Tracy Ballzer and Brittany Styles, co-hosts of Z93’s Morning Buzz, sat down (virtually) with our in-house mixologist Jonathan Maye-Cates recently to talk about their radio partnership, music, pandemic life, and much more. This is the first of Jonathan’s new Cocktails & Conversations series. Check it out and please consider supporting our work by becoming a member of the La Crosse Independent at this link for just $5.75 a month.
JMC: You two, Brittany and Ballzer, are widely known as “the voices of La Crosse.” How have you been able to succeed at such a high level of regional broadcasting, despite the challenges you must face from the myriad of social media platforms and the ever-changing media landscape?
Tracy: One of the wonderful things about radio is that you’re able to meet people where they are. People listen to our show as their alarm clock, while they’re in the shower, in their car on their way to drop off their kids or heading to work, some even heading home from work. With phones and apps now, listeners can take us in their pocket with them all morning and can listen around the world. We’re able to make a connection with people that even the best of memes cannot.
Brittany: Being hyper-local is extremely important in a market like La Crosse. We love our community, we’re a pretty tight knit community for a city of our size, and listeners like that – they know who they’re listening to on their drive to work. We have to stay on top of the social media trends as well, because that’s where our listeners spend a lot of their time.
JMC: You both get up very early everyday, work in close quarters (before the pandemic) and deal with life in general. Both of you were recently married. How do you maintain your positivity and creativity and continue to compliment each other as a formidable team?
Tracy: A great thing about Brittany and I is that we are so different in a lot of ways but have very similar values. We have different strengths that balance out well and we’re both very driven, hard workers. Even though I’m kind of a cynic sometimes, I think we’re both positive people by nature and want to spread love.
Brittany: Our job takes a lot of energy and creativity. The wonderful thing about being a team is that we get to bounce ideas off of each other and figure out the best way to follow through. We both are lucky to have spouses that support our careers and are willing to be part of our creative process as well!
JMC: Over the years music, artists, and consumer tastes have evolved, melded and continue to do so. What do you see as the most defining moment in radio broadcast for the La Crosse market? What do you foresee or envision for the future of radio in La Crosse?
Brittany: I think that having two women on a morning show was a huge step for not just the local market, but also in general broadcasting. There are not many two women morning show teams. We’re very proud of that. We hope to continue to entertain La Crosse and the surrounding area for years to come. That would include all six of our radio stations at Mid-West Family La Crosse. We put out great content and have stellar talent on all six stations. The future is bright for radio, and so much more, at Mid-West Family La Crosse!
Tracy: I don’t think there’s one single defining moment. In the 16 years I’ve been with Mid-West Family La Crosse, I’ve seen our stations help people come together to celebrate, support, and love. We’ve brought great entertainment to town, helped local businesses grow, spread the word on worthy causes, and raised a tremendous amount of money to help our community. As for the future of radio in La Crosse, more people listen on our app and online every day but they’re still listening. There are lots more ways to hear music now but hearing other humans that are live and local will never go out of style. The way people listen will continue to change but there’s something to be said for having a “friend” speak to you between catchy tunes that will always be comforting.
JMC: As powerhouses in the La Crosse listening area, how are you dealing with the minefield of political discourse? Are there inherent problems you face in trying to entertain your audience and yet remain relevant?
Tracy: In general, we try not to take political sides on our show. It’s not a political station and that isn’t our focus. Politics aren’t the same as human rights, of course, and that is something we do talk about, even more so this year. We do have the tough conversations with our audience sometimes but it’s important to support all of the members of our community and make sure that our community is supporting as well.
Brittany: We overall try to keep our distance from sharing our personal political views with our listeners. They don’t need/want to hear that. They want information, but they don’t want opinions that make them feel they are trying to be swayed in one direction or another. We report the news. Aside from that, we try our best to keep our personal views/feelings out of our show.
JMC: What roles, independently or as a team, other than radio, are important to you as being highly visible community members? What are the passions that motivate you when you’re not in the control room?
Tracy: I’ve been a member of the comedy troupe Heart of La Crosse for over 10 years and it’s an amazing creative outlet. I also announce for the Mississippi Valley Mayhem roller derby team and help out with some behind the scenes stuff. They’re both such supportive groups to be involved with, I’m blessed.
Brittany: I am the manager of our mobile DJ service, Mid-West Family Entertainment, as well as being half of the morning show. In my 16-1/2 years at Z93, I have developed a reputation. I try to stay true to who I am and uphold that reputation for being a person who cares deeply about her community, because I do. I have volunteered for various organizations, and I enjoy meeting new and local people!
JMC: You are conjoined like proverbial twins. What attributes do you embrace or what do each consider a “pet peeve” about each other?
Tracy: Brittany is really great at a lot of things. She’s able to foresee issues and fix them before a problem gets bigger. She’s also a kind person and a great friend, which will get you pretty far in life. I honestly can’t think of a pet peeve about her off the top of my head but I’m really looking forward to reading her answer!
Brittany: We have known each other for over 16 years, but we have grown much closer in the five years of being on the Morning Show together. We complement each other well. We have different strengths and we let each other shine. We have come up with a great system that works well for us. With the pandemic, it’s been challenging because we haven’t been in the same room to do our show together since March. We do our show from two completely separate rooms, and we’re unable to see each other for hand signals and cues (that we had become accustomed to using over the years). I think it says a lot about us as a team that we’re able to make it sound quite seamless, and some people would never know, with the current situation we’re faced with!
JMC: Who are your favorite current artists or genres that have captured your interests?
Tracy: My musical taste is all over the place. Everything from Brandi Carlile to Run The Jewels. My favorite artists we play on Z93 are probably Lizzo, Lady Gaga, Post Malone, and Billie Eilish.
Brittany: Currently I am a big fan of The Weeknd, Post Malone, and I love Billie Eilish. Honestly, I am a lover of all music. I like most genres and I really enjoy Motown music. Motown might be my favorite, outside of what we play on Z93.
JMC: Lastly, if you were a patron sitting on my bar, what cocktail or beverages would you request?
Tracy: Blonde Russian, Vodka club with a lime, or something with Chambord. I will also need you to make me a delicious Sazerac some day.
Brittany: If I’m going to indulge, I thoroughly enjoy a Vodka Dirty Martini straight up with extra olives. The dirtier the better!
Interview by Jonathan Maye-Cates. Top image courtesy Bob Good Photography Studios, La Crosse. Email questions or story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jonathan D. Maye-Cates studied journalism at UW-Milwaukee and was an editor of the original Black student newspaper, Invictus, on campus. In 1979, Jonathan was hired as the Los Angeles Times/Washington Bureau’s first paid Black intern. He later worked as a reporter for the Atlanta-Journal Constitution. Jonathan now works as a bartender at the Charmant Hotel and serves as a commissioner on the La Crosse Human Rights Commission. He lives in La Crosse with his wife Laurie Ann Cafe.
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