Scott Muller
Radio Consultancy

Get off your high horse Wendy Harmer

Dear Wendy,
 
 
Re: your article “A ‘Fail’ for AM radio”
 
 
Unfortunately there’s no way of commenting honestly on your article without being accused by some members of the Old Boys Club of “getting on an even higher horse than Wendy”.

Here goes…

I strongly disagree with you, Wendy. Fiercely. On two crucial points.

1) I can think of one woman in a capital city who is holding down a high-profile commercial AM shift by herself – Amanda Blair.

But, as I can only think of that one example – which unfortunately kind of strengthens your point about the rarity of women in key commercial AM radio roles – I therefore must desperately resort to strongly, fiercely disagreeing with you on this other point…

2) Commercial AM radio is not the last bastion of blokiness in the media, Wendy. Such blokey bastions abound throughout the media. Take commercial FM radio, for example…

Since ancient times back in the ‘90s, as a bastion of blokey employment practices commercial FM radio hasn’t progressed much.

Hasn’t progressed much? Truthfully?

Okay. At all.

Casting aside my mock outrage, your article knocks loudly on the door of a far greater issue, one that continues to be gravely concerning. And there are no signs of progress being made in addressing the gender imbalance in the most significant on-air and off-air roles – those with the greatest impact on the audience. To use one specific example …

What is the gender ratio of Program/Content Directors in 2012 versus back in the medieval-‘90s***? With two dozen commercial FM stations across the five biggest markets, by now you’d think roughly half those stations might have Content/Program Directors who are women. Staff turnover combined with the law of averages would give you, say … twelve women in those roles, give or take?

Not even close.

Quick shout out – name by name – to … every … single … one … of the capital city FM Content/Program Directors who are women, in major markets spanning 4,000 kilometres right across Australia:

Hi Irene!

Hi Donna!

To be clear: in roles that have the greatest impact on the audience – whether on-air or off-air, on AM or FM – it’s not a slight imbalance, it’s not even a major imbalance … there’s just no semblance of balance.

(I would add that there’s not an even balance of women vs men working in Engineering, either – but I’m gathering that’s less of a reflection on gender imbalance and more a reflection of each individual woman’s right to exercise her own free will).

And commercial FM radio hasn’t progressed far in terms of key on-air roles, either…

Because, I must confess, I’m as guilty as one example from Wendy’s article. When the press release came out announcing Chrissie Swan and Jane Hall as Mix 101.1’s new breakfast show, several (female) clients phoned immediately, asking “what do you think of that?”

And I’m embarrassed that, like 2UE’s Chris Parker, I also said “That’ll be seen by the radio industry as a bold and a brave move.” And it really shouldn’t be seen that way. After all, it won’t be seen as a bold and a brave move by the majority of the audience. It’s not like women are Martians. Two Martians on Melbourne breakfast radio – that would be cutting edge stuff. Keep the two feisty Martians on-air together for a whole year and that’s an ACRA for Best PD right there. Martians are notoriously difficult talent.

But two women? It shouldn’t be seen as any more bold and brave than hiring two men.

Try explaining the industry perception to the audience. Ask a bunch of people who aren’t connected in any way to the media to “name all the industries that would see hiring two women into prominent positions as a bold, brave move” … and see where on their list of blokey occupations they rank “presenting a radio show”.

_______________________________________________________________________________

*** In the medieval-‘90s at a major programming conference this issue was raised: “Given we’re moving towards a more balanced gender representation in General Manager roles, in Marketing/Promotions roles, in News roles, etc. … why are all Program Directors still men?”

One serious response was “but their (women’s) brains work different”.

My jaw hit the ground and started dragging right alongside that person’s knuckles.

Their response was appalling, even way back then when the French still did all their painting on cave walls. Yet, even though no-one is making statements like that out loud in 2012, it’s not like any real change has happened in two decades, either.

And “but we’ve got some chicks in Integration / Promotions / Sorting Out The Prize Cupboard” is not a valid long-term solution.

_______________________________________________________________________________

Note: the Irene Hulme mentioned above is Content Director of Nova Adelaide. Read more about Irene here. The Donna mentioned is Donna Puechmarin, Content Director of SAFM Adelaide, and her ACD is the brilliant Alexis Kuchel. Donna, Alexis: my sincere apologies for not mentioning you originally, I really do mean it.

However, Dave Cameron is a smart-arse for pointing out my error in not mentioning them. In public, no less. Thanks, Snapperhead.

Without the radio industry being patronising in any way, it should also make a bigger deal of that fact that half the FM Content Directors in Adelaide are women. And, against the expectations of many in The Old Boys Club, that the sky has not fallen on our heads – and the Martians have not invaded and demanded the surrender of all humankind, plus some pretty outrageous contractual clauses around doing public appearances and OBs.

P.S: any finger-counting idiot who accuses me of being a feminist is entirely missing the point. Being able to divide 24 commercial FM stations by 2 genders to get 12 is primary school maths, not feminism.

 

Scott Muller is Director of MBOS Consulting Group, a media management and consulting firm.

Click here to contact him.

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