I was honored to have Melissa Ross on as my guest recently. You can listen in on our conversation here or read the transcript below.
Thanks again, Melissa. Keep up all of the great work you are doing!
Debbie DiPietro: Welcome to Courageously Go, where we will venture to places we’ve been afraid to go. Women of the world, we are going to start a movement. A movement towards courage. My mission is to have a conversation about courage. I think this is important because when we live from our hearts by choosing courage, the life of our dreams and a better world for all are possible no matter our age or circumstances. We never need to feel stuck or alone. Hello everyone. My name is Debbie DiPietro and for many years on my award-winning blog The Warm Milk Journal. I wrote about my struggles with anxiety, and challenges with finding my voice. And it took many years of writing and getting some healing and now with this podcast we’re having a conversation with women from around the world, and we’re all on this journey together. And so, I’m excited that we’re all here together, and can’t wait to introduce this week’s guest. We have quite the accomplished guest today.
Debbie DiPietro: Her name is Melissa Ross. And Melissa, she’s a first connect host/producer, she joined our PBS/NPR station WJCT here in in Jacksonville in 2009. With 20 years of experience in broadcasting, including stints in Cincinnati, Chicago, Orlando, and Jacksonville. WJCT’s first connect has receive multiple national awards from public radio news directors incorporated for best call-in program. As Executive Producer of the 904 Shadow on the Sunshine State, Melissa and WJCT received an Emmy in the documentary category at the 2011 Sun Coast Emmy Awards. The 904 examined Jacksonville’s status as Florida’s murder capital. She gained national platform as fill-in host for Peabody Award-winning The Diane Rem Show. Melissa co-hosted the state-wide program The Florida Round Up in collaboration with WLRN 91.3 FM in Miami. She is the anchor and producer of the Quarterly Community Thread Town Hall programs on WJCT Television looking at issues of civic importance to northeast Florida. She’s been voted best local radio host by Folio Weekly, which is our local newspaper magazine here by there readers in the years of 2010, 11, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17. She’s the winner of the 2015, 2016 and 2017 Bold City Best Award for best radio personality and host, sponsored by our local newspaper Jacksonville.com the Florida Times Union.
Debbie DiPietro: Melissa is married with two children. She’s the graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and Communications. She also writes for The Florida Politics blog. Melissa, welcome to Courageously Go.
Melissa Ross: Well, thank you. And thank you for that wonderful introduction. It’s good to talk to you.
Debbie DiPietro: Absolutely. I’m going to be honest with you, okay? You probably … You kind of have the dream job. When I was a little kid, and I’ve shared this with listeners on the show before … When I was in third grade I always thought it was just … I wanted to grow up and be like Barbara Walters. Be that broadcast journalist, do that investigation, you’re reporting, and interview important people, but you know, I never did it. I even started off majoring in broadcast journalism in Oklahoma State, but I never did it. I kind of chickened out. And so now it’s kind of funny though, at age 51 I’m doing this podcast I can kind of … I’m kind of doing it now later in life, but you’re doing it and what a career you’re having.
Melissa Ross: Thanks, yeah, I mean I’m sort of like you when I was younger. I would watch women like Barbara Walters and others on the news and think, “I think I want to do that”, and I did. I went to journalism school, I went into television news. I worked for stations all over the country for, gosh, about 20 years, and then I kind of made a decision to get out of the business after we had our second child and we had settled here in Jacksonville, and I got out of the business. I was fully out of the business. And for years I worked in public relations and marketing and I was pretty content with that for the most part. But then, through a fluke, I got asked to apply for this new radio talk show that was being developed at WJCT, I never expected to be doing this kind of work at this point in my life, but here I am and it’s actually been a really interesting and exciting and rewarding experience to put this talk show together and work on it every day and over the years. And so, yeah, I feel really lucky and fortunate to be getting to do this kind of work.
Debbie DiPietro: Yeah, it sounds like it. You’re having fun? You having a lot of fun with it?
Melissa Ross: Yeah. It is. I mean, every day is a little different. It’s exciting to meet interesting and talented people and influential people all the time. We’ve had just an enormous stream of people. Thousands of people come through our green room over the nine years we’ve been doing this show. And even more importantly than that, we just get a lot of great feedback from the community. That they appreciate not just the show, but everything we do at WJCT because our mission as we see it is to educate and inform and bring the community together. So that’s something I think public broadcasters really do take seriously and we try to focus on that every day and really be a platform for the community. So that’s exciting and that’s been really gratifying, and it’s been a way to get back into broadcasting but not in commercial broadcasting, which is a very different kind of culture. Very profit and ratings driven, and this is a completely different thing, and this is a mission-driven organization, and that’s been a really, just really cool thing to be a part of.
Debbie DiPietro: Yeah. You guys do a great job. I know, I’m a big fan. I’m sure you interview and you spend time with so many interesting people. What’s someone or a few people that come to mind as some of your more interesting talks recently?
Melissa Ross: Well, there’ve been a lot of recent interesting talks. Let’s see, on the political front, just last week Jacksonville city council President Anna Brosche came by to do the show and she sort of floated a trial balloon that she’s thinking about running for mayor. So that caused a lot of discussion. So that was one example of how we can sort of make news on the show. And then, just this morning we had two reporters from the Times Union come to talk about their deep dive investigation into the long term impacts of drudging the Saint John’s river, how that’s going to effect the city, in particular when we see more severe weather events like what we saw last year during hurricane Erma. I don’t know if you got flooded out, but a lot of people did and that’s the kind of conversation we have on the show where people can hear about something that’s important and thousands of listeners they can call in, they can share their experiences, they can ask questions of news and people that we have featured and, you know. And we can drive community conversation that way through this platform of radio, and also streaming and digital so those are just two examples that come to mind just recently while we’ve had really good discussions.
Debbie DiPietro: This network that this show is on, our demographic is primarily women 50 and older. Primarily, but people of all ages and men as well, but it’s obviously a show about courage and living our most heart-felt lives. What do you think in your experience right now personally or professionally are some of the biggest challenges that women are facing right now?
Melissa Ross: I think that women feel challenged in a lot of fronts, but dealing with aging, dealing with raising kids. Dealing with finances, making sure you’re taking care of your house. Maybe you’ve also got aging parents you’ve got to take care of. Maybe you’re worried about … decisions the government makes are going to affect social security. There are so many things I think women have reason to kind of worried or be stressed about, but at the same time I think women feel really empowered right now.
Melissa Ross: You’re seeing record numbers of women running for office. Record numbers of women starting their own businesses and being successful. On the one hand there’s a lot of stress, but on the other hand, I think women are sort of going for it in a lot of different ways. I’m involve with an organization called She Is Fierce, which is a global women’s empowerment organization. We do live events and networking and there’s a big digital membership online with women that are members in countries all over the world. And I think women are just sort of finding their power and they’re going for things, but they want to accomplish, and particularly as women get into their 40s and 50s I think you see a lot more of that. Women just sort of let old anxieties and [inaudible 00:10:20] sort of fall away. They lose their fear of failure and they just go for it. And I think that’s great. You’re do that with this podcast and that’s one example of how women find their voice as they move through these decades of life.
Debbie DiPietro: I think you’re right. I think it’s … I love this time in life. I really do. I’m 51 and a half now, and you’re exactly right. Kind of this whole idea was born when I … My 50th birthday, I’m kind of like, you know, here I am and every day you’ve got to make every day count and, for so many years, like probably other women … I just spent years worrying about what other people thought of me. I was that little people pleaser and just always had to be the perfect little Debbie, right. And I think the result is that I just I didn’t become the broadcaster enlisted in my early 20s because I was scared of failing, and I didn’t do some of the things I want to do. But now I’m like what do I have to lose? I’m just going to be myself and world here I am, and encourage other women and well, and let’s just be ourselves and enjoy life and I just love this time. I really do. I might [crosstalk 00:11:31]
Melissa Ross: Yeah, me too.
Debbie DiPietro: Right, yeah, you too. You might look in the mirror and say, “Well, I don’t look like my 25 year old self, but that’s okay I don’t care. I’m a lot more comfortable in my skin right now, you know?”
Melissa Ross: That’s right. You become comfortable in your own skin. You become less driven by fear and needing to seek approval of others. And that is very liberating.
Debbie DiPietro: It’s extremely liberating. I just feel like a huge thousand-pound elephant is just lifted off me since I decided, “You know, let the chips fall where they may but I’m just going to live my life and I’m just having fun”, this is all like this podcast. It’s all gravy at this point. I’m just having the time of my life right now so I do love this chapter. I really do.
Melissa Ross: Oh, yeah. Yeah, me too. The kids are getting a little older, and our older one’s going to have her driver’s license by the fall, which is terrifying, but as they get older and they get a little more independence, I can go home and start to appreciate that they’ve gotten their kids through the early years and then you kind of start focusing on other things that you also want to accomplish in life. I think I feel that way right now. I think a lot of my friends do too.
Debbie DiPietro: Mm-hmm. Kids still need us. I have a 20 year old and a 23 year old, but not like they did when they were younger so you’re right about that I can focus on other things and myself.
Melissa Ross: Yeah, right.
Debbie DiPietro: Yeah. So you’ve had quite a journey. You’ve been in the business, you left the business, you’re back. What do you see? Do you have a five-year plan, or do you just kind of take it one day at a time? What do you see in the crystal ball for Melissa Ross?
Melissa Ross: I don’t have a five-year plan. I don’t have a one year plan. I’ve given that up. Like I used to do that and I’ve just learned that nothing goes according to the plan. This was not in my plans doing this show and here I am doing this show, so I’ve kind of gotten to the point where I’m just open to whatever comes next. I have no idea what that is going to be. I really don’t. I just don’t know. I’m just open … I’ve just adopted this attitude of being open to things. And that’s led to a lot of interesting, cool opportunities in the last 10 years. Not just with the talk show but other things that I’ve gotten involved in. I’m just open to whatever comes next.
Debbie DiPietro: Mm-hmm. Do you have kind a … Any kind of a bucket list of people you haven’t interviewed yet that you would like to?
Melissa Ross: Oh, God sure! On the political side we’ve been trying for years to get Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio the two Florida senators. We still have not gotten either one, but we’ve had so many other political figures, celebrates. There’s just so many people we’d love to get. National names. We’ve had quite a few, actually for a local talk show but, I guess it’s hard to name just one.
Debbie DiPietro: Yeah. Yeah, well this is pretty … It’s pretty exciting talking to important people and just even the community conversations that you guys facilitate for us here in Jacksonville. Do you reach out to other … the other outlets in our country. Colleagues in the country?
Melissa Ross: Oh, yeah. We are an NPR member station so we have a network of affiliates all over Florida and all over the country where we can share information, share contacts, share resources. There’s also the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network, which is set up to help people get information in the event of severe weather. So there is a whole network there that we can tap, which is nice.
Debbie DiPietro: Yeah. While I still have you on, let’s make sure people … do you want to tell then the WJCT website, or is there another website that where people [crosstalk 00:15:58] about your work?
Melissa Ross: Sure, if you go to either WJCT.org or WJCTnews.org you can learn all about the station, what we’re doing on the news and talk show side, community events and … There’s lots of good stuff there.
Debbie DiPietro: Awesome. Awesome. With a few minutes left, what can we advise our … What can you say about living a heart-filled life that we haven’t touched on before? What is something that … go ahead.
Melissa Ross: I guess I would just say that women … If there’s something that you always dreamed of doing, do it. Don’t wait. Make your dreams reality, even if it’s something small. If it’s something you’ve always wanted to do, go do it. Don’t second guess yourself. Get out there and go after what you want.
Debbie DiPietro: Yeah, I agree with that. I’ve been kind of coming up with like my one word. You’ve heard of that? Come up with like you’re one word and I’m thinking, “What should my one word be? Courage? Should my one word be confidence?” But listen, I just came up with this just the other day. I think my one word is just “go” you know, just simple two letters, go. Just do it. Act, right. Get off the fence and go. And it seems like and, granted, I am one, I’m a roominator. I think things. I’ll get stuck in analysis paralysis and I’ll just overthink things and when that happens nothing gets done, right. But there have been times in my life where I decided to literally just leap of the cliff and figure out how to build a parachute on the way down, and when I have taken that action thing really open up and I’ve always landed in a better place. I always have when I’ve done that in my life, so I think that’s great advice, just go. Just do it.
Melissa Ross: That’s right.
Debbie DiPietro: Even if it’s little baby … Even if it’s a small step. Just something.
Melissa Ross: Exactly. Sometimes small steps are fine until you, you know … Then they lead to bigger steps. And that’s fine.
Debbie DiPietro: Yeah, so. Alright well, thank you for being a guest with us. It’s been quite an honor to have such an accomplished journalist on Courageously Go, and we look forward to following your shows.
Melissa Ross: Thank you. And thank you for having me, and best of luck with it. Thanks for letting me be a part of it.
Debbie DiPietro: Thank you. We’ll be in touch. Thanks so much, Melissa.
Melissa Ross: Okay. Thanks.