Charese Fruge’ Talks To Monica Salazar

This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “Women To Watch” series, written by Charese Fruge on July 6, 2021 

It was just a little over two weeks ago when Monica Salazar moved from Market #188 to Market #29. Previously the PD and Afternoon Drive Host for Hot 106.1 KNEX/Laredo, TX, she is now the morning show host for Steel City Media’s Q92.9, WLTJ/Pittsburgh. I can tell you from experience that her resume jumped out as one of the top candidates, and as fate would have it, she was the right person for the job. She is an absolute radio soldier, and her 20 years of experience is paying off in a big way.

Let’s take a brief look at her career timeline. “I started radio when I was 17 at a Top 40 station in Laredo, TX, became the PD for 5 years in and was given a two-and-a-half day notice of our switch to Country,” she says. “We flipped it and I stayed on for another two years before taking my talents across the street. I was MD and did middays on a rock station and when we got bought out, that went away. I got moved to middays with MD duties on the leading Top 40 in the market. 9 years in, I moved to afternoons and became PD, held the #1 afternoon drive spot and programmed the #1 station for my last 4 years in Laredo. I had an awesome (but small) team!”

Her role has changed considerably with the move, but it’s a challenge she is ready for. “I just became the new morning show host on Q92.9 in Pittsburgh. I did afternoons at my last gig and was a big night owl so it’s definitely a change of pace for me that involves a lot of show prep and an early bedtime! She says. “I’m still unpacking and settling into my new place but I do plan on getting out and seeing the ‘Burgh so I can have more relatable experiences with listeners.”

Her introduction to radio is quite an interesting story, unlike most radio geeks who spent a lifetime just wanting to be in the business. Monica explains how she stumbled into it. “I was working at a movie theater and a friend/coworker had a part-time receptionist job at a radio station. I went to pick her up for lunch one day and when I got there, she wasn’t at the front desk,” says Salazar. “The PD at the time came out and asked what I was waiting for, I answered, and he said ‘whoa, come back here with me in a little room and read something.’ I said, ‘that sounds weird, I’m good, I’ll just wait out here.’ He was insistent and my friend said do it, if not, we’d be there longer. She was eager to go! I recorded a thirty second script for a popsicle giveaway and 5 minutes later, I was hired,” she says. “The cool thing was, when I was 6, I called into that station with my older sisters to try to win a contest and the morning guy who answered ended up being the PD that hired me 12 years later.”

One of the biggest accomplishments for Monica over the years is one most women in the industry aspire to achieve. “A personal highlight in my career was becoming the companies’ first female PD that hit the key demos and exceeded expectations. I spoke with another female PD (Amber Lee at KMAJ in Topeka, KS) a few months back and both of us were just like ‘high five for women PD’s.’ We’re like unicorns in the industry.”

One of Monica’s biggest challenges so far is recent, and one we can all relate to. “The pandemic has definitely been the most challenging to get through,” she says. “Our industry was tasked with ‘how do we keep radio a key player while everyone’s home?’

Again, I was in a small market, so we didn’t have access to big virtual concerts. Instead, we ramped up our social media presence and stayed as relatable as possible. We honored front line workers with yard signs and prizes, delivered safely, of course. We pushed our social distancing imaging, Zoom interviews over socials and on air with health professionals and local officials,” she says. “We kept it realistic as to what was happening in our community, but avoided pushing the death toll. We didn’t ignore it, we just focused on the overall message of ‘we can get through this together if we all do our part.’

Personally, the pandemic made me realize that my family is more important than any job could ever be. We went through a loss because of it and seeing how close it got was eye-opening,” says Salazar. “I still live and breathe radio, and I try to improve wherever I can. With this new gig now, I get to take the time to have more of a work/life balance. When I was a PD, I scheduled day in and day out, analyzed every single hour to make sure the station sounded a certain way. I’d stress over having the syndicated morning show timed to the ‘T’ and stress over writing all imaging. It took up a lot of my time,” she says.

After 20 years, Monica is now starting completely over with a whole new team in a new city. I asked her what her expectations were going in. “It’s odd to guess, but you need to feel good energy with that team. I learned that from the departure of my first gig to the one across the street in Laredo, she says. “The people in the building were happy to work there and it wasn’t that fake happy you can spot. If you’re coming into any new place/team you need to check your ego. Even if you think you don’t have one, you’re in radio, so you probably do. Tone it down and be open to learning from everyone around you.”

Great advice for anyone starting a new job. She also has great advice for women wanting to get into the business these days. “Radio is still a boy’s club, but more and more women are coming up and coming into positions long overdue. If you really want to be in this industry, don’t be afraid to speak up. The right people will see your worth,” says Salazar. “It never hurts to be a sponge either. Learn everything and anything you can about the industry, learn from other jocks, the sales team, engineering, promotions, graphics dept. and the internet. There is soooo much information out there on YouTube, TikTok, blogs etc. And there are a lot of jocks who are awesome enough to air check you or give you advice on something. You just have to reach out.

I will say that once you learn a little from all areas, you may decide radio isn’t for you, and that’s okay. You can still apply what you learn here to other fields. I’m 20 years in and there is still a ton to figure out,” she says. “Another tip, follow jocks from all over on socials. I do that and whenever anyone posts a picture in their booth, I’m zooming in on the automation system. If I don’t recognize it, I’ll search through and try to see what it is and how it’s used. I also listen to a lot of DJs to see how I might be able to improve my delivery. I’m definitely a radio nerd.”

Like most talent, Monica does have her insecurities (I’d worry if she didn’t). What keeps her up at night? “Self-doubt. Moving from market #188 to #29 is a huge jump and the first couple of days on-air, I doubted whether or not I could do this,” she says. “I’m pushing that aside though and just saying this move happened for a reason. I’m going to try my hardest, learn as much as possible, embrace the city and enjoy the ride.”

Monica’s family and loved ones keep her balanced. “They are quick to raise and support me, but also quick to check me if needed, and I love that,” she says. She also keeps busy in her spare time to help achieve balance. “I love hanging with my nieces, playing with my dogs and playing video games. I’m going to be 80 rocking the latest console on the block!” She says. “During the pandemic, I told myself ‘You’re gonna learn to play an instrument!’ That didn’t pan out, but I do know a couple of chords on my ukulele! I’ll eventually start back up. Also, I love…LOVE going to concerts so I’m stoked that they’re starting back up again.”

As for what we have to look forward to from Monica in her new city and job? “I’m looking forward to my growth and success at Q92.9, and eventually starting a Podcast to compliment my personal and professional life. I can’t wait to experience what the future holds for me in my new community.”

Follow Monica Salazar @MonicaOnAir on Twitter and Instagram. On Facebook @MonicaOnTheAir.