By Jeff McKay
Special Features Correspondent
Continuing today (11/4), 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 3: What does it take to make it?
NEW YORK – It was established in the first two 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: what are those women who are making it on talk radio doing right?
“Just as Megan Kelly broke through in a mostly man’s world as host of her own prime time show on Fox News Channel, so can female radio hosts. They just have to get the right opportunity to prove themselves,” says Salem Media Group SVP/spoken word format, Phil Boyce.
One of those women is Mandy Connell, heard daily mornings on Denver’s KHOW-AM (630) and evenings back on what was her former station, WHAS, Louisville. The iHeart Media station’s morning drive host, is one of those that has clearly proven herself. For two decades, she has been on the air at several stations including heritage talker WHAS where she became established as a popular local conservative host who attracted a loyal following of both male and female listeners.
Connell says she has personally run into those who believe that women cannot succeed in talk.
The still-rising star tells TALKERS, “There is a tremendous lack of women talk show hosts, at least solo performers who aren’t doing lifestyle shows. A big part of the problem is that for years programmers have believed that women can’t succeed in talk radio. Highly-placed former executives with certain large media companies who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty have said those exact words to more than one person I know. I personally was told, after I negotiated a contract for a new job at a station, that ‘corporate got involved and they are going in a different direction.’”
Salem’s Boyce agrees there are definitely women who can do the job — some as solo acts and others as part of male/female talk teams. Boyce notes that whether you’re talking about men or women, from a programming standpoint, it takes an eye and ear for talent… and maybe taking a chance.
“We recently hired Rose Tennent in Pittsburgh on [WPGP] AM 1250 ‘The Answer.’ She was well-known as half of the Quinn and Rose program on WPGB-FM, but we felt she could easily hold her own as a single host and she is doing that. We also now have Elisha Krauss as part of a three-person morning show called ‘The Morning Answer’ on [KRLA] AM 870 ‘The Answer’ in Los Angeles. She used to be the senior producer for Sean Hannity, but we felt she had on-air ability, and gave her that first shot,” says Boyce.
Walking the walk
In heavily-populated South Florida, WFTL, Ft. Lauderdale’s 12:00 noon to 3:00 pm star Joyce Kaufman has made a name for herself by not just talking politics, but by becoming an active part of the community and local politics. Kaufman tells TALKERS it’s more than just being a woman that makes a good talk show host.
“Brains and brass combined with a sensual and sometimes maternal bent, I rant wildly and love lavishly. I have been able to stay close to the community as a result of joining into their events or creating events they want to be a part of,” says Kaufman. “I bash politicians from both sides of the aisle and I could care less about being politically correct. I tell them my secrets and walk through the good times and the bad with them. They know I am genuine and I can be very funny. I am also not afraid to cry.”
Susan Monday, the midday host on Delmarva Broadcasting’s WXDE-FM (“Delaware 105.9”) licensed to Lewes, is a former WPHT, Philadelphia host who moved down I-95 to handle middays. While her radio station does cover national politics, its hosts also discuss statewide issues.
Monday believes the notion that political news/talk is a man’s realm is something the public has been conditioned to believe. “Radio listeners and television viewers have gotten their news and opinions from men for so long that it requires a paradigm shift. For years, broadcasting executives believed nightly viewers couldn’t stomach having their news delivered by a woman, and I think the same holds true for female talks show hosts,” says Monday. “It goes way back to the early days of broadcast journalism when Edward R. Murrow delivered the news, interviewed newsmakers, and basically told Americans what was important. Think Walter Cronkite, the paternal figure with his voice cracking as he told us JFK died. Most of us grew up with authoritative men anchoring the news, hosting news and talk shows, and telling us to what to think. So the argument can be made that audiences and listeners are simply more accustomed to men and that men make more reassuring and believable hosts. Men’s opinions have gravitas, men talk about the ‘serious’ stuff, or so the paradigm goes. Women only want to talk about relationships, recipes, and kids, or so we’ve been led to believe.”
As indicated in yesterday’s installment, when Entercom Boston’s VP/market manager Phil Zachary took a chance and added the popular former-Boston TV news anchor Kim Carrigan to his team as host of the morning show on WRKO, listeners were fast to give their opinions, and there were some who were far from pleased.
“Frankly, they thought she was too soft. Our core audience is so angry, they interpret Kim’s polish and civility as timid, shallow or, worse, liberal,” said Zachary. “Quite the contrary — Kim’s incredibly smart, well-read and quite opinionated. But she’s wise enough to recognize that in a news-centric format her opinion matters least.”
Voice and content
“It’s also important — not fair, but important — that a woman’s voice is the right kind of voice. Shrill is not a woman-in-radio’s friend,” says WXDE’s Monday. “Luckily years of cheerleading destroyed any hope of shrill for me, but I still counsel women to check their tone when they get upset. Shrill makes me turn the dial. Unless it’s Mark Levin, for whom shrill is a normal speaking voice.”
In the case of Fort Lauderdale, Florida’s WFTL-AM midday host Joyce Kaufman, it’s about not shying away from any talk topic, even the ones that some might think a woman could not handle.
“I have had GMs and PDs make comments that I might want to stay out of ‘that subject’ particularly if it’s sports or sex. ‘Callers won’t take you seriously if you talk about LeBron… it hurts my ears when you talk about sex…’ The guys could call what Bill had ‘a fling,’ but they wanted me to sound all indignant and confused,” says Kaufman.
Kaufman takes this a step further, adding, “Most PDs are men and believe males are not interested in being challenged, even intellectually, by a woman.”
However, Kaufman also makes the point very clear that it’s not men keeping women down. It needs to be about women making a name for themselves, and marketing their abilities from behind the microphone to the radio and to the listeners.
“Schmoozing on a ramp to a Katy Perry song is a ‘nice job’ for a girl. Also we don’t know how to market ourselves, except for Laura Ingraham,” says Kaufman.
Not enough females in programming management?
Another point of contention is the significantly lower percentage of women than men in programming roles both on a local and national scale.
TALKERS publisher Michael Harrison mentions, “There are few programmers in corporate radio today – male or female – that have the backbone, experience and objective passion for the challenges of the game than iHeartRadio’s Grace Blazer of WIOD, Miami.” Harrison calls her along with LA’s Robin Bertolucci, “the ‘big two’ of female talk PDs – formerly the ‘big three’ before the recent departure of WTOP’s Laurie Cantillo to join NASA public relations, a move that Harrison laments, “was a terrible loss to this industry.”
Valerie Geller, broadcast consultant and president of Geller Media International says if you don’t think there are some great women who can program talk or news, she can name a few telling TALKERS, “We need the best programming people — lots of those people are women. Of course, I’d love to see more of them get an opportunity. I’m always on the lookout for the best in both male and female programmers. It’s all about ideas, knowing how to find, develop and manage creative people… but also being able to tend to the business side,” says Geller. “Those people are rare, but we do have talented, successful women programming talk stations — so maybe ask Robin Bertolucci, Condace Pressley, Thea Mitchem, and others…”
KHOW’s Connell says it’s not about male/female, but can/can’t do the job. “There is a lack of female programmers, but that should be expected because programmers generally come out of the ranks of talk show hosts or producers. I’m not sure this is as critical an issue to diversifying the field though. I have been very fortunate to cross paths with great PDs who believed in my abilities and were not dissuaded by my gender. Jim Watkins hired me first, then Kelly Carls, Dan Mandis and Greg Foster — none of whom cared that I was female. They just cared that I was good at what I do. I think as more women work their way through the talk radio landscape, the programming issue will solve itself.”
TOMORROW: Part 4 – “The State of Women in Talk Radio” continues with comments from both men and women in the business about the marketing factor… who’s listening and what do women 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.