Charese Fruge Talks To Patty Steele

This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “Women To Watch” series, written by Charese Fruge on September 8, 2020 

Patty Steele is a six-year breast cancer survivor, so already I am inspired by her story. The amount of hope, faith, focus and determination it takes to beat such a nasty disease is unimaginable. Add to that her incredible resume of success in the radio industry and her beautiful family and three children, and her story is definitely one that needs to be told. “At 19, I did an internship at WABC with the likes of Dan Ingram, Harry Harrison, and Ron Lundy,” she said. “I graduated from college with a journalism degree in the early 80’s. I was a disc jockey in the early years, including nights at KSLQ, St. Louis, B94 Pittsburgh, and WAVA Washington DC. I did middays at Z100 New York and then shifted to doing mornings, first at Eagle 106 in Philadelphia and then back in New York at Z100, WPLJ, and now CBS-FM, where I am currently Scott Shannon’s co-host (for the third time).”

“I’ve also been a news anchor at CBS News Radio 880, WOR, as well as entertainment news at 1010 WINS. I’ve done television, hosting a local talent search show in Pittsburgh as well as segments on a news magazine. Then I hosted an educational game show for children on cable. But my heart was always in radio…with the magic of pure sound as a story telling medium.”

“I should mention that my first professional job in radio was given to me by Joel Denver! I was in college and he let me answer request lines on Friday evenings. I’d then sleep on the couch in the lobby and get up to write the newscast for the news guy…yes there was still news on Top 40 radio on Saturday mornings–I was incredibly grateful to him for the opportunity!”

As impressive as Patty’s resume is, radio was not her first career choice. “Honestly, I started out wanting to study law (lots of lawyers in my family). But I always loved writing as well as acting and I was always involved in debating in high school and college. And God knows I’ve spent a lot of time honing my debate skills in morning radio.” she says. “In college I had a crush on a guy who wanted me to work on the college radio station. He was a passing fancy but radio, and the magic of crawling inside someone’s ear to share a story in such an intimate way was my real love. At its best, it feels like your greatest conversations in the dark,” she says. ”I was actually offered a job at graduation writing for a magazine in Senegal. I was also offered a job in St. Louis on the radio, and I often wonder how my life would have changed had I headed to Africa back then, but radio just fascinated me and here I am.”

Over the years Patty has had some incredible opportunities. She feels blessed about both the good and bad times. “I am so incredibly grateful for every phase of my career, even the painful times, because it’s all led me to this place,” she says. “I loved my breaks from music radio when I worked in News, because it taught me so much about myself and it helped me to realize the variety of opportunities out there if I just opened my mind,” she says. “When I lost my job at Z100, I was heartbroken. I thought my radio life was over. I did morning radio and that was the ultimate place. But Harvey Nagler at CBS-AM told me he thought I’d be a great news anchor. I thought he was nuts, but months later instead of interviewing rock stars, I was interviewing people like the secretary of state, senators, and luminaries like Bill Gates. It was energizing! I’ve never been afraid to lose a job again. There’s always something new around the bend, filled with learning opportunities.”

But it hasn’t always been peaches and cream for Patty in the industry. “My biggest career challenges have involved knowing when to move on, which I haven’t always been so good at. I’ve worked in tremendously unhappy environments but found myself staying because it was easier. Ultimately I learned how essential it is to focus forward and find the next adventure,” she says. “My biggest personal challenge included my breast cancer diagnosis 6 years ago, and subsequent surgery and chemo. At the same time I was also dealing with a loved one’s very severe addiction issues. In both cases, there was not just healing, but a tremendous amount of personal growth, and the understanding that these challenges can help us to become stronger, better people,” says Steele. “I do a lot of public speaking on these issues and am grateful to share the message that I held on to in those days–perfectly said by the philosopher Albert Camus … ‘In the depth of winter, I discovered within me, an invincible summer.’”

I don’t think it’s necessary to even ask Patty if mentoring is important in this business. My guess is she has no idea how many people look up to her for her vision, strength, faith and survival instincts, but as you can imagine, her thoughts and ideas on the topic (mentoring) are inspirational. “It’s essential for both the mentor and the person being mentored. We have so much to teach one another, and so much to learn from one another,” she says. “My husband, Steve Kingston, has been a huge supporter of my career and never lets me get away with not being my best. My first radio mentor was Dan Ingram, when I was a 19 year old intern at WABC. He listened to an air check from my college station and said, ‘You’re really, really good! You’re going to be an insider in this business.’ It gave me such a sense of belief in my possibilities. He also taught me the importance of envisioning one person in the studio with you, who represents your key demo. ‘Talk to that person,’ he said, ‘not to a vast audience. People rarely walk away from a one on one conversation.’”

I did a little more digging and got a few bonus tips from Patty since she’s worked with some incredibly big names, personalities and teams. “I’ve learned to figure out what is essential in the room, where you’re talking to the same person/people for 4 hours a day,” she says. “First and foremost, protect the room. Pick your battles. You can disagree but you need to know how to make your feelings clear, without being hurtful. Appreciate these big personalities and understand that even the stuff that makes you crazy, is a part of why listeners love them. Explore who they are…frequently you can help them recognize new stuff about themselves they hadn’t considered. It’s fun and eye opening!”

Obviously COVID-19 has had an impact on everyone, but as usual Patty takes the high road. “I miss the creative atmosphere of being at the station terribly. But again, every challenge is an opportunity to grow,” she says. “Funny enough, I feel like we’ve found a greater intimacy by being in separate locations. We’ve had to think outside the box, even when it comes to doing endorsement spots. It’s taught us to recognize what everyone is going through and how to reach them in new ways. It’s taught us greater compassion and personal strength. And it’s taught us gratitude for the ability to still do what we do.”

She hasn’t had much downtime with the pandemic, but like everyone else she’s doing things to try and maintain balance. Like spending time with her family and taking a quick break at her family home in the mountains of Northern Pennsylvania, where she sat in with the morning show at WTTC, the local radio station there. And she rented a house in Boulder, CO, where both her sons are going to school and they did lots of hiking, laughing and cooking. And like everyone else in the world right now, she dove in to one of the top forms of relief for anxiety: binge watching television “Wow…I’ve re=watched all of Mad Men, watched Succession, Barry and The Politician.” she says. “And now I’m watching the new Hilary Swank Netflix show ‘Away.’ I love almost any documentary since I’m a huge history and biography lover. I also love HGTV, nature shows, and true crime shows like 48 Hours.”

What keeps Patty up at night during these crazy times? “I worry about the impact of all the anger and tension we are facing because of the political atmosphere, the pandemic, and our isolation,” she says. But her focus on balance remains clear. “My family, my dogs, nature, gardening, reading history, and talking to and sharing messages with listeners is what brings me peace,” she says. Those things and a very exciting project she’s been working on, “News On The Rocks.” ”I love podcasting because it allows me to get a little more esoteric and long form than radio allows. I love exploring people … where they’ve come from, where they are, and where they’re going. I’d like to expand in that area. And I want to continue speaking publicly for causes that touch me. The feedback I’ve gotten in the past from those occasions has been incredibly gratifying.” You can find her podcast at pattysteele.com, radio.com, 1010WINS.com or wherever you get your podcasts.

To follow her on social media: @pattysteelecbs on instagram and Facebook and Patty_Steele on Twitter.