story. “I’m adopted and just found my biological family a few years ago,” she says. “They welcomed my daughter and I (and my known family members) with open arms – and a huge party. I know that’s not everyone’s adopted story, and I know I am indeed fortunate to have such an expansive family tree. I have lunch with my mom as often as I can to make up for lost time. When not immersed with the station, I spend time with my daughter and our pets. Any time with her (and them) is golden. I also love to stay in touch with the people I miss most and go for drives and listen to music. SXSW 2022 just wrapped here in Austin, and it made me want to see as much live music as possible.”

As for Lauri’s short-term goals, “I intend to play LauriRadio out in great detail, more artist involvement, more elements, more features, more social, more music. I am ALWAYS looking for new music. I’m also looking at bringing a sponsor or creative partner on, but it has to be the right person or entity- they have to really get it,” she says. As for her long-term goal and passion project, “I have 35 chapters of a book written about the music industry… I was on a streak when LauriRadio basically took my life over. I need to get back to that.”

Follow Lauri Pearson on Instagram @LauriRadio