Charese Fruge’ Talks To Lisa Worden

This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “Women To Watch” series, written by Charese Fruge on January 4, 2022

Like a lot of us in the music and audio business, Lisa Worden, Alternative Rock Brand Manager for iHeartMedia and Program Director of KYSR (ALT 98.7)/Los Angeles, started working without pay because of her passion for music. But unlike most of us, she has accomplished more in her 31-year career than most people will in a lifetime. It all started for her when she began interning at SBK Records in 1990 while attending Long Beach State. She stayed there for a year and a half with no pay, which eventually paid off. “I was finally given the position of Promotions Assistant, and eventually elevated to College Radio Promotions Director,” she says.

“I joined RCA Records in 1993 as West Coast Director/Alternative Rock Promotion, then left RCA in January 1995 to be the Music Director at the World Famous KROQ. In 2003, I left KROQ to be the PD at WHFS in Washington DC,” says Worden. “In spring of 2004 the station was flipped to Spanish Tropical, and I signed HFS back on a signal in Baltimore and somehow scored great ratings even though half the day was Talk Programming. I returned to Los Angeles the summer of 2004 to go back to KROQ as the MD/APD. And there I stayed until November 2017 when I joined iHeartMedia to be their Alternative Rock Brand Manager and added PD stripes of ALT 98.7 in January 2018.”

Lisa’s current role for iHeartMedia is pretty extensive. “I oversee our amazing portfolio of Alternative and Active Rock stations. I work closely with all the PDs and have a wonderful Brand Team,” Worden explains. “I also program ALT 98.7, our premiere Alternative station in the company. I book our tentpole ALTer Ego show, and work closely with the National team on other tentpoles and events – iHeart Music Festival, Album Release Parties, iHeart Music Awards, etc. I’m truly doing my dream job! I worked hard to get here and I’m so honored and humbled that I do this for my job.”

Lisa knew from a very early age that she wanted to work in the music business. “I grew up around music – my parents took me and my sister to our first concert when we were very young, Sheena Easton at the Greek Theater,” she says. “Then my mom took my best friend and I to see Cyndi Lauper at Irvine Meadows for my 14th birthday. She also took my sister and I to see David Bowie on his Glass Spider tour at Angel Stadium in 1987. My formative years were the 80’s, so my favorite bands are The Cure and The Smiths. I grew up listening to KROQ and 91X. I got an internship at SBK Records while I was going to college to get my foot in the door, with the goal of doing A&R at a label. Little did I know my career would take a turn into radio and that I’d fall in love with it!”

It’s not hard to believe, but when asked, Lisa had a hard time narrowing down her biggest accomplishments. “I think my whole career is an accomplishment,” she says. “I got to work at one of the best radio stations in the world during its heyday. Working alongside two of the best programmers in the biz, Kevin Weatherly and Gene Sandbloom, and the best air talent: Kevin & Bean, Jed the Fish, Rodney on the ROQ, Richard Blade, Stryker, Tami Heide, Nicole Alvarez, Kat Corbett. All legends! Cutting my radio teeth at THE legendary alternative station KROQ, is a dream for a kid who grew up in Southern California listening to the station. Helping to curate the music for Southern California and creating iconic events like the ‘KROQ Weenie Roast’ and ‘KROQ Acoustic Christmas.’ Breaking countless bands from Sublime to No Doubt, Linkin Park, Coldplay, the list goes on. Plus, all the other fun stuff we did. Those were magical times,” she says. “And now I’m writing my next chapter at iHeartMedia.”

There is not enough time to ask Lisa all the questions I want to after the above paragraph, but one important one was “Describe one of your most exciting experiences.” Again, difficult for her to narrow it down. “Where do I start?,” she asks. “I don’t want to make people jealous buuuuut…… Hanging with U2 drinking Irish Car Bombs at KROQ when we were in the Burbank building – very close quarters – definitely wouldn’t happen in the age of COVID! Bono dancing and singing in the halls. What a time!” she says. “Getting to meet my favorite artist, Robert Smith, multiple times and seeing The Cure live almost 100 times, everywhere from London to all over the United States. Gwen Stefani delivering Christmas cookies to Kevin & Bean to say thank you for playing her band No Doubt. Tom Delonge from Blink calling me from his garage, to tell me he’s sending me their new CD “Cheshire Cat” and asking if I could listen to it. Getting to talk to my favorite artists through the years. Breaking new artists. Going to multiple Coachellas, seeing Radiohead at the Reading Festival, going to the first ever Lollapalooza and watching Pearl Jam open the show from the grass, and then going to the last show on that tour to see them moved up to closing the show. Seeing Nirvana at Iguana’s in Mexico when they first were breaking. I bought the ticket for $9.11 – it was a 91X presents show.”

I am green with envy listening to Worden’s stories and I can’t wait to read the book I am pressuring her to write about her incredible career one day, but it hasn’t always been a walk in the park for her. She has certainly had her share of challenges along the way. “Being a ‘people person’ in this radio business is important,” she says. “And I say business, because as much fun as it is, it’s still a business. When you’re a PD or APD you’re dealing with talent and that can be tricky at times, and I really try to put myself in their shoes and relate to them on their level. It doesn’t come easy or quickly. It’s something I learned. I also learned to trust my gut. You can get pulled in lots of directions but at the end of the day, you’re responsible. Working my ass off to get to where I am now and not expecting things to just get handed to me. You gotta put in the work.”

Another challenge for Lisa: the pandemic. “Man, 2020 was a year, right?!! It was a year for radio to take a step back and re-evaluate everything,” she says. “Professionally it was a good year – we hit ratings strides the station hadn’t seen before and we elevated to a different level. I’m very proud of that. Personally, it was challenging for many reasons, but I’m also grateful. I don’t lose sight of the blessings.”

In February of this year, Lisa created and began hosting (for the first time) a weekly 30-minute feature on Alt 98.7 called “She Is the Voice.” It’s a project that is near and dear to her heart. “I have wanted to do this for a while,” explains Worden. “I LOVE female musicians – always have. Some of my favorite artists of all time are Bjork, Deborah Harry, PJ Harvey, Karen O, Shirley Manson, Gwen Stefani, Florence and the Machine, Hole, the list goes on. And I wanted to dedicate a space to honor these trailblazer artists as well as up and coming female artists who want their music heard. I didn’t plan on hosting it, but my staff encouraged me to do it,” she says. “I’ve been behind the scenes – and fine with that – I love Programming. But I’ve really loved hosting this show. I’ve developed relationships with these artists through the years so it’s really fun getting to talk to them on the other side of the mic. It’s important that female artists continue to get propped up. Nothing against my dudes – most of my favorite bands are fronted by men. But the ladies need their shine too!”

That being said, mentoring in the business is incredibly important to Lisa as well. “I love mentoring people, both men and women,” she says. “Always dedicate the time and space to help people. We need to groom the next wave of programmers, on air talent, digital wizards, marketing pros. Everyone loves to talk about how radio is becoming less relevant. Well last time I checked it’s still the #1 medium where consumers discover their favorite new songs. It’s on US to keep radio relevant. And to do that – you need great people. Radio isn’t going to run itself, that human touch and human element is necessary.”

Believe it or not, Lisa still has time for a personal life and does a good job of balancing career and family. She has the same dream that most women in the business have. “I want to be known as a great Mom to my children, a great Programmer, an Advocate for music and artists, keeping the word ‘dude’ alive, and my impeccable taste in music,” she says.

As for what she does in her downtime: “Downtime?? What’s that?!” Worden asks. “Radio doesn’t stop, even in a pandemic, if anything I took it (the pandemic) as an opportunity to raise the bar and up our game. We have twin 6-year-olds that take up every inch of time when we’re not working. And it’s nothing I would change,” she explains. “But Garret and I do find time to dedicate to re-watching the Sopranos on HBO Max, we get to one episode a night after we put Mikaela and Sydney to bed. Show STILL holds up. RIP Tony S.”

And yes, I went there when I asked, “What would you do if one of the girls told you they wanted to get into the radio business?” “I think my eyes would tear up,” she says. “With joy and fear.” It’s just one of the things that keeps her up at night. “Sometimes my brain won’t shut down and it’s usually thinking about my kids or work-related stuff,” she says. “Did the log get sent to Nex Gen? (that’s still a thing) What will my girls be like as teenagers?” But she does have a recipe for peace: “My family, my girls, my friends. Music. Wine.”

She will need it, 2022 is already “coming in like a wrecking ball” for Lisa. “Well, I’ve got ALTer Ego right out of the gate on January 15th!” She says. “I’m so excited and just praying we get through it with minimal interruptions (thanks COVID). I also have some other exciting things up my sleeve that I can’t reveal yet. But it’s gonna be good.” And knowing Lisa, she will not disappoint.

Follow Lisa Worden on Instagram @laworden, Facebook Lisa Worden and Twitter @Peachy67