Charese Fruge’ Talks To Yvonne Velazquez

This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “Women To Watch” series, written by Charese Fruge on June 10, 2020

She was a trailblazer at MTV, VH1 and Nickelodeon for a good four years in the early 90’s, but her dream was always to be in radio. So after her years of success there, Yvonne Velazquez packed her bags and left the Big Apple for New Orleans, where she was hired to do overnights on the legendary B97. She cut her teeth there and was eventually moved to morning drive. Her next stop was mornings in Myrtle Beach, then a short stint in internet radio. She then went back to MTV to start their satellite radio station, moved on to nights on WNEW/New York, then middays on KYSR/Los Angeles and finally to her current radio home, mornings on WEJZ/Jacksonville, where she’s been for the last 10 years. “I mean, everyone retires in Florida right?”

Before we dive into radio, let’s talk about some of the amazing things Yvonne has experienced while working for MTV Networks. “They were some of my proudest and most fun moments for sure!” says Velazquez. “My biggest highlight was working for VH1 Original Programming. I remember hearing a pitch from 2 guys about a show called ‘Pop-Up Video’ and telling my boss, ‘I think this could be big!’” She says. “My most fun times were working on the live shows – VMA’s, Fashion Awards, Movie Awards – everything from the red carpet to talent runner. And the most rewarding by far, was putting MTV’s first ever 24-hour satellite radio station on the air with a small team of very creative people.”

I’ve watched Yvonne’s career grow for over 20 years and she’s done some pretty amazing things, and had some pretty amazing opportunities, but traditional radio was always her passion. “College is where I fell in love with radio,” says Velazquez. “I was On-Air, Program Director and General Manager for a 50,000 watt college radio station during my 4 years at Monmouth University. In commercial radio, I got my start at B97 in New Orleans where my first boss, Joe Larson, who I am still good friends with, let me hone my skills in overnights before throwing me into the fire of mornings. I made all my mistakes professionally and personally before taking control of my career in market 136, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.”

One of the most exciting things Yvonne has experienced in her career? “Getting the call from New York,” she says. “It’s every radio personality’s dream to get called up to the big time. Growing up in New York/New Jersey, I was also coming home to a city I knew and loved.”

Some of the more challenging things she’s faced in her career are not unlike most women in the business. “Radio was definitely once a guy’s world, though I do see that changing a little now,” says Velazquez. “I’ve dealt with some fiercely, old school, tough male personalities in this business but they’ve made me stronger. I really had to get confident in what I bring to the table in order to get through those times. Things didn’t always, and still don’t always go my way, but I’m always learning to adjust to demands, yet maintain the integrity of my show–that has been vital to surviving in this business.”

She goes on to say, “We need more avenues to introduce and empower more women to come into this business with confidence knowing that they can make a difference. For heaven’s sake, the most desired demographic is women 25-54…WOMEN should be making decisions for these women! They are living the life of that demo. The business needs to be more supportive of that,” she says. “And we as women should make ourselves available to coach and mentor the next generation of ‘radio chicks’!! And we ARE super cool chicks by the way!”

There’s a lot going on in the world right now and a lot to deal with due to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, and now the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minnesota police officer. The world is changing so fast and there’s an enormous amount of adjusting going on. “Well, first we’ve learned to work remotely thanks to COVID-19, that’s for sure!” says Velazquez. “Learning to adjust while putting out the best content for your listeners is key during these times. I also learned that there is a place for serious news and a place where people come to get their mind off the heavy stuff – that job is equally as important. Providing an escape for your listeners, while still remaining relevant with a heavy topic like COVID-19, is a huge challenge.”

An even bigger disappointment for Yvonne was the cancellation of her son’s graduation and prom due to the pandemic. “My senior took it better than I did! Sometimes you can really learn from your children. I had an epic meltdown,” she says. “As my son was hugging me saying it’s going to be ok, I realized that these traditional ceremonies and moments can sometimes be more for the parents. Don’t get me wrong, he was bummed not to walk that stage and go to that final prom, but he taught me to make the most of the situation we’re given, and that we did,” says Velazquez. “We had a virtual graduation with a parade and a surprise gathering (10 or less) to celebrate. The Class of 2020 will learn the all-important lesson of adjusting and making the most of a situation far sooner than any of us did.”

Another tragic incident, George Floyd’s death at the hands of a police officer in Minnesota has shocked the world and forced us all to think seriously about the kind of world we want to build for our children moving forward. As the mother of four, all at impressionable ages, it’s important to Yvonne that her kids learn from everything that’s happening right now. “They are exposed to all of it via social media and due to our voracious news intake in my household,” she says. “As a Hispanic, I’ve shared with them instances of racism and slurs thrown at me and my family. I instilled in them that there are good and bad people of every race, gender, profession and they should always believe the good in people unless they are shown otherwise,” says Velazquez. “We also believe peaceful protest is the way to get a message across – greats like Dr. King, Rosa Parks and so many more instituted real change in this country. Violence, rioters, and illegal criminal activity clouds the focus of what this issue is really about. In the words that George Floyd’s brother directed at the rioters and looters…’What are you doing? This will not bring my brother back.’ If you want real change, be part of the solution don’t create a bigger problem.”

What keeps Yvonne up at night? “My kids!” She says. “No one tells you when you become a mom that you are in for a lifetime of worry. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world.” What gives her peace of mind? “My faith!” She says. “As a life-long Catholic, my faith is the only thing that gives me peace of mind and hope. I turn to my faith in every aspect of my life – personally and professionally. It serves as my compass in making all my decisions.” And what do we have to look forward to from Yvonne: “I’ve found my home here in Jacksonville,” says Velazquez. “My partner and I will continue to fight to maintain our #1 position in mornings. And believe me sometimes it’s a big fight! As the heritage AC in the market, we always have a target on our back. Sometimes we take a hit but we always come back stronger than ever. I love what I do and the people we serve here in the JAX metro area! I’ll stay here as long as JAX radio will have me and continue to enjoy the sun and sand.”

Follow Yvonne: @radioyvonne on Twitter, @961wejz on Facebook and @961wejz on Instagram