Sexism on air: Are there too few women on BBC radio?

Too few female presenters on BBC radio? That’s Tory MP Nadine Dorries’s view. She wants mums to withhold their licence fees – because their daughters are not being given good female role models on air.

liz kershaw, long-standing female DJ for BBC radio

Liz Kershaw, DJ on BBC radio

The failure of the BBC to promote women on radio was highlighted last week by Ed Vaizey, the culture minister.  Figures from the BBC’s website show that at Radio 2 there are only eight female presenters out of 37. Only six of the 39 DJs at Radio 1 are women — fewer than in 1987 — and in BBC local radio there is only one woman presenting a breakfast show out of 50 such programmes.

So bravo Liz Kershaw – one of the BBC’s longest-serving female DJs. I interviewed Liz last week for an article in The Sunday Times. She told me that it took her 15 years to get her own show – on BBC Radio 6 Music.

“My boss once told me that just because I was mad about music it didn’t mean other women were. ‘You see, Liz, you’re not like other girls,’ he said. ‘Other girls don’t like guitars and bands. You’re not . . . how shall I put it? . . . feminine. You’ve got on because you’re like a bloke.’”

She promptly reported him to human resources. “He’s not my boss any more, he’s not in the BBC any more,” she said.

Do you think there are too few women on air? And would you withhold your licence fee in protest?

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One Response to Sexism on air: Are there too few women on BBC radio?

  1. Demelza says:

    Interesting! I am just writing an *academic* report on this exact issue… I have just completed a content analysis across various stations and I was quite surprised that quite so few presenters were female – this is what I wrote: A content analysis across five radio stations in the UK shows a definite male-centric trend towards producing and presenting. BBC 6 Music currently (31/01/12) has 23 male presenters and 6 female; BBC Radio 1 currently has 29 male presenters and 6 female; BBC Radio 2 has 37 male presenters and 10 female presenters. Compared with the USA (I have taken a minimally representative sample from across Boston and NYC on the east-coast; San Francisco and Texas and Seattle (I have tried to choose places known for their music scenes as this would hopefully show a more gender-neutral dispersion of radio presenters). I also wanted to compare this to Finnish radio stations – but their websites do not contain this information in English, so it is difficult to get accurate statistics without listening to each station 24/7. Instead I chose to look at New Zealand and Australian radio stations.
    Also, Sound Women group exists which addresses the apparent discrimination against women in radio.
    I do not think it is discrimination – at least you’d hope that women aren’t excluded just because they are female. Perhaps it is an issue of unsociable hours; or just that more men naturally prefer broadcast radio as a career; or even, I really don’t agree that it should be a gender issue. Presenters are generally on-air for one of two reasons (if both then they are probably going to stick around for a while) – a) they are good entertainers and talkers – they can relate to their listeners; b) they bloody well know their music, they know their stuff (likes of Jo Whiley; Annie Mac; Annie Nightingale. Lauren Lavern).
    I think there is the risk that if pressure groups start up – it makes it into more of a deal than it is. Radio is massively difficult to break into and you have to persevere and prove you have what it takes – maybe men are better at bullshitting, maybe not – maybe they’re better at technical stuff, maybe not. Why does it matter? Male or female? Whatever. Most important thing (to me) is you are a genuine person who has the knowledge and passion to communicate the one thing that radio is about (to me) to their audience – and that is music. It’s a shame that popular stations are becoming much more worried about celebrity and chart music, though, to hire people who actually do know their stuff.
    I do think though, that the women who are on the major radio stations, do have a great opportunity to be someone who younger generations can aspire to – if that is what makes them tick. It did me, as a teenager, and I avidly followed the shows of Sara Cox and Emma B back in the Roadshow days… I think it’s a great thing in that respect. But don’t go putting ‘standards’ or guidelines that need to be adhered to – ‘thou shalt not employ fewer than XX female DJs’ – because to me, that becomes ridiculous, petty and well, discriminatory against the blokes.
    Let’s just keep it that the best ones get on the air-waves. But then there is the issue of who’s ‘best’ are we talking about, here?
    Interesting, though! Perhaps I’ll follow my childhood dream and become the next female presenter… Well I have the passion (just not sure I have the northern accent!!)

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