Charese Fruge Talks To Shelley Wade
This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “Women To Watch” series, written by Charese Fruge on February 16, 2021
It all started for Shelley in her hometown of Houston. “I got my first full-time radio start at KBXX Houston, the first Hip-Hop station in the South. I was on air there for just over eight years doing Middays for six years, then Mornings for two years,” she says. “I had always dreamed of having my own radio show in New York City, so I was absolutely thrilled to join the Z100 New York family in 2001. During my time in NYC, I also did Midday stints on KISS in Boston & KISS in Dallas. I also started on air at KBIG Los Angeles while still on air in New York. After being on air at Z100 for 12 years, I needed a new lease on life, so I moved cross country to be on air at KISS San Diego, then KMYI San Diego, while still on air at KBIG Los Angeles. And that’s been my exciting radio career so far!”
According to Shelley, getting her foot in the door in the beginning was thanks to a family friend. “I studied radio and television in high school and college. During my junior year in college, a family friend named Tracy McLemore helped me score a temporary gig as receptionist at KMJQ in Houston while the receptionist was on maternity leave for three months. It just so happened to coincide with my summer break from school. So, I had three months to somehow finagle my way from being a receptionist to being on the radio–which isn’t an easy feat,” she says. “Every chance I got; I was telling the program director and anyone who’d listen that I worked at my college radio station and would love to be on air at KMJQ. Turns out, not many people cared, lol. However, the production director, Bill Travis, would hang out in the reception area as he took breaks from his production studio. He would ask me my goals as a college student, and I would tell him that I really wanted to be on air. So, he told me that if I kept his production studio clean during my breaks, he’d teach me about radio…basically, he decided to mentor me. So, every chance I got, I’d go to his studio to keep it neat and orderly, and he’d teach me the ins and outs of radio,” says Wade.
“He’d also have me record commercials and drops for the station. One day, the program director, Ron Atkins, heard my voice on the radio, then called Bill to find out who that voice was. Bill told him, ‘That’s Shelley, the receptionist. She’s been trying to tell you all summer that she wants to be on the radio!’ So, Ron called me at the receptionist desk, told me he heard my voice and wanted to hear how I’d sound doing a radio show. Thrilled, I ran to my mentor and told him!” she says. “So, he put me in front of the mic, gave me a script, put music under me and produced an aircheck for me. I then gave that aircheck to the program director, who took a listen. He then called me at the receptionist desk and told me that he was putting me on the air that weekend. So, with the help of Bill Travis, I had done it…I had managed to finagle my way from being a temporary receptionist to being on the radio in less than three months!” she says. “So as a junior in college, I had scored my first professional job on the radio. I was on air there part-time for about 7 months before moving on to my first full-time job at KBXX.”
Over the years, Shelley has hit some major milestones. “When I look back on it, my career has been pretty remarkable…There are so many accomplishments I’ve achieved, but lemme point out two. I was the first African American to ever have a full-time show on Z100 New York. Also…There was a period of time when I was on both Z100 New York and 104.3 MYfm Los Angeles where Ryan Seacrest and I were the only two jocks in America who were on air in both New York and Los Angeles.”
Add to her accomplishments, some major highlights, and you’ll understand why I want to be her when I grow up. “Prince has been my favorite artist since I was in elementary school, so without a doubt, the night I was able to sit front row center at his concert, dance onstage with him AND meet him at his afterparty, was THE most exciting experience…and that happened courtesy of my co-worker Bobby Z,” says Wade. “Another career highlight for me was interviewing Janet Jackson. Again, she’s been one of my favorite artists since I was a kid. When I used to perform around Houston as a teen, a Janet Jackson song was the first song I ever sang live. So, to be able to interview her as an adult was pretty exciting,” she says. “There was also the time I sang the National Anthem at Madison Square Garden before a New York Knicks game. We made a whole thing of it…We gave listeners tickets to sit in a V.I.P. box at The Garden to watch me sing and to watch the Knicks game. I had my own dressing room. I just remember thinking, ‘Prince has performed here, Michael Jackson has performed here and so many legendary moments in history have happened in this building…and I am about to sing here as well!’ It doesn’t get much more exciting than that!”
As amazing as Shelley’s career has been so far, it didn’t come without its challenges. “I’ve also had some really bad experiences…I’ve been bullied and backstabbed. I’ve not gotten jobs or opportunities because of my gender and race. And there have been various times in my career where people have literally tried to sabotage my career,” she says. “I typically try to live by the golden rule, so it is deeply hurtful when these things happen. But I always triumph because when you put positive energy out into the Universe, it comes back to you. And no one–I don’t care how powerful they are–No one can block the blessings that God has for your life. So, I try to stay positive and to keep pushing forward. Character is defined by how you handle adversity. And honestly, at the end of the day, all of those experiences proved to be blessings because they have made me even stronger & more resilient.”
Like everyone else, last year left Shelley feeling somewhat stagnant. “2020 was difficult for us all. Professionally, things were slow…The voice over industry didn’t come to a complete halt, but it also wasn’t as vigorous as it typically is. But I think that was the case with most industries,” she says. “Personally, as a single person, I felt very isolated. I don’t think that’s talked about enough, but I know that the pandemic has had a very isolating effect on single people.”
As someone who has been directly impacted by the industry’s downsizing, Shelley has great advice for others who are experiencing the same thing. “So often as radio people, we dedicate so much of our lives to radio and to our jobs,” she says. “I know people like to say, ‘It’s business, it’s not personal.’ On the one hand, that’s true…it is a business. But on the other hand, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Because they expect jocks to constantly be sharing our personal experiences and be vulnerable and transparent on our shows and on social media. But then when we’re downsized, we’re not supposed to take it personally? I would just say to everyone being impacted by downsizing–no matter what industry you’re in–know that you are valuable whether you’re working or not. I say that because we so often tie our value and worth to our jobs or careers. But remember that your job is what you do, it’s not who you are. What you want is to be a loving person who makes a positive impact on family, friends and society…that’s who you are. Having an amazing job and career is great, but they don’t define your value as a human being. Remember that…know your worth.”
And yes, mentoring is extremely important in this business according to Shelley. “It’s played a major role in my career. From college all the way to right now, I would never have achieved all that I have if it weren’t for the kind, compassionate & giving mentors who took the time to make a difference in my life,” she says. “In my capacity as a voice over artist, I’m the official voice of ‘The Donnie Simpson Weekend Show.’ Donnie was a major influence on my radio and television careers, so I was thrilled when he chose my voice to represent his show. I recently had Donnie as a guest on my ‘All the Rage with Shelley Wade’ podcast & YouTube channel. During the interview, I told Donnie that I was adopting him has my mentor and he said yes right away. So even with all the experience I have under my belt, I still find it important to have mentors to help guide me. I’m consistently involved with mentoring students who aspire to have careers in media. As a matter of fact, I won the TORCH Award for mentoring high school students when I worked in New York City. And whenever jocks reach out to me for advice or my input, I’m always opened to help in any way I can.”
When I asked Shelley what keeps her up at night, she surprised me with her answer. “There’s not a lot,” she says. “I typically sleep well. I try to keep drama out of my life and I try not to stress about a lot of things. I pray, I read the Bible. I’ve also done a lot of therapy in the few years since my dad passed away, which has helped me deal with that devastating loss and with my other issues in life. So, I know the tools to utilize to keep me from going off the deep end,” says Wade.
“Also, if I’m dealing with a difficult situation in life, I talk about it with family and friends…I don’t keep stuff bottled up inside to where it’s keeping me up at night. However, I’m not perfect…So on the rare occasion I do find myself in bed with my mind racing, I know that’s gonna lead to nothing but negativity. So, I like to get up and do something productive like cook my meals for the week or clean up. Yes, I’ve found myself up at 2 and 3 in the morning cooking and cleaning!”
It’s also easy for Shelley to find balance. “It’s hard not to get out and be one with nature when you live in a breathtakingly beautiful place like San Diego, so I do a lot of that,” she says. “Going to the ocean is my sanity, so I spend quite a bit of time in lovely La Jolla looking out over the vast expanse of the Pacific and beholding God’s glory. That brings me balance, for sure.”
As for the future, Shelley was honest. “I don’t yet know what 2021 looks like for me. I started 2020 out with so many plans, but we all know what happened to plans last year. So, I have hopes rather than plans. I’m hoping that we beat this pandemic and can come to some sense of normalcy this year. I’m hoping for continued good health for me and my loved ones. I’m hoping that I can continue to work towards being the best version of myself. I’m hoping that I continue to experience success in my career endeavors in voice over, radio, television and podcasting.”
Follow Shelley Wade on Instagram @TheOneAndOnlyShelleyWade, Facebook: All The Rage With Shelley Wade, Twitter and Clubhouse @shelleywade