Radio’s big sex scandal!

If you’re reading this for a kiss and tell exposé then – I’m sorry – you won’t find any of that here! I wanted to give my reaction to the gender split that we have in radio.

Do a quick search on Google and you will see this definition of feminism, in a nutshell:

fem·i·nism  

The advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.

When I was reporting for BBC Radio Manchester about a topic on feminism, not everyone I asked on the street thought of a feminist in those terms. This snippet from my package also includes Richard Pankhirst speaking about his Suffragette mother, Sylvia:

The feminist movement has evolved a long way over the years, or has it? Not in the radio industry…

This surprises some people but wanting gender equality does not necessarily mean you have to be a woman to be a feminist  – men can be feminists too. In fact, the Director General of the BBC, Tony Hall, seems to be one. Speaking in August, Mr Hall said: “By the end of 2014 I would like to see half of our Local Radio stations with a woman presenting on the Breakfast shows.”

Think of the voices you hear on radio in general, how many of the presenters’ voices are female? Sound Woman is an organisation that promotes equality for women working in audio: their research found 1 in 5  voices on radio is female out of presenters that fly (or should that be drive the desk?) solo. Just 13% are heard on breakfast shows – this certainly does not suggest an equal split.

FeminismAcross BBC local radio this split is more even; 48 per cent of the people who are employed are female. However, this takes into account other roles like journalists. In my experience, this area seems to attract more women than men nowadays. On my broadcast journalism masters there was a ratio of 5 ladies to one man in our class. In terms of presenting, the BBC like to reflect their audience, so it would make sense to have more women on-air, not just on breakfast shows, but more shows all together.

Or is it really that important? I wouldn’t want to get a job purely because I am a woman or any other label, for that matter. In any industry, positive discrimination may tick boxes but you won’t find the best people for the job by narrowing searches down with criteria. However, many women are capable of presenting radio shows on their own but, as the research suggests, not many are doing.

What worries me about Tony Hall’s plans is that he doesn’t specify what role he would like woman to be heard in this overhaul of BBC local radio shows. If women will appear as a sidekick to a (perhaps already existing) male presenter on the station then there’s no point in adding her as a token gesture. All that will do is reinforce the subordinate nature of female stereotypes that have been around since the ideology of the nuclear family.

This year’s Radio Festival, has a female feel to the line-up, especially  with stalwart hosts Mark Radcliffe and Stuart McConnie dropped in favour of Fi Glover and Jane Garvey. Charlotte Church will also be the first woman to deliver the festival’s annual John Peel Lecture. Women’s role in radio is the hot topic on people’s lips at the moment – but it’s the voices the listeners hear over the airwaves that really matter.

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About Katy Booth

BBC Broadcast Journalist who has worked extensively in newsrooms of BBC local radio, regional television and commercial radio. BJTC accredited, from The University of Central Lancashire.

Posted on October 3, 2013, in Radio and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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