By Jeff McKay
Special Features Correspondent
Continuing today (11/3), 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 2: Is it blatant bias?
NEW YORK – It was established in yesterday’s opening installment 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?
Quick recap — a number of questions, theories and myths about the state of the female host persist:
Are women the victims of hiring discrimination in talk radio because management is male-dominated?
Are women not interested in news and politics proportionate to men?
Do male listeners not want to hear a female voice or female opinion on matters of public policy?
Are fewer women interested in entering this area of radio than men?
Are there simply fewer women proportionate to men who have the required level of “talent” necessary to become a radio talk show host?
Perhaps it is a cultural thing
Karen Hunter is heard daily on SiriusXM Satellite Radio’s “Urban View” channel. Described by Michael Harrison as a “powerful multi-cultural presence,” Hunter is also a professor at NYC’s Hunter College, a Pulitzer-prize winning writer/journalist and an accomplished book editor and publisher. Among her broadcasting experiences, she spent three successful years at WWRL, New York where she hosted the station’s morning show when it was an African American community-targeted talk outlet.
Regarding the question, “Why are there not more women on talk radio?” Hunter tells TALKERS, “The men who are in charge of hiring primarily see women as only tackling topics that are women-oriented — domestic issues, relationships, child-rearing, shopping, cooking, etc. When the reality is that many women are head of households and are making the tough decisions daily that men make. They are bosses and managers and leaders whose view of the world is as important as a man’s.”
Hunter adds, “Because of the narrow view of women, female hosts feel the need to diminish their strength. A show of strength and power are not fostered in women traditionally and good talk radio requires a host to deliver the content with a healthy dose of power and strength.”
She recalls, “When I started at WWRL, I was told by the program director that women don’t make good lead morning hosts. They make good sidekicks, but not good leads. Fortunately, I never try to fit into a box someone creates for me. I did a morning show at ‘RL that reflected my personality and accomplishments. And that show was successful, making it into the station’s ratings books for the first time ever, with me as the lead host.”
Hunter concludes, “Great radio is about connecting with people and bringing different views –not predictable — with a mix of passion and fun to the show. Great radio hosts are authentic and true to themselves, not chasing what’s trending or hot. I’m grateful to be in an environment at SiriusXM that has allowed me to be 100 percent myself every day.”
Do women support women?
Anne Eller is a small market dynamo who performs multiple functions at WCRS 1450 AM in Greenwood, SC. She co-owns the locally-oriented station with her husband and hosts shows in both morning and afternoon drive.
She chimes in on the question of why there are so many more men than women on the air in talk radio, telling TALKERS, “As an industry I’m not sure… perhaps, because it was one of those careers that weren’t originally for women, because it was so traditionally male-dominated. From station owners, to station managers to talk show hosts to disc jockeys, men were out front and women were in support roles. One might ask why there are not more women astronauts or basically why politics is male-dominated or why we haven’t had the real possibility of a women president before. I do believe all this is changing, but I believe our culture has been the reason. In the South particularly, boys are football players and girls are cheerleaders. Boys learned how to work as team players and to win while girls learned how to stand out but not how to work as a team. Today, we have many more team sports for women. US Women’s Soccer was just honored by the president. We are developing a real emphasis on girl power, and even the army is accepting women in combat roles.”
However, Eller brings up a provocative observation: “In the South particularly, women that are leaders are not given the support they need by other women and in my role as a talk show host, quite often, I hear other women say, ‘Who does she think she is?’ It is a fine line between being ‘boss bitch’ and a female person. To be in this business as a female, one has to tough and be very thick-skinned and hopefully surround oneself with people who can critique truthfully and cheer one on — a commodity that can be difficult to find!”
Marketplace conditions in the talk radio sector
Heather Cohen, EVP of the Weiss Agency and a past-recipient of the TALKERS “Woman of the Year” award, is one of the most active and respected talent agents –- male or female – in the industry. Her experience and observations indicate that, perhaps, things are slow to change regarding the disparity between male and female hosts because job movement in talk is slow in general.
She tells TALKERS, “As agents, Eric Weiss and I receive many calls from programmers on music stations looking for great female talent. That is not a phone call we get quite as often from talk programmers. It happens occasionally, but it is usually for a news person and infrequently for a lead host or equal co-host.”
On a positive note, Cohen adds, “I will say that there seems to be more interest in female broadcasters overall in the last year or two, especially from major markets. It doesn’t hurt that two women are running for president. There is little turnover on the talk side and job openings are scarce. With programmers busier than ever, creating a farm team and searching for diverse talent is, sadly, not at the top of everyone’s list. As some programmers move away from polarizing talk, I believe we will hear more women on talk radio. It would be nice to see more women in the programming chair, as well.”
Changes in attitudinal positioning
Cohen is not the only industry player who thinks an expansion beyond confrontation for confrontation’s sake is looming in news/talk radio’s future – the result of which will open the door to more of a female presence in lead roles behind the mic.
Entercom Boston’s VP/market manager Phil Zachary just added the popular former Boston TV news anchor Kim Carrigan to his team as host of the morning show on heritage talker WRKO in a joint venture with the Boston Globe Media Partners. Carrigan now becomes the only regularly scheduled weekday female talk host on WRKO.
Zachary believes there’s room for change, and soon, telling TALKERS, “I’m not sure the reason for this, but my guess is that Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham, the grand dames of conservative talk radio, come across as too indignant when programmers may be seeking female hosts to blunt the verbal trauma inflicted by the leading male talkers.”
Post-election climate forecast
Zachary explains, “It seems to me that as we get past the 2016 elections there may be a sweeping call for hosts who are more cerebral, civil and mannered in their approach leaving most of the boorishness behind. We see this in the contrasts of the candidates themselves, so it’ll be fascinating to witness women who just might be the fresh air the talk format so desperately needs. At the same time, solid female hosts might soften the format’s perception among advertisers.”
TOMORROW: Part 3 – “The State of Women in Talk Radio” continues with comments from both men and women in the business. If you missed Part 1, read it here.
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.