Leslie Fram: A 99X radio legend now at CMT

Leslie Fram, senior vice president of music strategy at CMT in Nashville, helped shape 99X in Atlanta during its heyday. She was recently in Atlanta for the 25th anniversary celebration of “The Morning X.” RODNEY HO / RHO@AJC.COM

The radio business has been notoriously male-centric, a world that hasn’t always been kind to women attempting to excel behind or in front of the mic.

Leslie Fram, who helped build Atlanta rock station 99X during its powerhouse days in the 1990s and early 2000s, was able to break through without rancor or bitterness, just an old-fashioned combination of smarts, hard work, kindness and a super thick skin.

The Alabama native came to Atlanta in 1990 as part of the morning show for pop station Power 99. Two years later, she transitioned the station into alternative rock, joining “The Morning X,” a show that jolted energy into the local radio scene with a cynical yet fun Gen X approach to entertaining the masses.

RELATED: 99X 25th anniversary: Where are they now?

She became the “voice of reason” between the often-bickering duo of Steve Barnes and Jimmy Baron. Baron recalls that she, as program director of the station as well, had to play interference with her bosses whenever other cast members got in trouble.

“She was always balancing what was best for the show while doing what was best for the overall radio station,” Baron said.

In 2011, she became senior vice president of music strategy for the cable network CMT, moving to Nashville and quickly making her mark in the country music world.

Fram leads CMT’s “Next Women of Country” campaign, which has promoted rising stars such as Kelsea Ballerini, Maren Morris and Kacey Musgraves. She also saw the crossover potential of acts such as Sam Hunt and the Florida Georgia Line and helps mentor female executives in the music biz.

Brian Phillips, who worked as Fram’s boss at 99X and CMT for two decades, said he marvels at how she builds — not burns — bridges in such a cutthroat business.

“She has the deepest well of empathy,” he said. “She has soul, humanity and professionalism paired with terrific sensibilities about music. That’s what makes her truly special and beloved everywhere she goes.”

Steve Craig, a former 99X midday host who also worked in New York at a rock station with her, said she worked ridiculously long hours as a morning host and radio executive, while hitting concerts and clubs at night. “She does it religiously and does not complain,” he said.

A rare time she did complain, he said, is when she recently popped her kneecap and had to recuperate at home. “She was restless. She hated being away from the studios at CMT,” said Craig, who still stays in regular touch with her.

Go to myajc.com/womens-history for the whole Women’s History Month series and for more subscriber exclusives and videos.