Have We Moved The Needle In 2021?

This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “The Bigger Picture” series, written by Charese Fruge on December 14th, 2021 


As the challenging topics of the audio business continue to be “lack of diversity, gender inequality, and income inequality,” organizations like The Alliance for Women in Media, Women in Radio, Women Behind the Mic etc. continue to ask questions about how to fix the problem. We’ve had countless panels, meetings, zoom calls, panel discussions and even private conversations about how to tackle the problem over the course of 2021. The real problem is, the people in positions of power who can institute real change with these problems are not sitting in on the discussions, nor are they concerned about fixing the problem. In February of 2021, The Alliance for Women in Media released the results of their annual Gender Analysis study and once again, the needle has barely moved when it comes to Female Program Directors. Although there continues to be a little progress, the greatest challenge for women in radio management continues to be in this area, where Women currently program 12.2% (1,276 stations) versus 11.6% last year. This is the second year in a row this number has increased. Before it had remained stalled for almost 12 years.

Over the years, this has become a cause I am very passionate about (Encouraging and training Women to Program). And it’s been one of the main focuses of my company MC Media. So, I’ll take any modest increase in the percentage I can get. But have we really moved the needle? And since the results were released, have we moved in the right direction?

Sure, we’ve seen some incredible hires in the last few months, like Beata Murphy being named the PD of KIIS in LA, a change that will surely bring a refreshing new chapter to the life of that station and its extensions of the brand. Chasta Michaelis was hired as the PD of 107.7 The Bone in San Francisco. Christy Taylor was hired as a Regional Brand Manager for several Alternative stations for Audacy and will kick off 2022 based out of Seattle. And there were a few smaller market moves too, like Taylor J at 107.5 KISS FM in Des Moines, and Sarah Kay at WQMX in Akron, just to name a few. But there were also a considerable number of Female PD’s and “potential” Female PD’s let go over the course of the year. So, the progress is more like three steps forward, ten steps back. We lost Jill Strada in Orlando, we’re losing 30-year music/programming vet Alisa Hashimoto in Seattle, and I was just going through the list of major RIFs from three of the bigger companies from this year, and the number of female middle management employees who were let go is brutal. Sadly, those are the most vulnerable positions.

Now, on the contrary, if I were to give you a list of the “usual suspects” who were given jobs as Programmers this year, the number would more than double the list of Female programmers. I’m not joking, it might even be triple the number. That’s not to say that some of these guys aren’t qualified. But let’s be honest, when most of them are PD’s who have never really moved the needle, or have committed to multiple jobs with different companies in less than a 2 year period, or PD’s who have resigned, then changed their minds a few months later (because the grass isn’t always greener) only to go back to the same situation…and even men who have openly engaged in inappropriate behavior on the job who have been re-hired in positions of power, you have to ask yourself, why are those in hiring positions not giving more Women a chance to program radio? We as a gender are not asking for preferential treatment, just an equal chance at opportunity. And by that, I mean more than just helping with your EEO requirements.

Since we can’t get any real answers from the various VPs of Programming or Executives from the various companies, who happen to almost all be “the usual suspects,” I’ll go back to the real problem. The people in positions of power who can institute real change with these challenges are not sitting in on the discussions, nor do they care about the conversation. How many panels have we sat through where the “Lack of female Programmers” was the “Big Pink Elephant” in the room? And no one is brave enough to ask the questions aloud. And no one wants to talk about it. Most of the time, if the panel is targeted toward Women, the “usual suspects” don’t even care enough to attend them. And sadly, the perception among most Women in the business who aren’t working at the top level, is that the few Women who do, won’t address the topic for various reasons. Some because they are afraid to, others because they had to fight so hard to get to the top, and others because they simply like being the “only” Woman on top. If there is one message I have gotten in a year’s worth of “Women to Watch” features, it’s that most Women in our business want to support each other and work together to move the needle forward for our gender. But how do we get people in positions of power to LISTEN?

I have asked these questions in multiple columns this year. How do we break this barrier and not only encourage Women to become Program Directors, but actually give them a shot? What’s it going to take for someone with a voice to fight this fight for the simple reason that it’s the right thing to do, especially for a very stagnant industry right now. We have nothing to lose. It’s time to move radio into the 21st Century. Even if it’s a simple start, like getting rid of the “Big PINK Elephant” in the room and starting to have conversations about why this is a problem, and how to fix it. It’s got to be someone at the top of one of these big companies who recognizes the problem, but who is not afraid to address it for the betterment of the industry overall. Is anyone listening? Can anyone help? Anyone? Anyone?

It’s difficult for an entire gender to remain positive about an age-old challenge that continues to be ignored, but we will continue to fight the fight and try to lift Women in the industry who slowly but surely break through the glass ceiling. When we come back for the New Year, we’ll take a good look at some of those women in our weekly column “Women to Watch” who lead by example. We’ll start with the inspiring stories of two of LA’s most impressive Programmers, Lisa Worden and Beata Murphy, two Women who modestly inspire all genders in the industry who want to be successful Programmers. In the meantime, for a look at 2021’s year-end wrap of “Women to Watch” features, click here.