Talkback radio is dominated by male presenters. If we’re to have any hope of diversity of opinion we need more women on the radio, says radio producer Kate Leaver.
Walk the corridors of the 2GB building and you’ll pass a line-up of white men smiling from frames along the walls. Alan Jones smiling blithely next to Ray Hadley and Chris Smith. Ben Fordham’s cheeky grin. Ross Greenwood (my boss, in the name of full disclosure, and one of the best people I know) beams down at you on the way to the studio. The studio where, all hours of the day and night, the hosts of Sydney’s top-rating radio station sit, their microphones as loudspeakers to a devout audience.
If you’re listening out for a female host’s voice, you’ll be waiting a while.
There are female producers, yes — myself included. In fact, with the exception of Jones, all the top rating hosts — Hadley, Smith, Fordham, Greenwood, and Steve Price — have female producers. There are more women in the newsroom than men, as reporters and readers.
Otherwise, the airwaves are a cavalcade of male opinion.
On Sundays on 2GB — the soft news day — Dr Katrina Warren co-hosts Talking Pets, and Sandra and Linda Ross co-host The Gardening Clinic. Both shows, you’ll notice, focus on domesticity. There’s no political commentary here; just planting roses and caring for pets. Warren and the Ross sisters are always joined by male co-hosts, never left on their own. On weekdays and weeknights, it’s only men in the hot seat, and it’s fair to say that the majority of guests are male.
On 2UE (2GB’s longstanding adversary), the gender bias is just as stubborn. Predictably, it’s another line-up of white men — aside from Tracey Spicer, who regularly stands in to host, and a female psychic. ABC Radio has the brilliant Fran Kelly, but she and a handful of other female hosts are still vastly outnumbered by men in news, current affairs and opinion coverage. And don’t get me started on the power dynamic between Kyle Sandilands and his accomplice Jackie O on 2DayFM.
So what happens to gender diversity when the ON AIR button flicks on? Is a woman host not commercially viable? Is it too risky for a station to bet on change and try to sell advertising space on her show? Is the sound of a woman’s voice really so threatening, or so alienating? Have we ever given it a decent go?
It’s likely women don’t put themselves forward for broadcast positions, either because the culture of masculinity is impenetrable or there’s simply no opportunity to do so. Talkback radio hosts stay on air for decades, sometimes well into their 70s. The turnover of announcers is so slow, and they’re usually replaced by someone already in the building. The pool of announcers on AM radio is an exclusive boys’ club, with little to no sign of change.
The response to Alan Jones’ recent comments about Julia Gillard’s father has been fascinating. Actually, it’s likely spurred a national conversation about s-xism. Hundreds of thousands of people have come forward to express their disgust at his tactlessness and temerity. Prominent women — like Jenna Price, Jane Caro and Anne Summers — have been driving an anti-2GB crusade to target the station’s advertisers and chip away at Jones’ influence. These intelligent, erudite and, frankly, awesome women have protested, tweeted, written letters to advertisers and mobilised men and women in dissent. Price even braved the 2GB studios for a face-to-face interview with Chris Smith.
The problem is, as long as women remain in protest, we stay on the periphery of news commentary. We’re setting ourselves up as interviewees, but not directly setting the agenda as interviewers. Men’s radio dialogue, particularly talkback, is left unopposed as long as women are silent on the same medium. The “Destroy The Joint” campaign (based on another Jones spray) is subversive and has been powerful, but it’s left women on the sidelines of debate, protesting but still not staging their rebuttal at the source of the problem — on air during prime-time radio programs.
The bottom line is, if we’re to have any hope of diversity of opinion we need more women on the radio. Who’s first?