The Big Pink Elephant

It’s not a new topic. The numbers don’t lie. We continue to see a lack of female programmers and brand managers programming radio stations nationwide. In fact, we continue to see a decline year to year.

Mentoring and Inspiring Women in Radio Board President Ruth Presslaff said in Radio Ink’s “Women to Watch” (11/30/23), “As far as diversity, equity, and inclusion, it’s very concerning. MIW publishes an annual Gender Study, and the year-to-year improvement for women in senior leadership positions is anemic. Especially in programming.”

2023’s Gender Study, released last February, reported that women currently program 11.72% of radio stations (3,141 stations) compared to 12.09% in 2021. In the Top 100 markets, the news was not much better, as female programmers now represent only 13.93% of the total number of program directors/brand managers, basically consistent with the numbers from 2022.

Presslaff added, “Historically we have celebrated modest to very modest gains. But this year we’re calling out to industry leaders to recognize the leadership, creativity, and dedication of women broadcasters, particularly programmers, and put them to work improving your content, culture, and cash flow.”

The lack of female programmers is a topic that is rarely addressed in open forums – or “on the record” anywhere, for that matter. So, as Presslaff suggested, I reached out to four industry leaders in programming to ask most of the major radio companies – on or off the record – to comment. The companies are tight with their communication to DEL, as well as highlighting the women in their top jobs.

Of seven companies I reached out to, I received two responses. Hubbard Radio EVP/Programming & Audience Development Gregg Strassell responded by highlighting the female stars of his company. “In no particular order: Patti Marshall is our OM in Cincy and is the Brand/Content Director of Q102. Amy Daniels oversees 107.1 myTalk in the Twin Cities, plus oversees the Tom Barnard podcast for us. Julie Ziegler oversees WTOP + Federal News Radio content.”

Strassell also added great advice for women who want to become programmers. “It requires learning the entertainment/ talent side of radio and understanding the strategic and business sides of the business. Start on air and/or work your way up to an assistant programming/ music director or producer role. Also, a strong vision is an important aspect I look for when meeting with a potential Hubbard programmer.”

Beasley Media Group Chief Content Officer Justin Chase said, “As a company led by a female CEO, recruiting, developing, and promoting female leaders is important to Beasley. That’s why you see so many female tones in key roles, such as Marie Tedesco (CFO), Tina Murley (CRO), Heidi Raphael (Chief Communications Officer), Lori Burgess (COO/Esports), and more. We also have some of the best female program directors and digital program directors in the country. Over the last couple of years, Caroline Beasley rolled out a DEI initiative to ensure we become a more diverse workplace, giving our managers better information and skills.”

Sadly, I got “no comment” or no response at all from the rest of those I reached out to. This is only part of the problem, but a big part. Why is this topic so controversial when the very same people are publicly commenting on every other challenge facing the industry? Why is this the big pink elephant in the room?

Almost every other industry has policies in place, mentoring programs, incentives for female talent, and efforts to ensure equal opportunity and pay. And yet, when it comes to radio, we can’t even have an open discussion about it. Most other companies are foaming at the mouth to promote their efforts to achieve gender equality.

If industry leaders are not willing to have these conversations, offer solutions, or solve the problem, the numbers are never going to improve. There are so many outlets providing the same product as radio. If we don’t capitalize on diversity, and on the one demographic many radio brands target, and who are still in charge of household spending, we will no longer be a competitive outlet in an industry that faces the introduction of multiple competitors every day. It starts at the top, and a good leader will have no problem discussing the challenge and offering solid, actionable solutions.