Radio still plays ‘staggeringly, shockingly’ more male Irish artists

Gender Disparity report shows boost for female Irish artists only on some radio stations

Six months on from a report that showed a huge difference between the amount of radio play that male Irish artists get on stations around Ireland compared with the number of times songs by female Irish artists are played, the balance has improved only slightly in many cases.

Although a handful of stations have improved signifcantly, male performers still account for 80 or 90 per cent of radio play in a lot of instances, research to be released on Friday shows. One station broadcast no songs by female artists during the study period.

The half-yearly follow-up to the Gender Disparity Data Report on Irish radio, compiled by the Why Not Her? collective, outlines a continuing gender disparity among the 20 most-played songs by Irish artists on Irish stations between June 24th and December 24th, 2020.

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Overall, 85 per cent of the artists in the top 100 Irish radio airplay chart over the past six months have been male; only 11 per cent have been female. (The remaining 4 per cent of songs have been collaborations between male and female artists.)

'The findings are a staggering and shocking display of an industry model that still needs drastic changes, especially in regional radio. Variety and diversity exist. Let us all work to embrace that'

Among those to have shown the biggest improvements are RTÉ 2FM, Spin 1038 and Spin SouthWest, Beat102-103, LMFM and WLR FM, but the dominance of male artists is still striking.

“The same homogenised male list that we viewed in the last report – Picture This, Gavin James, Dermot Kennedy, Wild Youth, Niall Horan and a new addition to the male echelons of the Irish scene, Robert Grace – dominate the top five chart positions on radio, with only Denise Chaila and Wyvern Lingo appearing once in the top five most-played tracks across Irish radio, on RTÉ 2FM,” Why Not Her? observes of the data.

The 39-strong supergroup Irish Women in Harmony, who recorded a charity cover of the Cranberries song Dreams, appear multiple times but are outnumbered by mostly solo male acts.

Why Not Her? concludes: “The findings are a staggering and shocking display of an industry model that still needs drastic changes, especially in regional radio. Variety and diversity exist. Let us all work to embrace that.”

According to the report, which is based on data compiled by Radiomonitor, the stations playing the largest percentages of female Irish artists include:

  • RTÉ Radio 1, at 60 per cent female (up 10 per cent)
  • Spin 1038, at 45 per cent (up 40 per cent)
  • RTÉ 2FM, at 40 per cent (up 30 per cent)
  • Spin South West, at 40 per cent (up 35 per cent)
  • and Beat 102-103, at 35 per cent (up 30 per cent).

For the first time in five years, the Dublin station FM104 increased women’s music in its top-20 airplay charts by 10 per cent, which the reports calls “a small but certainly significant change towards parity”.

At the opposite end of the scale, Tipp FM played no female Irish artists at all in the six-month sampling period (a decrease of 5 per cent since the previous study). Both C103 and 96FM, in Cork, played 95 per cent male Irish artists (no change in six months), as did KFM, East Coast FM and South East Radio.

Ninety per cent of Irish artists played are male on FM104, Highland Radio, Red FM, Clare FM, KCLR 96FM, Radio Kerry and Shannonside FM.

The national station Today FM is among the broadcasters featuring 85 per cent male artists.

The report does show an increase in diversity, going from just one artist of colour – Soulé – the last time around to the 11 that have featured in airplay charts across Irish radio in the past six months. Denise Chaila’s song Chaila featured heavily. “To see a more diverse selection of artists is something we wish to acknowledge, as considerable progress and the beginning of more change to come.”

Gender disparity: Reaction to the report

  • Dr Susan Liddy, who chairs the industry organisation Women in Film and Television Ireland, says that she is disheartened by the research but that, "thankfully, it's becoming increasingly unacceptable to demonstrate such a blatant disregard for gender balance in the arts and elsewhere. Indeed, the report does applaud the efforts of a number of radio stations to address the issue. But there is still a long way to go, and we stand with our colleagues in calling for an equal voice for women not only on our airwaves and screens but in every facet of Irish culture."
  • Eleanor McEvoy, the singer-songwriter who chairs Imro, the Irish Music Rights Organisation, says that the strides made by some stations are terrific but that she is disappointed by the continuing lack of gender diversity on many stations. "It's sad that so many listeners to radio in Ireland are still missing out on hearing female voices on air."
  • Karen Power, chair of Sounding the Feminists, says that the "extremely valuable and timely" report shows some light but that, "given the alarming imbalance shown in the first report, we would have reasonably expected more significant progress".
  • The new report shows that "significant change is possible within a short period of time – when the will is there", says Lian Bell, the Waking the Feminists founder. "Radio stations need to listen and make the long-overdue changes to their music programming, and soon. We have exceptional female artists in Ireland – we just need the chance to hear them."
  • Sam Hardiman of Quarantine FM says that although the Gender Disparity report demonstrates a shift in the right direction, it highlights the work yet to be done. "As a digital radio station, we believe that making an effort to balance the scales appropriately can only lead to a wider tapestry of music for the listener, and only then can we claim to showcase the variety of incredible talent our country has to offer."
  • The singer-songwriter Pauline Scanlon, founder of Fair PLe Collective, says that the improvements are "proof that change is not only possible but can be done quickly and efficiently without compromising musical integrity or quality of output. We hope this can spark change in the stations that lag behind, and we are hopeful things will continue to get better."

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