Radio Gaga: where are the women?

Artistic License
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

Twitter: @nadineoregan

10 thoughts on “Radio Gaga: where are the women?

  1. Irish non current affairs radio is very hit and miss. Colm and Jim Jim were like middle aged Kevin and Perry on speed. I feel like its 1983 when I hear Larry Gogan

    I agree with you it would be grear to hear a more female voices on the radio. At least we have the excellent Claire Byrne on newstalk.


  2. Where are the columns asking “Where are the black / gay / other group presenters? If it helps, I’m site some of those are women too!

  3. Here, here…my mammy had more women to listen to than i do today.

    Perhaps it’s not the shrill voices that we turned our backs on but the stagnant format of female-led shows….faf, folly, fun…tra la la…women couldn’t possibly be interested in interesting things.

    A for Claire Byrne…the ONLY female voice on weekday newstalk…rte aren’t the only ones.

  4. Thanks, Kate! I’d love a situation where more women were brought to the fore. Such a shame that it’s still such a comparative rarity.
    Neal, I wouldn’t argue with you if you wanted to argue for other missing voices too. That point doesn’t take away from my point, I’d say.
    Ralph, a lot of my favourite voices on radio are female — I was really disappointed when Alison Curtis got moved to the 5am slot on Today FM — while I’m sure plenty of people now get to wake up to her, it’d be a miracle if I ever manage it:-)

  5. Fair play to you for addressing this issue Nadine. It’s become such a hot potato that even us female presenters are sometimes shy to bring it up for fear of being accused of ‘petty moaning’ because we can’t get the on-air positions we want.
    As a producer and some-time presenter (yes, that weekend ‘fill-in’ role you speak of!) I’ve been banging my head against a brick wall to try and get management to at least agree that I am a good presenter. They still use the excuse that women don’t like listening to other women on the radio and that our voices are too high…all of which is redundant but yet they still get away with it.
    So…us girls should just take over a struggling radio station and create Ireland’s first and only all-girl radio…now there’s a daydream and a half….

  6. Thanks for posting this.

    I present a primetime weekday show, albeit on a local station, DCFM. The feedback from listeners suggests that they have no issue with the fact that I’m female.

    @Neal – just a thought on the Black/Gay or Other Group point. Unless a presenter is presenting an “issue” based show, how would you know if they are black/gay other group/all three, and what difference could it possibly make? – it’s not as though you can hear my sexuality or my skin tone.

  7. Hi Pamela and Sarah, thanks for the posts — really good to hear from presenters and producers who feel similarly. Personally, I believe all that stuff about listeners not liking female voices is utter nonsense — you don’t see texters getting in touch to complain that they don’t like the voices of female assistants or newsreaders. If anything, it’s exactly the opposite — I regularly see texts from people actively getting in touch to say how much they like their voices.

  8. “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…”

    — Sorry if I’ve missed the point here, but I don’t understand this bit of the argument. Why would you presume that?

    I think a big reason for women not getting “a shot at the big time” on RTE is because RTE is not known for taking risks with new talent, whether male or female.

    • Hi Sylvia,
      I might not have stated it clearly enough — my point was that RTE put so few women on air that when you do hear one that — at least for me personally, it makes me think about them instantly and their presentation style, in a way that I wouldn’t if it was a man. But I don’t do that when I listen to other stations, which put women on more regularly — because there’s a baseline feeling of trust coming from the station in question that the women are going to be good — for example Spin or Phantom.

  9. Nadine,

    As a female and recent graduate from Media studies and Radio Production I couldn’t agree more with your article. My radio class had a total 8 girls and 1 boy in our final year. Since finishing it has been extremely difficult (NAY impossible) to even get a Radio station to consider the possibility of even offering work experience. It is a shame that across the pond there are a wide variety of stations making use of Irish talent. The BBC alone can list Fearne Cotton, Lauren Laverne, Annie Mac, Joe Whiley and Edith Bowman as part of their primetime draws, while here you could probably count the number of female presenters on one hand. Not that you’d get to hear them since they’re relegated to the crack of dawn slots or weekends…

    As a highly motivated individual I refuse to give up trying to find somewhere for myself among Ireland’s Radio stations, however as time goes by I find myself drawn to stations further ashore.

    I’m glad to find more and more articles are being written about this subject.

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