Charese Fruge’ Talks To Lisa Adams

This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “Women To Watch” series, written by Charese Fruge on March 9, 2021 

She’s part of the 12% of Female Program Directors in the country, a statistic that has sadly remained stale for the last 14 years. Lisa Adams is celebrating 30 years in the business as on-air talent and an award-winning Programmer. Grooming more women on the programming side is one of her career priorities. She’s currently the Program Director and on-air host from 8a to 2p on the newly launched Magic 97.9 in Boise. Let’s tackle her impressive history first.

“I’ve been blessed to work for some amazing companies and call letters over the years. From my very first gig doing overnights at KRLT/KOWL in Lake Tahoe to simultaneous part-time gigs where sometimes I would clock over 200 miles in a single day traveling from Hot 97.9 and 94.5 KFOX in San Jose to Star FM in San Francisco, then a short jaunt up to Santa Rosa and my gigs at Variety 99.9 and KFOX,” says Adams.

“Then came APD/MD/Promo Director at KFFM Yakima to Mornings/Middays at KDON Salinas-Monterey back to KFFM, then to Nights/MD at 107.5 The Beat in Portland, then APD/Middays and Marketing at Rosie 105 (now 105.1 The Buzz) to a part-time gig at Z100 Portland, then to afternoons/APD at 96.5 The Point in Seattle to Marketing Director when the station switched to alternative. I then crossed the street to 92.5 KLSY where I signed on Movin’ 92.5 (the first rhythmic AC in the Nation),” says Adams.

After that, Lisa then went to Movin’ 107.5 Portland and executed the flip to Jammin’ 107.5. “After they sold that signal to iHeart I found myself the PD/Air Talent at 107.9 Lite FM/ WOW Country 104.3 in Boise, ID,” she says. “Shortly after, I received a promotion to help Peak Broadcasting in Fresno overseeing Y101 and for a short stint sister station 93.7 Kiss FM along with OM duties in Boise. After Peak was bought by Townsquare, I went back to Seattle to Hubbard’s 98.9 Click FM. Then it was Marketing Director duties and some interim PD responsibilities at Warm 106.9 that then morphed in to a successfully launched New Country 98.9 The Bull. Now, I’m back in Boise where I’m the PD/Air Talent for The New Magic 97.9! Whew, was that brief enough?!”

How did Lisa get in to radio? “I got into the business in my twenties putting myself through the communications program at Ohlone College in Fremont California. They have an amazing radio/television curriculum,” she says. “From producing a local cable news program to doing a weekly radio show on the college station, it was love at first class! My parents said radio would never pay the bills but here I am thirty years later, and I still love every minute of every day!”

“I’ve always been in a programming capacity since the beginning of my career. From my very first day in this business, I set my career intention on being a PD,” says Adams. “I wanted to be able to help guide and create a radio stations programming and culture. I was very fortunate to work with and for some of the best in our business, but in the back of mind I always wondered why there wasn’t a lot of female PDs…for whatever reason. I wanted to change that direction for women in our business. Women should be programming female targeted stations, and even today, we are seeing more and more women in management roles but it’s still few and far between in programming.”

According to Lisa, every day she’s able to continue to be employed in the business is a major accomplishment for her. Others over the last 30 years include, “First and foremost, being able to mentor and coach some amazing talent over the years. I LOVE seeing other people grow and become successful broadcasters. It’s one of the main reasons I’m in this business, she says. “Helping create and launch new brands is also big for me! My favorite three were Movin’ 92.5, Jammin’ 107.5 and New Country 98.9 The Bull. They were all very exciting and extremely challenging to pull together. There are so many factors like creativity, discipline and focus in launching a new brand that listeners will fall in love with! It’s such a great feeling when it’s all said and done. A lot of people in our business never get the chance to launch a new station and I’ve been fortunate to be a part of a few,” she says.

In addition, “Doing fun, crazy and exciting promotions/events that create engagement for our listeners and clients is a major accomplishment for me,” adds Adams. “I’ve done quite a few over the last 30 years, from Backstage BBQs to acoustic lounges and onstage experiences for listeners to hang with their favorite artists (playing guitar with Lenny Kravitz was so cool!). To raising money for charitable causes like The American Red Cross during 9/11 by selling t-shirts, to starting the Backpack Buddies program with the Idaho Food Bank, to helping raise money for St. Jude’s. I love connecting my stations to charitable work,” she says. “One of the craziest promotions I ever did was Savage Survivor with the Andy Savage Morning Show at KROCK in Seattle with listeners living in an RV with the last person standing winning a bunch of cash. One important note, make sure to make arrangements to get the toilet pumped. It’s not fun getting a call saying the toilet was full and about ready to dump all over the trailer in the middle of the promotion.”

When you spend 30 year dedicated to an ever-changing industry, you’re going to face many challenges. Lisa is no stranger to them. I asked her to describe a few and how she chose to handle them. “I originally started to answer this question by trying to sugar coat the experiences to be able to answer you and not make people uncomfortable. I stopped myself,” she says. “This might not be every woman’s (or man’s) experience, but I know these are shared experiences that other women (and men) in this business have gone through as well. This is my truth. It may not be yours and you may not believe it, but these are true occurrences that have happened over the course of my career.”

“There are two biggies that come to mind. Being discriminated against and the harassment that I experienced being a woman in this business,” says Adams. “I’ve had mangers tell me that I was too emotional, not good enough, not pretty enough, overweight, even threatened with getting fired just because that manager couldn’t take ownership of his mistakes, and that my ideas were ‘too out there,’ saying I had no future in this business. I’ve also been told that women are just fine to be on-air, but they shouldn’t run radio stations or be in management. All pure bullshit. Sexual harassment is a very real experience for a lot of women in our business, even to this day. It’s always such a fun encounter being in a room full of men (you’re the only woman) and them talking about their latest sexual adventure or telling a disgusting joke. Hearing about their affairs and how they’re getting away with their indiscretions,” she says.

“Without naming names, these men were in leadership roles and I always think to myself, how in the hell did they get where they are today acting like this in-front of co-workers and peers. It’s gross, sickening and makes you want to crawl out of your skin,” she says. “No, not every position was like this for me, but I can point to more occasions than I’d like about these types of things happening. It’s never been an isolated incident and it’s super uncomfortable when it happens. One thing I do wish is that I could go back in time and stand up for myself,” she says. “In the moment you’re paralyzed thinking ‘is this really happening?’ ‘should I say something?’ but the latter never happens because you’re afraid you’ll lose your gig.”

“My best advice now is to say something! If it’s a manager or executive that is causing the heartache, then go to your HR Director and seek advice. Companies are starting to be more aware and creating policies that offer a safe and healthy work environment and they need to continue to develop guidelines and practices,” she says. “It’s not always men either, I’ve also dealt with some toxic women in the workplace. Don’t do what I’ve done and let those experiences turn YOU toxic. I’ve made that mistake twice and I won’t play into it again. This story runs deep with a lot of women in this business, too many, and please know if you’d like someone to talk to, I’m here to listen. “

So on to one of Lisa’s main priorities. Why are there so few Female PDs in the industry? What do you attribute that to? “I honestly think there’s a few factors at play,” she says. “First, mentorship. Finding women that want to expand their role in this business. We need to be asking our younger broadcasters if they want to be in management roles then mentor and work with them to expand their skill set. It’s my belief that companies should have mentors/trainers whose sole purpose is to help identify those broadcasters that want to grow into management positions. Then help with programs and guidance so when it comes time, they have a pool of qualified candidates.”

“Our business is shooting itself in the foot, yet again, with how we are downsizing and demanding more and more of the talent we do have without helping them or giving them the tools to grow and enjoy their careers,” She says. “On the other end I believe ageism plays a role. I see SO MANY older men still programming and in on-air roles, but this business is anything but kind to women that are older. I actually witnessed the process of a fellow female PD losing her job because she was over 50. The word around the building was she was ‘out of the demo?’ Really?! That PD knew more about programming that format than all of her male counterparts, but because they wanted to take the station ‘younger’ she got let go. The next hire for that position was actually a man, older than her,” says Adams. “I get it, if we don’t program a station well and it fails because of ratings, then by all means, we move on. But I see too many capable, experienced and older women that have been pushed out of this business because they are ‘overqualified,’ or seasoned.’ Again, Really?”

“There are still some fantastic companies that understand the benefit of hiring women in their 50’s (I work for one of those companies!) and beyond but there’s still a lot of old school thinking that permeates our business,” says Adams. “There’s the perception (and the reality) that pay can be less for women PDs that are doing the same job as their male counterparts with the same experience and success, but still get paid less. You have to know your worth and you deserve to get paid for your experience and success. We need to fight harder for equal pay in those situations that are warranted,” she says. “Look, it’s not all bad! There’s so much upside to hiring more female managers, not just PD’s but OM’s, VP’s, GM’s and up! Empower yourself to make the right employment choice. Do your research and learn about what those companies offer. Do they promote from within, do they support outside learning platforms so you can grow your skill set while working, do they have females in management positions? Then I also say to seek out those women you admire in this business and get their advice, tap into their wisdom and experience.”

These are brave words from a woman whose experience and knowledge I respect deeply. I can relate to her experiences and thoughts on so many levels: Sexism, Ageism, Harassment, Discrimination, Equal Pay. These are topics that are NEVER discussed in the industry and sadly it’s the big pink elephant in the room at every industry convention or discussion. It’s an un-written rule that women should NEVER bring it up, because they are afraid it will be held against them, and they are right. And while it is slowly getting better on the talent, sales and the business sides, the one critical department that remains archaic, if not sliding backwards, due to consolidation and downsizing, is Programming.

So, my next question to Lisa was, how do we start to solve this problem? “Plain and simple, it has to start with mentorship. Those of us that are still in the business, be available to other women to help mentor and guide. Even if you’re out of the business, consulting, marketing or working within another audio platform…be available,” she says. “We’re so much more powerful when we work together. Helping empower each other is the first step to seeing more successful women managers. Networking events for women like MIW but maybe grow bigger to include other platforms like satellite, streaming, podcasting, voice-over, record promotion, sales and beyond. We can help each other grow in all areas of audio entertainment plus provide a networking platform to help find jobs for women in these different mediums.”

Great advice from a woman who wants to be (and is already) known for being an amazing mom, wife, sister, aunt, friend and co-worker. “I want to leave a legacy of love in everything I do,” says Adams. She’s done a fantastic job of balancing a successful career and beautiful family over the last 30 years and has obviously broken the glass ceiling and been a champion for women in the industry. I have no doubt that she will continue to be and will one day be responsible for the increase in the percentage of Female Radio Programmers across the country.

As for what’s ahead for Lisa, “Every day I’m alive is a gift and I work on not taking that for granted,” she says. “2020 brought that home and that it’s ok to take chances and put yourself out there and try new things. Not everything will go the way you want it to but it’s funny how life starts to line up when you’re quiet and listen to that little voice we like to call intuition. There are some new journeys on the horizon, and we will see how they unfold. I want to continue to grow and develop my career, spend as much time as possible with my family, travel when possible and enjoy the ride! Everything that happens to us is for us…and I mean everything! Good, bad, indifferent. People think I’m crazy for saying that but think about it. Life is just a series of choices and guess what, it’s all up to you!”

Follow Lisa Adams on Facebook, Instagram @lovekindnessmagic and Clubhouse @lamagic