improving jacksonville – melissa ross

by Brenton Crozier
s a community, it’s easy to become complacent about media that offers merely a monologue. Certainly there are political and sports-themed talk shows featuring cantankerous interaction with callers, but are more of an entertainment staple then they are a newsworthy one. WJCT’s weekday 9-10 am morning program First Coast Connect counters this traditional discourse, offering instead, discussion. And although the program’s premise may be simple, it takes the right host to bring this type of vision to fruition. “You’re really crawling into people’s heads. It’s a very intimate form of communication, it’s very powerful,” says the show’s host, Melissa Ross, about the connection that radio has with its listeners. Despite being relatively new to the medium, with a background composed mainly of broadcast television news and public relations work, she has a deep admiration for radio and a clear vision of her program’s mission.
The daily show boasts an impressive guest list of Jacksonville’s most notable citizens, ranging from Mayor Peyton and Wayne Weaver to celebrated cultural figures and local journalists. “I feel fortunate that we’ve been able to get these really interesting, prominent people to appear on the show. It’s a great platform to speak with them and for them to communicate with the public.” And here’s where its gets tricky. It’s easy to get steam-rolled by the movers and shakers that have made an art form out of staying on their talking points, but Melissa’s intelligence and thoughtful approach has provided a forum that has a way of disarming her guests, making them feel that it is the intimate conversation she sees it as.
“We do feel a responsibility to make sure we’re being comprehensive and looking at issues that affect the whole community,” Melissa remarks about the show. It’s easy to feel despondent with media that is often negative and sensationalized and it can even make you feel powerless. I didn’t get the feeling in any way that Melissa is on some crusade to provide the antithesis to conventional media, but to instead provide an environment where edification is possible through interaction. She describes the initial concept that WJCT’s CEO Michael Boylan had for the show as a, “smart local program that would engage the public, and to provide that forum for discussion.” And it’s easy to understand why Boylan saw Melissa as the right person for the job when she stresses, “For it to work, you have to be really consistent in the quality of what you’re putting on the air.” It’s reassuring that she has so much respect for her listeners.
Melissa attributes her twenty years in television to her success with First Coast Connect. In addition to broadcast journalism, her resume highlights include a journalism degree from Northwestern and a public relations stint with Jacksonville design and marketing firm the Dalton Agency. She has gotten involved in the community beyond her radio show, executive producing the documentary film that addresses the violence epidemic in Jacksonville called The 904.
“We really made it as a call to action to galvanize the entire community to be aware that this is a community-wide issue. We’ve all got to work together to look at long-term solutions.” The documentary captures local stories of victims of violent crime including former Jaguar Richard Collier. Alongside the moving stories, The 904 focuses on the efforts being made, specifically by local nonprofits, to address the violence issue. Melissa included that she and the film’s makers hope to have a resource fair with every screening.
Melissa has a genuine appreciation for Jacksonville, especially after living in many different cities, citing specifically the numerous resources that are found here. “Not that many cities have all these natural assets- the ocean, the river, the climate, the military presence, the NFL team. There are a lot of great attributes that make it an attractive place to live,” she says about the River City. When I asked her what she feels it’s lacking, she spoke about shining a light on and supporting the area’s artistic elements. Citing Richard Florida’s book The Creative Class, Melissa explained “Cities that support their creative class really take off, whether it be Portland or Austin, when the business community of a city figures out the connection between supporting the group that falls into that demographic, the city really takes off. Mayor Payton has talked about that on our radio show several times. For a city to really have that vibrant energy, you’ve got to get behind the creative class. We’ve tried to champion those people on our radio show.”
Melissa is a part of improving Jacksonville. It’s important to her that First Coast Connect does create a forum for discussion between residents and and the prominent. The formula is fallible, as displayed in the now infamous exchange that Melissa had with Corrine Brown who hung up after being asked about gerrymandering claims in her district. Melissa seems to cringe when the subject gets brought up, in my estimation because the short exchange holds a strong association with the show. She told me that she would “Be happy for Corrine Brown to return to the program,” that she “had an open invitation.”
First Coast Connect has been renewed for another year. Melissa hopes to continue to “make it better,” and hopefully “include some pre-produced segments.” Next time you feel unplugged from what is happening around you or don’t feel like you have a place to be heard, tune into the program. You can catch First Coast Connect on WJCT 89.9 Monday through Friday at 9 am. Melissa Ross is waiting to engage you, approaches listeners with an assumption of intelligence and wants to better Jacksonville constructively. We’re lucky to have her.