22 August 2010
What a horribly depressing week for Irish radio. The pomp and bombast attached to Ryan Tubridy’s move to 2FM this week has singularly failed to obscure the ugly message revealed by RTE’s new autumn radio schedule: there are jobs in Irish national prime-time radio, but women need not apply.
2FM’s weekday schedule is now as follows: Hector O’hEochagáin (7-9am),Tubridy (9am-11am), Colm Hayes (11am-1pm), Larry Gogan (1pm-2pm), Rick O’Shea (2pm-4.30pm),Will Leahy (4.30pm-7pm). Could we get a lady in that line-up? Is the Pope a Protestant?
Female radio presenters in Ireland are like members of an endangered species. With the admittedly notable exception of current affairs programmes, spotting one between 7am and 7pm (the prime advertising hours) on national radio is as likely as seeing a giant panda on Grafton Street.
Women fill in on the summer schedules. They present weekend shows. They get to be on the digital station RTE 2XM, which doesn’t pay its presenters. But they never get a shot at the big time. When I turn on a national station and I hear a female presenter on a non-current affairs programme (covering for someone, of course), I automatically presume she’s going to be terrible, because that’s the message our radio station bosses are transmitting to us. They might as well hold up a giant card saying ‘‘No confidence’’ or ‘‘Danger – female on air!” It really is that bad out there.
Of course, management will tell you, women do appear on the schedules – they are the assistants, the producers, the cheerful weather girls. They pop up on air all the time (giving the lie to the notion that the audience cannot bear to hear a high female voice on air), but they are not allowed to drive the show. In truth, there’s a curious 1950s situation at play on the airwaves. Daddy does the work, Mammy cooks the meals and Baby provides the fun, entertainment segment.
In the case of Ray D’Arcy on Today FM, we almost literally have Daddy and Mammy (Ray and Jenny) with Baby Will, standing in to cover the absence of a genuine screaming infant. It’s 2010 but, on our airwaves, the ladies look pretty while the men do the heavy lifting. What kind of message does that send out to young female radio presenter wannabes? Emigrate, ladies. Britain will serve you better.
Radio station bosses will argue they have no choice – they need to get their JNLR figures up, and they don’t believe female presenters out there are capable of bringing home the prime-time advertising bacon. But, to some extent, they’re missing the point. It’s not enough to sit there judging the likes of Lucy Kennedy, Kathryn Thomas or Alison Curtis. They also need to take a look at the environment they’ve created. Are they actively seeking to nurture female talent? Are they cutting women off at the knees?
It’s overly simplistic – even offensive – to tell people that, if the talent was there, they would harness it. Radio station bosses need to take a good hard look at themselves, and evolve alongside their country.
In the long term, wouldn’t it be worth it if they created the next Marian Finucane? You hear that sound, radio station bosses? Ker-ching! Why, I believe that’s called advertising revenue.
Nadine O’Regan is The Sunday Business Post’s Books and Arts editor. She presents The Kiosk, Dublin station Phantom 105.2’s arts and culture show, every Saturday at 11am