Charese Fruge’ Talks To Michelle McKormick

This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “Women To Watch” series, written by Charese Fruge on September 14, 2021 

I have always known of Michelle McKormick, co-host of the Tony Gates Morning Show on 97.1 WLAV/Grand Rapids. I’ve spent years in the same room with her at Talent Masters’ Morning Show Boot Camp and she has never disappointed. My only regret is not getting to know her better. She’s always been one of the biggest personalities in the room, and funny as hell. This year, she once again, did not disappoint. She hosted a panel and knocked it out of the park. “I have to gush for a moment,” she says about the convention. “When I was very young, 33 years ago, I missed a friend’s wedding because my company offered to send me to Don Anthony’s Morning Show Boot Camp. The marriage did not last, but what I have learned over the years at MSBC you can’t bottle. It is priceless EVERY year. I gives me a boost every time I go… the pure joy of what we get to do for a living… lifelong friends and that’s just in the hotel lobby at happy hour,” she adds. “From content, to making more money. It’s just the best few days… and THIS year I was happy to see that companies, even after this losing money pandemic, still care enough about talent to send them. THAT was my biggest takeaway – WE. STILL. MATTER.”

Michelle has been with Tony for about ten years now, and she also helps to find and coach talent for Cumulus Media. It all started for Michelle in the ‘80s. “I started my career in my hometown of Grand Rapids on WGRD and worked there for about 12 years. Then I started doing nights and convinced my boss that I was funny and had more to offer. He came to a comedy show I was doing and put me on mornings the next day.

I spent most of my career in Grand Rapids” says McKormick. “I did a talk show at the great WKXW (NJ 101.5)/Trenton in the ‘90s, then went back to Grand Rapids where I led my own morning show until 2003. That year I began a show called “Motor City Middays with Gregg Henson” in Detroit at 97.1 WXYT, which lasted until 2009, then went back to Grand Rapids to do talk on WOOD. Then about 10 years ago, I joined the heritage Tony Gates at WLAV. Whew….”

Michelle always new she wanted to be a performer. “I always knew I would do it… whether it be on the air on the radio, on a stage, or just bullshitting my way through Catholic school with the nuns,” she says. “I went to Central Michigan University, a great broadcast school…and when I drove home on my last day someone broke into my car and stole my reel-to-reel demo tapes,” she explains. “So, a programmer name Jack Swartz (no idea where he is now) had me get into A BOOTH and AUDITION!! It was beyond scary…but I did, and he hired me. The rest is history.”

Over the course of her career, Michelle has had many career highlights. “We are so fortunate to do what we do. I said at Boot Camp, and I’ll say it again here…‘If we aren’t 100% happy to have our jobs after this past year, we are doing it wrong,’ she says. “I got to broadcast from a Super Bowl in Detroit. What an experience? We saved some lives when we did free men’s PSA testing. Thousands showed up, 3 men called us, and

their cancer was caught. Things like that make it all worth it,” she says. “I have interviewed the best people, from Madonna to William Shatner. I was working in Detroit, and we were broadcasting out in L.A., and I got back to my room to find Tommy Lee and Company passed out on my floor. My career has been a gift!”

It hasn’t always been an easy road for Michelle, like everyone else, she’s had her challenges. “I have been let go when my show was on top and making money. That was a hard one, and I had just signed a three-year deal too–ouch. And when the Detroit media wanted to know what happened on our very high-profile show I just had to be gracious…that was hard, but it paid off,” she says. “That company, CBS at the time, offered me another job a couple of years later. It was worth NOT burning a bridge. With everybody SO PUBLIC on socials, it really is okay to keep some secrets!”

Unlike many women in the industry, Michelle has had the opportunity to become a PD, but it wasn’t for her. “I have had chances to program and while I LOVE coaching talent, I just couldn’t program because I would hire everyone and fire nobody. Also, I am so much better at NO paperwork!” She says. “I do feel like the gender inequality in programming is SLOWLY changing. At Cumulus we are lucky to have a no nonsense/tell it like it is/ approachable woman at our helm – Mary Berner. And there is not a woman I know of in this biz who will not take the time to mentor or help another and that’s the truth. So, I see a shift – now let’s get those wages up too!!” she says.

“I feel like we as women in the biz have a tendency to settle, as to not make waves. I know I have in my career in the past. But also, it is up to US to understand what we are worth,” says McKormick. “I have talked to and helped so many women who did not understand how to figure out the market value for what their job is, know what the station bills, what a particular show bills, and figure anywhere from 11 to 18 percent of that. KNOW YOUR VALUE! Then get what you deserve. Find someone to help you, male or female,” she says. “I have worked with great partners (male) who have lifted me up also. DO NOT SETTLE! Wait for the person/company who sees you.”

That’s great advice from a seasoned pro for young women in the industry. She also has great advice for those who work with morning show partners. “The more you can have a united front, the better. It’s just better to have meetings together and just plain better to be on the same page,” she says. “That means EVERYONE understands what their role on the show is. Character definition is so important on a cast morning show. Also, with Tony and me, we’ve been doing this for so long that we voice what we need to voice to each other and then it’s done. Harboring grudges is a lose-lose.”

As for what keeps Michelle up at night, “I worry that our industry in slipping. When young people do not listen to radio that worries me,” she says. “I know good content is good content, but still, it worries me. Also, I worry in the middle of the night that there is a scared dog somewhere that needs me…well you asked.” As for what brings her balance: “Water. It’s the only place I am graceful!”

As for what we have to look forward to from Michelle: “I am helping people in the industry with contracts and negotiation. There are about six deals happening right now (keeps my faith in radio). I would like to continue to do that and find and coach talent in a more official capacity, all while still doing a show…on one leg…rubbing my belly and patting my head.”

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Or ANYONE ANY TIME (616) 648- 2165