Women on the wireless
It has been one of the more consistent media memes of the silly season now drawing to a close: why are there so few female voices on the radio? Of course, there is nothing new about this deficit – we …
It has been one of the more consistent media memes of the silly season now drawing to a close: why are there so few female voices on the radio? Of course, there is nothing new about this deficit – we drew attention to this issue back in January, while Una had a fine piece on this in the Trib in May – but it really came to a head in the last two weeks. Perhaps it was the lack of other stuff to talk about that so many women (and men) suddenly went “hang on, where are the girls on the radio?”.
The fact is, though, that it has been like this for quite some time and, even though the bandwagoneers will quickly find some other issue to push (what about, for example, why there are so few male PR practitioners in Ireland?), it won’t go away. After all, the current schedules, the ones which show up a huge lack of female voices on national radio in prime-house weekday hours (ie 7am to 7pm, Monday to Friday), are likely to remain unchanged for at least 12 months. You can get used to just having a few current affairs’ presenters on RTE Radio One as the only females on your national wireless until the next seasonal schedules are announced and this kicks off again.
RTE radio boss Clare Duignan penned a robust letter to The Irish Times last week about the issue, where she listed off every single female jock on RTE’s many stations. Of course, Duignan missed the point by a mile – this is about the huge lack of female voices on national radio in prime-house weekday hours, not how many female producers or non-peak hour DJs on minority stations you have – but she did at least make the effort to get someone to go through the personnel files.
Last week, I interviewed the new Head of 2fm John McMahon (interview here). One of the (many) issues we discussed which didn’t make the cut due to space restrictions was the issue of women on the wireless. Here are his thoughts on why there are so few female voices on the radio:
“I don’t know and there needs to be more. I don’t buy this research that everyone seems to have read but no-one seems to have seen that listeners don’t like female voices on radio. Maybe that existed in 1950s’ America or something. We have five female presenters on 2fm and we need to have more. As someone who is married to a presenter/reporter, I can assure you that it’s not deliberate. We do have women in the 7am to 7pm slot at the weekend and we have female contributers, but we need to have more.
“But there are very few female presenters on any radio station and if 90 per cent of the people coming through from local to national are male, then 90 per cent of the DJs will be male, which is why I want to go outside the usual channels to find new DJs. I’ve been running the station for nine months, but if I’ve been running the station for five years and that’s still the case, I think it would be a very valid accusation to throw at me.”
I’m sure there are many local radio listeners who will disagree with McMahon’s view by listing off the many female DJs working at the business end of a microphone in local radioland. Yet his point that it’s not deliberate is something which very few could contest. Some might argue that the only way around this is through gender quotas and positive discrimination (as we’ve seen discussed over the summer to correct the lack of female politicians in the Dail), but that presents a whole other set of questions and issues. The fact remains, though, that you can expect this issue to be trotted out again next year (and probably the year after as well) as solutions seem to be in short supply.