By Jeff McKay
Special Features Correspondent
Continuing today (11/5), TALKERS presents a multi-part feature story about the status of female talk show hosts in the radio business that will run throughout this week.
Part 4: Where is it going?
NEW YORK – It was established in the first three installments of this article about the state of women on talk radio – particularly “news/talk” radio – that although there are many successful female practitioners of the art heard around the country, male hosts continue to outnumber females by a startling ratio of approximately seven-to-one. The question is why?
Another question: Where is it all going?
Would an increase in the number of women on news/talk radio change the “nature” of the medium?
And, of course, that leads to the bigger question, should talk radio be looking to expand its nature and target audiences by hiring more women?
Can the spoken word medium successfully expand into more of a variety of directions and attract new female-skewing audiences via an increase in females on the air? Is that a risky move?
What do women want to hear enough to make talk radio of any genre part of their daily habit and routine?
Don’t be scared
When it comes to the question of why there aren’t more women in on-air news/talk roles, Valerie Geller, broadcast consultant and president of Geller Media International says the audience is there, but much like WFTL’s Joyce Kaufman, you need to not be “scared.” We can learn a lot from television.
“Oprah’s audience was made for women, hosted by a woman and got a huge female audience. You also have to give shows time to grow and find their audience. Both Rush and Sean had that. Many female hosts are given an opportunity, but management gets scared and pulls the plug too soon — shows take time to grow — you have to be willing to believe in, develop and then give a talent the time it takes to grow, male or female,” says Geller.
One issue, brought up by Todd Manley, VP/content & programming for Chicago talk powerhouse WGN is the need to expand the horizons of radio from the “radio dial” to other platforms, and away from bombastic talkers to story tellers.
“I’m sure the reasons are different in every market, but you have to look for great story-tellers not great talk show hosts. That means you can’t look in traditional places.
Manley may be on to something, as WGN is the top-rated Windy City talk radio station using only local talk hosts, and seven hours of each 24-hour weekday has a woman talk host behind the microphone, along with a majority-female local newsroom.
Who are the buyers?
The numbers can support the business case. According to recent research by Nielsen Scarborough, women are 54 percent of the heaviest consumers of media across four media sectors—radio, television, internet, and print newspaper.
“Women are individuals not groups — as are men,” says consultant Geller. She tells TALKERS, “My experience shows audiences respond to humor, relevant content, and new ideas that are interesting and compelling. All are story junkies — but to be specific to your questions: women want to hear personalities who inform and entertain. In her demo, talent such as comedian Amy Schumer have high appeal to both men and women.”
Men will listen
Connell adds, “Most men have an important woman in their life. They have conversations with her, make decisions with her, respect and probably love her. To suggest that a man can’t respond to a woman’s viewpoint is to concede the point that feminists are right and the patriarchy is alive and well. That all men wish we ‘dames’ would sit down, look pretty and shut up. That’s not life. Give a man a compelling and funny take on something and then back it up unabashedly, and he will listen.
“Some old codgers hate me on the radio because I’m female. So it you’re after the ‘old codger’ demo, knock yourself out. I do think there is greater pressure on women to ‘think like a man’ — and that’s okay. I actually get that ‘compliment’ a lot… that I think like a man. I take it to mean that I am rational and logical in my thinking. These are traits you’d want in any host, and not just traits displayed by all the male hosts working today.”
All male line-ups
When you look at some of the best-known talk radio stations across the nation in its top markets, from iHeart-owned WOR or Cumulus-owned WABC in New York City, iHeart’s KEIB-AM in Los Angeles, Cumulus’s KSFO in San Francisco and WLS in Chicago as well as CBS O&O WPHT in Philly — all have one thing in common. All feature a regular all-male lineup 24 hours each weekday.
This is not the case at WGN in the Windy City.
WGN’s Todd Manley has Wendy Snyder co-hosting in the middays and Patti Vasquez on solo at night. Neither Snyder nor Vasquez are what you’d call overly antagonistic and neither would be mistaken for Rush Limbaugh. However, Manley tells TALKERS each bring to the table elements that the listeners crave, making each a popular component for the overall sound of Chicago’s top-rated talker.
“Wendy is just simply curious. She flies into every show without pretense. Plus, she has an engaging lack of filter, which works for her because she’s loving,” says Manley. “Patti has an investigative gene and she’s quickly becoming Chicago’s favorite community activist. You throw in her comic genius and you get great laughs with the tears.”
Manley says women are a vital part of his listener base, and equally important as a component of the radio station itself.
“I’m proud to say that women are the solo anchors of news in AM drive, during the noon business hour, PM drive, and overnights. Great names like Andrea Darlas, Kim Gordon, Judy Pielach, and Esmeralda Leon,” says Manley. “Our content universe is driven by women behind the scenes, too. Jackie Paulus fuels marketing and digital innovation and Stephanie Menendez is our programming coordinator. When you ask how the women on the air are received by male listeners, I don’t have a good answer. Our strategy is all about gender balance in the audience makeup, and during our most successful days we lean more 60/40 women to men.”
Manley advises if you’re adverse to risk taking or overly-obsessed with the mechanics of the PPM, you may need to reconsider that strategy.
“Take risks. Look for magnetism before execution. You can’t teach people to be more interesting, but you can teach interesting and intelligent women to tease topics and employ some PPM tactics,” says Manley. “We need more women in imaging and audio branding, too. Generally, if we do a better job of giving women opportunities in every inch of the business… we’ll be better. That’s a pretty ridiculous sentence given it’s 2015.”
TOMORROW: Part 5 – “The State of Women in Talk Radio” concludes with comments from both men and women in the business about the targeting factor… who’s listening and what do women and the even more elusive younger demo want?
Jeff McKay, a veteran New York-based operations manager, newsman and traffic reporter, is a special features correspondent for TALKERS and RadioInfo. He can be emailed at McKayway@aol.com.