Melissa Ross, is the host of WJCT’s award-winning First Coast Connect radio show. She has more than 20 years of experience in broadcasting, including stints in Cincinnati, Chicago, Orlando and Jacksonville. During her career as a television and radio news anchor and reporter, Melissa won four regional Emmys for news and feature reporting and a national award from Public Radio News Directors, Inc. She is married with two daughters, and is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism/Communications. She is a featured blogger on the Huffington Post website and a fill-in columnist at Jacksonville’s flagship newspaper, the Florida Times-Union.
Your ‘Fierce Talk’ is titled, ‘Defining Your Image.’ What does it mean that phrase mean to you in your life?
What I’ve learned over 25 years of career, (and changing careers more than once) is the power of one’s personal brand. You carry that with you from job to job. And defining one’s image or brand takes time, planning and energy. For me, this process developed organically over a long period of time, but as I look back, I realize that many things I did instinctively helped in the creation of the “brand” or “image” I’ve worked to create. At the same time, I’ve also taken conscious steps to develop my reputation or brand. What does that mean? I know what my brand is, and the decisions I make every day keep that in mind. I try to make choices that enhance and align with this brand or image.
You changed paths mid-career in a field that many people aspire to… what led to that?
Ever since we moved to Jacksonville in 2003, I’ve been lucky. Believe me, it was not always that way! But here, jobs seemed to fall in my lap. In 2006, I had made the decision to leave TV news when we had our second child. But I didn’t know what was next- had no idea. I went on maternity leave thinking, “I’m not going back to that newsroom.” Halfway through my maternity leave, I got a call to come interview for a job as an account executive at Jacksonville’s Dalton Agency. What a great opportunity! But my “brand” played a role. The guy who hired me, Michael Munz, who remains a mentor today, told me I had a reputation for being smart and thoughtful.
Then, three years later in 2009, someone I barely knew messaged me on Facebook and encouraged me to apply for a new talk show that was being developed at WJCT. He’s now my good friend- our Electro Lounge and Music Director host David Luckin. He too, liked my “image” or “brand.” When he contacted me, he said, “You’re a good fit for this. Give it a shot.” I was lucky! But the old saying is, luck is preparation meeting opportunity. It was the right opportunity at the right time.
Did changing careers and opening yourself up to something ‘off-plan’ change you?
Yes. Going off in a new direction is scary, but it’s also exciting. I encourage everyone to be open to opportunities, particularly the ones they never considered or ones that seem to come out of left field. I think this is the universe’s way of nudging you in the direction you’re supposed to go. Making these career changes has made me a less fearful person. I am more open to uncertainty and more relaxed in my ability to roll with change.
You’ve won Emmy awards for your television work, and a national award from Public Radio News Directors, Inc.
What are the values that matter most to you as a host who many look to for objective and informed perspectives on politics, civic life and community involvement?
Credibility. Hopefully that is the “brand” I’ve built. I strive to host and produce a daily platform that has credibility in the eyes and ears of our listeners. That means striking a balance between exploring controversial issues, without descending into inflammatory or partisan rhetoric. I also think it’s important to maintain civility. That’s certainly public radio’s “brand.”
You have been a supporter of She Is Fierce! since I first shared what I was working on with you and I hear from so many people that you helped get them off the ground, spread the word about their cause or just gave them a little help when they needed it. What do you think makes you so willing to support and build others up?
Well, I am a firm believer in paying it forward. That good karma always comes back around somehow.
You have two girls. What do you want to teach them about womanhood and what it means to be a girl today?
I try to instill confidence in them. There are still so many gender-based expectations and limitations society puts on girls and young women, and while I think they probably think I lecture them too much on this topic, I do try to show them by example that they need to pilot their own ship and develop a sense that they can pursue whatever they’d like.
What woman do you look up to as a role model in your career or life? What are the characteristics you most admire in those women?
I really loved Nora Ephron, and I was so sad when she passed. She was so good at everything she did. I loved her wit, her creativity, and the way she shed several skins in her life, going from wife to magazine writer, to author to screenwriter to movie director. And with style!
There are other women I really admire, probably too many to list, but the main quality I admire in the role models in my life is their RESILIENCE. They use failures as learning experiences and just keep going.