BABE #131: CATALINA ALERS-ALERS, On-Air Personality @ 97.9 KISSFM
If you live in the Jacksonville area, we'd bet money that you've heard Catalina chatting from your car radio. We connected with her when she attended our very first spontaneous BWH meetup - shortly before making an appearance on her podcast - and have since become close friends. She’s an active and important member of our BWH community, and she’s also a local celebrity; not only for her captivating radio voice and talent, but also for her wit, humor, heart, and intense social calendar. We’re still trying to figure out how she does it all, and we’re thrilled to add her to the BWH ranks. We love you, Catalina! You're the ultimate babe.
Babe you admire and why?
My mom. It’s a cheesy answer (Beyoncé is a close second), but I mean it. We butt heads a lot, but she’s done so much more in her life that I never gave her enough credit for. She gave up her home and career as a dentist in Colombia while visiting my aunt in the United States. She met my dad—who she married mere months later—and happily became a stay-at-home mom when they had my brothers and me. She has always been able to roll with whatever. When my dad asked what she thought about moving the whole family to Turkey for his job (nine months after I was born, no less), Mom was all about it. The time I really grew to admire her, though, was when my dad died. I was 20 years old, pissed off, and heartbroken. My mom’s eternal optimism and her relationship with God as a devout Catholic gave her such strength I’ve never seen in anyone else. She cried once in front of me the day after he died. Then she held us up, encouraging us to celebrate his life and obsession with Volvos. It was insane. My mom had lost her best friend, the love of her life and she was comforting friends who came to comfort her! People don’t call her Saint Martha for nothin’.
How do you spend your free time?
Ha! I’m almost never not working, thanks to multiple jobs and social media expectations. I listen to podcasts. Mostly Call Your Girlfriend and pop culture shows like American Horror Story recaps by Bald Move. When I’ve got a rare free weekend, I sleep in and spend as much time as I can with my boyfriend and friends doing literally anything. Mostly drinking.
Favorite fictional female character?
Princess Mia Thermopolis. I started reading Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries series in middle school. Mia’s awkwardness was something I strongly identified with. My unibrow, lack of cool and overall dorkiness created an effective boy repellent. But the way Meg wrote Mia made her an unapologetic awkward teenager who was handling all these traditional royal duties in her own way. That eventually helped teach me to own who I am. Except for the bushy eyebrows. Those had to go.
Go-to coffee order?
At home: black coffee with a bit of brown sugar. At my neighborhood spot Social Grounds: latte with coconut milk
Go-to adult beverage?
Gin and soda with extra lime. Never skimp on lime.
What would you eat for your very last meal?
A traditional daiquiri with my mom’s rice and garbanzos. It’s my favorite. She ate this meal all the time when pregnant with me so, you know, full circle.
Favorite social media account to follow?
Currently obsessed with Pero Like’s content. They’re exploring what it means to be Latino in funny but also really thought-provoking ways.
If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
Barack and Michelle Obama. I love them.
If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would it be?
Exploring the Colombian coast.
What’s one thing you wish you knew more about?
Speaking Spanish! I’m kicking myself for not listening to my mom and practicing more when I was younger. Thank goodness for Duolingo and a bilingual mom, though.
Last concert you attended?
A local Afro-Cuban salsa band called LPT. They’re so talented. You can tell they love their roots. I get a kick out of the crowds at their shows because it looks 70 percent white. The gringos know what’s up. If you live in Jacksonville, don’t sleep on them!
Tell us about your hustle.
I host the night show on 97.9 KISS FM and co-host the But First, Brunch podcast along with being a freelance TV host. My radio show and the podcast are a blend of my take on entertainment news, local happenings and whatever our listeners are talking about. Right now, my TV gig is being the Around Town correspondent for the Jacksonville Transportation Authority’s news show, Making Moves. I get to feature interesting local spots which has always been one of my favorite things to do.
What does your typical workday look like?
My alarm goes off at 8:30, but I stay in bed for at least an hour catching up on news and station/podcast social media accounts. I could get up, but I just really love my bed. I get to the radio station around 12:30, and from there it’s a few hours of programming tasks for a couple stations, answering emails and random meetings. A couple times a week, my podcast co-host Jessica and I will plan and record pieces of that week’s episode. I take a mid-afternoon break to caffeinate and clear my head before I start pulling content for the night show. The day is 10 times more hectic if I’m shooting for Making Moves; doing TV hair and makeup myself takes forever. I eventually fall into bed before 1 a.m.
When did you first get started in radio?
I never planned to be in radio. I thought I was going to be a broadcast journalist before I realized I don’t have that thing great journalists have. Plus, I like speaking my mind without much of a filter. My friend Rose talked about how much she loved interning at the radio station and I thought, hey, that sounds fun. I listen to it all the time. I got accepted as an intern and discovered I had a natural ability for radio. It was a great fit for my loves of pop culture, music, my city and just talking in general.
What has the evolution of your career looked like?
I was hired as a part-time promotions assistant and spent three years working towards being on-air full-time. It was hard. I worked seven days a week for a long time. I was in the studio during the week practicing with the afternoon hosts (unpaid!) while working station events and balancing a second job on the weekends. But I still said “yes” to almost everything at the station. My duties grew from weekend host, to morning show producer, to fill-in, eventually earning my spot at night.
What draws you to the entertainment industry?
The impact it has to make someone’s day more fun and hopefully more interesting. Also, radio people are a tad narcissistic. We secretly love hearing ourselves talk.
Who are your favorite radio personalities?
Oh my gawd, there are so many. My forever and ever favorites are the brother-hosts of Car Talk. My dad was obsessed with the now-retired NPR show. Those guys made shop talk hysterical to a 10-year-old girl. Now, I really admire Elvis Duran. He’s so talented, compassionate and a brilliant business guy. My favorite radio babes are Alex Gervasi and Letty B at KIIS FM in Los Angeles, and Elvis’ co-host Bethany Watson. They’re obviously incredible at their jobs, but they also use their platforms to talk about social injustices and animal rights.
What would you say is your biggest career milestone and why?
This year, I was invited to host a discussion on diversity and unity at the Generation WOW conference by its founder Donna Orender (an OG babe who hustles). Generation WOW is a program to help teenage girls realize their strength and their potential to create change today and in the future. I was so damn nervous. I advocate for teaching the next generation to be better than us and I try to live as that example, but this was the opportunity to see if I could impact anyone. The girls were so receptive and I got Instagram DMs from the girls for days after, thanking me. Out here molding young minds, y’all.
How have your past internships, education, and work experiences prepared you for the role you’re in now?
My degree in production gave me a good foundation for radio, but I learned most of it on the job from great mentors. However, being a server for five years prepared me for just about everything. I encountered all kinds of personalities working in restaurants and they all had to be handled diplomatically while using my charm to still earn that tip money. Today, switch out customers for a sales team, co-hosts, and a myriad of guests.
Is there any separation between your radio personality and your own?
I’m the same girl all the way around. The only difference between me in person and me on TV or radio is the FCC’s rules on F-bombs. You hear more of those in person.
What are some benefits to hosting a podcast outside of hosting on your radio show?
So much freedom. We get to pick our own content and book our own guests. There were days when I wanted to talk about something polarizing on the radio but couldn’t for fear of pissing someone off and it affecting my ratings. Those are the perils of working in the conservative South. Now, I know I can save it for the podcast.
Who are some dream guests you’d love to have on your podcast?
Now that we’ve already had Dr. Q, I default to Sam Smith on any dream interview. Bless that talented, beautiful man.
How has being a woman has affected your professional experience?
It was tough at first because I didn’t feel like my strong personality was being accepted. Women are expected to play nice. Being perceived as “the bitchy one” can keep people and opportunities at arm’s length. I didn’t necessarily change, but I honed my brand to be known for being fun with a healthy dose of real talk. The very piece of my personality I was initially scared of became the reason I was invited to be a co-host on The Chat.
What is the gender ratio like in your industry? Do you see it evolving?
Women are definitely the minority in positions of power. There is only one female program director (a former KISS FM intern, hey @ashleeonair!) in Top 40 within our company. Top 40 is mostly listened to by women, so that blows my mind. But, the evolution is definitely happening. The head of iHeartMedia Jacksonville is a woman of color.
What are some common misconceptions about your job?
That it’s easy! People have told me they could do my job because it’s just sitting in a studio and talking. Not even close.
What are some of the everyday struggles with your job that we might not see?
I’m my harshest critic.
What is one of the biggest obstacles you’ve faced in your work? How’d you overcome it?
Starting the podcast. I’m a control freak when it comes to my work because it’s mostly done solo. Working with and teaching Jess the ropes has forced me to let go a bit. Just a bit. I’m trying, Jess!
What makes 97.9 KISS FM stand out from other stations?
Our identity is so ingrained in loving the city of Jacksonville. We talk to people about their lives, and we share in the misery or bliss of whatever the Jags are doing. Listen to us for 10 minutes and it’s obvious.
As the media industries are constantly evolving, why do you think radio continues to be timeless?
It’s relatively free. If someone can get their hands on a working radio, we’re always there. That’s incredibly important in times of emergency. I’ve been on the hurricane operations team the last couple years. We help keep people informed during the storms. Once they passed, we were taking calls from people looking for grocery stores with power and two seconds later someone else would call saying they found one. Local radio can be powerful. Also, free concert tickets.
Who are the businesses, personalities, or creatives you’re dying to collaborate with?
Jacksonville has some funny, female bloggers and business owners! We’ve interviewed a couple of them (including Babes Who Hustle’s founder!) on the podcast, but I’m currently exploring how to make those collaborations bigger.
What would you say is your biggest strength in your current role?
A newfound confidence in my abilities. Discovering your worth as a professional feels good. I’m ready for whatever’s next.
What would you say is the skill you most need to improve?
My writing. Writing stories for Making Moves is like flexing an old muscle I haven’t used in a long time.
Who are some women in your field that you look to for inspiration?
Maria Menounos. I’ve been a huge fan of hers since I was in middle school. Her style is the perfect blend of journalism and entertainment. The way she balances her many projects and family is mind blowing. Her Greek parents are old-school like mine. Maria’s transparency about difficulties that came from generational and cultural differences with her parents has been helpful.
What’s your ultimate dream job?
To produce and host my own show on a major network. Shoot for the moon, right?
What motivates and inspires you?
The gratitude I get from people about making them laugh or being a voice for minorities. There was a day on The Chat where we discussed hate speech against trans people. I aggressively disagreed with my co-hosts on how to approach the discussion because it was taking an under-educated turn. That clip was posted on social media and members of the queer community said they were thankful to finally have someone on local TV defending them.
What helps you manage stress?
My boyfriend Andrew really is the best partner. If he knows I’ve had a rough day, he’ll make me a drink and let me switch the TV from sports to Gossip Girl. His love and lame jokes are what make our home a sanctuary for me to decompress every day.
What are some notable experiences you’ve had on the job?
I’ve been lucky enough to travel to beautiful places like Jamaica, Turks and Caicos for broadcasts. The best one was getting to treat my mom to a broadcast trip aboard a Disney cruise. She really liked the free ice cream machines by the pool.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Use social media to reach out to someone like me in the industry! Who you know is 75 percent of this business. Don’t be scared to ask questions, and get to creating. Anyone can start a podcast or YouTube channel. Also, take risks and be kind to everyone, especially yourself.