I listen to the radio on my commute to work, my commute home and often when I’m just hanging around in the house by myself. I have a preference for talk radio compared to music-filled segments. While I was off work, it filled the void of social contact that work had previously given me. Conversations they had on air felt like conversations I would overhear, and potentially take part in, in real life. However, it hasn’t escaped my notice just how few of the voices I’m listening to are female. Where are the women on Irish radio?
In 2015, I attended a meeting of Women On Air when it was held in Cork. I listened to women who worked in the business discuss the challenges they faced in getting ahead, and why it is that women simply don’t make up the numbers when it comes to our media presence. One of the main excuses put forth was that men’s voices are taken more seriously, more authoritatively. Studies from decades ago are used as an excuse to hammer home the argument that the lower register makes more people listen, meaning male voices get more airtime. The glass ceiling created by the culture of looking at women as risky choices due to their abandonment of posts for things like maternity leave is real in many sectors, but particularly in the public eye. Leaving aside the gender pay gap, which is a whole other issue in itself, it is the absence of women in mainstream media outlets, particularly radio in the prime time slots that is what has been getting my goat.
To be clear – it isn’t that women are not getting hired by radio stations. They are, and there are plenty of examples out there doing fantastic work. However, how many of these voices do you hear in the hours where most people listen to radio? How many emerge from behind the scenes? A look at the schedules of the main national radio stations and the two most popular Cork stations has been eye opening.
From Monday to Friday, the amount of women on Irish radio is negligible, in particular in the prime time hours of 7am-7pm.
On Newstalk, there are no female presenters heading up shows or even co-presenting from Monday to Friday, after the departure of Sarah McInerney from their Drive show at 4pm. At the weekend, things look a bit more positive (well, anything is more positive than zero), with a one hour show from 8-9 on Saturday mornings of “Documentaries and Drama”, a mixture of male and female radio producers work, and four hours of female voices from 7-11pm on Saturday night. Sundays consist of 3 hours of female voices, between 8-10 on a Sunday morning and 8-9pm that evening. Not exactly the most popular hours for listening to radio now, are they?
On the National Broadcaster, RTE One, it’s a more positive picture, with 5.25 hours of female voices being aired per day – 45 minutes of that being the News at One, and the other two slots being Morning Ireland and DriveTime, popular slots for commuters. At the weekend, voices like Miriam O Callaghan, Claire Byrne and Marion Finucane fill five hours of the 48 hour schedule, three on Sunday and two on Saturday.
Over on 2FM, aimed at the younger audience, female voices can be heard over 14 hours of the day, between presenting and co-presenting through the hours of 6am – 4pm and 8pm-midnight. Of those 14 hours, just four of them are without at least one male co-presenter. At the weekend, the ladies host the unsociable hour slots of 6-9am and after 7pm, with 4 hours of airtime on Saturday and 5 on Sunday.
Today FM has no female presenters on air at all between 7am and 7pm during the week. Instead they occupy the less favourable 5-7am shift, and 7-9pm shift, missing much of the mainstream traffic for all but the most dedicated commuters. At the weekend, they get a slightly better fare – Alison Curtis presents her show from 8-11am on Saturdays, and 7-9 on Sundays, with Muireann O Connell hosting Saturday Hits from 6-9, Kelly Anne Byrne taking care of 10pm-1am Saturday and 9pm-1am Sunday, and Nadine O Regan nabbing an hour from 9-10 on Sunday.
96fm is a station I’d tune into in the car around the creche drop off, or if I’m pottering around the house in the morning. It’s a Cork radio station, and the slot I’d most listen to is the PJ Coogan “Gerry Ryan Show esque” Opinion Line. There seems to have been a reshuffle of sorts with this show over the last year as the previous presence of female voices, like Deirdre O Shaughnessy and Brenda Dennehy has vanished, aside from holiday cover. It seems to be a step backward rather than forward, especially as these ladies have shown they can well hold their own on the occasions they are able to get behind the mic. The only female presenter on 96fm is on Sunday mornings, The Arts House which runs for 2 hours and is hosted by Elmarie Mawe.
96fm’s Sister Station, C103, covers Cork City and County. Here the picture is more positive, with the slots from 10-1 and 4-7 weekdays both being hosted by women, with no male co-hosts. The station also plays the same 96fm Arts House program on Sunday. Between the two stations, there are 32 hours in total of female voice out of 168 hours, just 19% of the broadcasting time. C103 has half of the listenership between 7am and 7pm to Corks 96fm – and in general an older listenership, with just 3.2% of 15-34 year olds and 13.9% of over 35s in Cork area. This is higher than any of the national listenerships for over 35s in Cork aside from RTE 1, who also have women at the helm for prime time shows.
Interestingly, in the 15-34 category this is almost a complete 180 degree turn, with both Radio 1 and c103 (both female at the helm at prime times) featuring the lowest listenership, at 3.4% and 3.2% respectively, with only Lyric FM having a lower share of the market (1.0%, compared to a national share of 0.9). The younger listenership seems to flock towards less talk and current affairs based content, opting for music filled shows instead, most of which are hosted by men.
Cork’s other major radio station is Red FM. Their weekday morning show consists of three presenters, one of them female, and runs from 7-10am. Over the weekend, 8 of the 48 broadcasting hours are voiced by women, meaning over the whole week female voices appear over 13% of total broadcasting time.
Classic Hits 4fm is one that we used to have on the whole time in work, as do many retail outlets, so the voices heard during the work day definitely have a bigger impact here. Unfortunately, none of those middle-of-the-day voices are female, with the only weekday slot where a female presenter is at the helm is after 7pm (Trina Mara). While there are three other slots held by women on the channel, they’re at the weekend and with the exception of Nikki Hayes who has a Saturday afternoon slot, are all in much weaker time spots.
As we can see, all things are not equal in radio land. This is before even considering the experts consulted as guests for interviews, these are just the people on regular payroll. It isn’t a case that the talent isn’t there, the ships are firmly kept steering forward when these women take the helm to cover for the men on their holidays. However, you’re not likely to win awards for listenership, and therefore gain a reputation for pulling in listeners when you’re stuck on the graveyard shift. But despite all these things being pointed out, nothing has changed.
This week, George Hook, a man who has courted controversy in his time, hit a new low when he spoke about rape on air. When discussing the rape case, he said: (NOTE: Trigger warning for rape and sexual assault for the coming quote).
“She was passed around went the story apparently. She went to bed with one guy and he went out and another guy comes in. She doesn’t want to have relations with the second guy but he forced himself upon her. Awful,” he said.
“But when you then look deeper into the story you have to ask certain questions. Why does a girl who just meets a fella in a bar go back to a hotel room? She’s only just barely met him. She has no idea of his health conditions, she has no idea who he is, no idea what dangers he might pose.
“But is there no blame now to the person who puts themselves in danger? You then of course read that she passed out on the toilet and when she woke up the guy was trying to rape her. There is personal responsibility because it’s your daughter and my daughter.”
What is it going to take to change the dynamic in Irish radio that currently exists, where female voices are kept under the radar for anything considered remotely serious, and limited to off-peak slots for everything else? Wishful thinking would have us thinking we have the power in turning over the dial, but the situation isn’t that simple when they’re all facing the same issues. Our radio stations need to consider why it is that women are given the shorter straw, and to try new things in order to change the status quo.
Clearly, the airwaves don’t go to rack and ruin while women are left to cover for holidays and days off, so taking chances on the women who are working so hard behind the scenes and putting them front and center surely seems like the next natural step. Otherwise, all we will see are passionate hardworking female voices becoming disillusioned and dropping out of the industry, frustrated with a glass ceiling they’ve been head butting for quite some time. Those who work in radio reference these changes to schedule moving them out of the spotlight in positive terms; as any of us would do in the public eye when speaking about our current employer. You don’t bite the hand that feeds you. However, behind the scenes, it is clear that an unhappiness is simmering with the current state of affairs.
This isn’t a man hating rant, although I’m sure I’ll receive some comments to that effect. I’m a big fan of many of the male presenters out there. I’m a regular listener to Matt Cooper on Today FM, Jonathan Healy and the Opinion Line hosted by PJ Coogan. However, when I hear voices like that of Dr Ciara Kelly, of Deirdre O Shaughnessy and Sarah McInerney in the shows on my commute and then see them removed again and replaced by male only panels, it feels like there is something missing. Fifty percent of the population is female but on our airwaves this is not represented at all. This is nothing new or groundbreaking. However, it is something that won’t be changed unless someone actually does something about it.
Do you have any thoughts on the issue of women on Irish radio? I’d love to hear them. Let me know in the comments, or over on Facebook or Twitter.
Like what you’ve read? Maybe you’ll like this piece on why I want to make sure my boy grows up a feminist, or perhaps this one with 17 true crime podcasts that I think everyone should listen to.