FEATURE: Women in Radio: Why the Male-Heavy Industry Needs Challenging



Women in Radio


 IN THIS PHOTO: BBC Radio 6 Music's Mary Anne Hobbs/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Why the Male-Heavy Industry Needs Challenging


I was looking online at The Pool…



and came across an article that suggests we, as a nation, are getting a bit tired of equality and gender-parity! Around two-thirds of the public, here, feel feminism has gone ‘too far’ – and we should cool down a bit. It is worrying when you look at that stat: there will be many women in that sixty-six-and-a-bit-percent majority. This week; we saw International Women’s Day arrive and, with it, the chance to oxidise and expose discussion and debate. There is no pantheism and simple answer regarding feminism/equality: the only way to nourish improvement and compel evolution is to highlight the disparities and formulate constructive architecture. We have been battling through a tundra of ignorance for decades (or centuries, more likely) and unable to find true progression. There are small changes occurring, but, as The Pool’s article outlines; some worrying (ignorant) statistics should shock all of us into action:

“…Actually, hold up, we don’t need to imagine a hellish future in which feminism has gone too far; we are, according to most British people, living in it. Yes, according to a new survey carried out by Sky News for International Women’s Day, 67 per cent of British people think feminism has either gone too far (40 per cent) or gone as far it should go (27 per cent).



So, here we are: the gender pay gap, when part-time and full-time workers are considered, stands at 18.4 per cent. Each week, two women are murdered by a current or former partner in England and Wales. Half of British women have been sexually harassed at work. But feminism has gone too far”.

The final six words of this extract should be delivered with a certain inflexion – think an L.A. teen upping the sarcasm-o-meter to a full-blown eleven. Maybe there is fatigue and weariness from some factions – given the fact feminism and gender issues have been thrust into the limelight this past week – but a beleaguered apathy is akin to severe ignorance and acceptance. The ferromagnetic material of the apathetic is exactly what the debate does not need. I am lifted by small transformations occurring in the music industry. I can see, yes, there are more women being recognised in the mainstream. The new wave of Pop queens – Sigrid and Billie Eilish among them – are joining contemporary favourites like Lorde. There is a malingering and fetid racial bias – I shall cover that in a future piece – but, of course, that is not going far enough. There is a pledge – it seems like a loose-tongued drunken promise; holding no weight and proof – that, by 2020, festivals will have a fifty-fifty gender balance. That year seems strangely ironic and prone to scrutiny: will there be proper hindsight and clear vision only two years from now?!



I am wandering from the busy city streets of focus and straying too far onto country paths, alas. My point remains: I am not buying the fact people – festival organisers and the bodies who wield power – will make good their promise. I have talked about gender equality a lot and will continue until music is a level playing field where moronic preferences and the male obsession takes a hike – I am aware my fingers might bleed before that actually happens! I have discussed women in music before but, compelled by women in the industry discussing the percentage imbalance; I felt reinvestigation was prudent and sage. I will come to look at a crew of BBC Radio 6 Music talent that gets me angry (in a good way) – a female army that proves why the male-dominated radio industry needs T.L.C. I have addressed other angles of music – from festival line-ups and playlists through to award nominees and the fight women have in music – but radio is an area that is still fostering discrimination and rogue practice -  the fact one cannot see the faces of the women being (near) marginalised does not make it fair or acceptable. There are some phenomenal female D.J.s working away from the major – i.e. BBC – stations.


IN THIS PHOTO: Goldierocks/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Emma Conybeare works for Capital XTRA and is an infectious and passionate talent. I will not present the showreels and resumes of all the women I am naming: my point is you can look them up and hear what I mean; I can attest to the fact they are stunning and worthy of great focus. Conybeare has been in the industry a short while but is one of the most engaging and talented young D.J.s in the business. Gemma Atkinson co-hosts Key 103’s (Manchester) breakfast slot – and brings her classic voice (a smoky and gravelled allure mixed with a warmth and accessible humour) and knowledge of popular music to those lucky enough to listen in. Atkinson, alongside her acting work, has a glittering career in radio – and could progress to a mainstream station before too long. Come to London and the likes of Goldierocks and Iko Cherie are responsible for wonderful moments and incredible shows. Vick Hope works on the Capital FM breakfast broadcast and, look at smaller, boutique stations and there are some great female names – Hoxton Radio has Charlotte de Carle, Elspeth Pierce and Laura Fraser on its team. Kate Lawler is on Virgin Radio; Sarah Champion, Leona Graham and Emily Dean can be heard on Absolute Radio. Articles from 2013 and 2014 (and again) - show things were pretty bad a few years ago: they have not really improved as we head through 2018...



Look at this article from last year and, when looking at how many women-helmed (last year) the biggest weekday shows on BBC Radio 2 (zero) – it makes me wonder why that is. Of course; it is not only a gender divide that has garnered headlines: the disparity in pay has come into focus. This article highlights some shocking statistics. A few male D.J.s agreed to take pay-cuts (to bring their salary more in line with their female peers) but it seems those (noble) gestures are few and far between. It is a faulty syllogism to suggest because things look okay on the surface – if radio has a visible physical manifestation, in that sense – then the on-air talent is okay. The BBC provides the biggest and most-popular stations in the U.K. I am not well-versed in the law and lore of BBC Radio 3 and 4 but I know there is a gender gap there. One has wonderful shows like Woman’s Hour – and presenters like Elizabeth Alker on BBC Radio 3 – but there is still the proliferation of male-led shows. The music industry, even in radio, is still a boys’ club. There is festination and a lot of ear-plugging: those who have a say and propensity to turn away are not redeeming their morals in any noticeable way.


IN THIS PHOTO: Claudia Winkleman/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

BBC Radio 2 and BBC Radio 1 have differences in terms of their music and style but they have a similarity: there are few female D.J.s on the networks. Aside from the fact there are few black faces on either station – again; I shall not get into that now – one notices an absence of female D.J.s BBC Radio 2 has the exceptional Zoe Ball, Claudia Winkleman; Liza Tarbuck and Ana Matronic – another few female D.J.s but, compared to the men; they are still in the minority. Many of the producers on the station, and BBC Radio 1, are men – the female producers are, in my mind, the finest but are still part of the minority. BBC Radio 1 boasts Annie Mac, Adele Roberts and Clara Amfo – Annie Nightingale makes occasional appearances. I look away from the BBC at stations like Radio X and, aside from being a white majority; you get the men staring back at you – that is no different with the BBC. I listen to Annie Mac and Sara Cox (forgot to mention her earlier) and am amazed by their talent, draw and knowledge – I find myself more impressed by their shows than anything their male colleagues come up. The same is true of my favourite station: BBC Radio 6 Music.


IN THIS PHOTO: Clara Amfo/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

This piece has been compelled by the likes of Mary Anne Hobbs and Lauren Laverne. The former, the ‘cover star’, is among the finest voices on radio. Those smooth, alluring and caramel tones are matched with a serious love of music and a professionalism few rival. Listening to her is nearing the summit of what music should be: those who are endlessly passionate and ensure music is their life. I can apply this maxim to every female D.J. I have mentioned: their indomitable spirit and pride is being overlooked (and under-paid). Hobbs’ eclectic music tastes extends to Nils Frahm and Kendrick Lamar; Hard-Rock, Alternative and anything else one can throw into the mix. She is among the hardest-working and popular D.J.s on the station – part of a female minority that, one suspects, has a lighter pay-cheque than her colleagues. A reason BBC Radio 6 Music is my station of choice is (the fact) there are more women in the ranks. I will mention Amy Lamé, Cerys Matthews and Nemone – alongside their producers – but the likes of Lauren Laverne are outweighed by a majority of men. Laverne has spoken about radio, in essence, still being dominated by the boys. The stations (BBC Radio 6 Music) is a tight-knit and familial station but one cannot overlook the facts: the majority of talent on the station are men.


IN THIS PHOTO: Lauren Laverne/PHOTO CREDIT: BBC Pictures

One can argue a majority is not, necessarily, a bad thing – the fact it is a healthy majority calls into question general recruitment and factual blindness. Laverne’s show is one of the (main) reasons I make ‘6’ my daily ear-accompaniment. She is endlessly cheery warm and bright; keen to uncover the best new music and throw her arms around the extensive bosom of the industry. Not only does she host a weekday morning show: away from the station, she helms the aforementioned (The) Pool and speaks at events – works for other stations and hardly takes time to rest. All of this energy-expending and extra-curricular work could cause burn-out and jaded shows: the fact she produces first-class shows every week means radio, regardless of statistics and pay, means everything to her. Like Hobbs and her BBC Radio 6 Music peers; the job and all the benefits of the station keep them where they are. I love the station - and, actually, have them tattooed on my arm – and every D.J. there is crucial! Bold, wonderful and captivating D.J.s like Hobbs and Laverne make it what is it – one would like to see more of them. I am a big fan of Nemone and Amy Lamé: two of the best D.J.s on the station. Both provide a unique spin and are essential personalities on the station.



I have a lot of love for the boys on BBC Radio 6 Music (including the scamp Shaun Keaveny) but find myself drawn more to Lauren Laverne and Mary Anne Hobbs – in terms of their depth of knowledge and the way they can captivate the listeners. The same can be said of Cerys Matthews, Nemone and Liz Kershaw. Tomorrow marks BBC Radio 6 Music’s sixteenth birthday – Kershaw will broadcast a musical party from 1 P.M. – and, as the prodigious teenager reaches the age of consent – one hopes its youthful energy and curiosity side-steps prurient interest and focuses on balancing the books and bringing more women to the station. Behind-the-scenes is music news presenters like Claire Crane, Elizabeth Alker and Georgie Rogers; producers such as Jenny Smith (Chris Hawkins) and Helen Weatherhead (Mary Anne Hobbs) - fantastic people who help make the station what it is (Rogers’ recent piece for International Women’s Day was one of the finest I have heard on the station). I am not sure what the 2017/2018 statistics are – total number of women on radio as D.J.s and producers – but there is not a marked step-up from the bleak findings of 2013/2014. Maybe it all stems back to the problem: the white, middle-aged man still owns music and is, therefore, less likely to buck trends and instigate revolution. Gender inequality starts at school - and the fact it is rooted in childhood days means, in a way, we are expected to accept it from our earliest times...


IN THIS PHOTO: Liz Kershaw/ PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Things need to change and those at the top need to change their recruitment and ensure more women are brought to radio. I can see no justifiable reason why men are favoured above women: if anything, there is greater nuance and pleasure listening to a female D.J.; they have more about them and are more engaging on the mind and ear. Music has gender-imbalance in every crevice and, the fact so many are getting ‘bored’ of feminism, does not fix the problems we have. If we are going to make changes and ensure there is a level playing-field for men and women; something as simple as reversing hiring policies needs to happen. Men are no more profitable and attractive to the listener than the women – even if shaky stats and research show otherwise – and there is a demand for more women on the radio. If small steps were made then that could make a big difference. It takes voices and protest to get things rolling: constant monitoring and reviews to ensure things do not lapse and slack. If we can do that then, I think, the industry will be a stronger beast – if it is only correcting the gender misalignment in radio. I, as would many, expect this to happen very soon; we all need to make an effort to see change happen. If that will happen, I am not sure: if it does not, then we need to as why and challenge those who block betterment. Even if some are weary of the ongoing debates around sexism: few can deny areas like radio need to see more women included and…



REAL progress happen.