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.

Wendy Harmer(23:12 28 Feb 2012)
Thanks for this Scott and, yes, I should have mentioned the FM boys club too. It is something the industry should address...and fast. Radio is a great career for women. Working with Cath O'Connor at 2DAY was a positive experience ( less so at Vega... ahem). Deborah Thomas, Deb Spillane both commented on my piece and agreed.
As for the fab Amanda Blair - why, I'll be on her program this arvo!
Anonymous(23:25 28 Feb 2012)
Programming has always been the domain of blokey blokes. Their shirt selections have evolved more over the years than attitudes - band t-shirt (80s), chambray (90s), business (2000s).

I am a guy, not a footy, roots and chicks type of guy...but still a guy. I remember being told by a senior exec in '05 when planning a conference that "I would be sharing X"....his female PA!!
Aagh, good times
keith fowler(23:27 28 Feb 2012)
in the late 90's at MMM Perth we debuted a breakfast duo of Paula Voce and Daina Reid, with a token bloke (Kyle Sandilands).At the time a lot people asked "two women in breakfast,are you sure". Altho short lived sadly (ownership callsign and management change) it was a ratings success,and showed genuine long term promise.

Two smart articulate funny feisty women,hardly a risk!!
scott muller(23:36 28 Feb 2012)
Thanks, Wendy, for your comment and your great article. Say Hi to Amanda from all the ex-chambray-wearing blokes.

And, Keith, I remember that show on 6MMM - funny, in retrospect, that Kyle was the "token bloke" anchor on an all female show. Now that's ironical.
Anonymous(23:45 28 Feb 2012)
I'm a guy and even I think the treatment of woman at stations I have worked for was and is terrible.

A PD told me that females don't like listening to females, he also never really paid much attention to a woman's ideas but when the same idea was was said by a man, it was a great idea and implemented.

I think we are still a generation away from all of us being treated the same.
Anonymous(0:27 29 Feb 2012)
Interesting that a lot of stations profess to be targeting women, yet their PD's are blokes and we all know blokes don't understand women!

BTW did you know I can't get "Bird Flu"? It's because I'm a bloke....
irenehulme(1:47 29 Feb 2012)
Hi Scotty
Jason Staveley(2:38 29 Feb 2012)
Hi Scotty

Get a room!
Dave Cameron(2:45 29 Feb 2012)
you'd be wise to re-check your Adelaide CD facts Scotland Asher.....!
Nice site guys.
Scott Muller(3:38 29 Feb 2012)
Hi David Old Yeller Cameron (since we're using middle names) - so ... who did I miss on the Adelaide CD facts front?
Dave Cameron(4:15 29 Feb 2012)
Donna Puechmarin - SAFM CD
Alexis Kuchel - SAFM ACD

Radelaide leading the charge on female programmers!
Scott Muller(4:41 29 Feb 2012)
Thanks Palooka,
I'll amend article to include Donna on the CD roll call. Think it's brilliant you have Alexis there as ACD, too - she's awesome. I take it the ACDs on the Triple M Network are ACDCs?
Amanda Blair(5:25 29 Feb 2012)
Hi all. Glad we are talking about this. I've been told not to talk about politics because "I'm a woman" asked if "you've got your period?" told that "my show is ok, but sometimes a bit girly" and it's been suggested on more than one occassion that I just keep my content light, bright and bouncy.

Perhaps one day this will change and we will see more women behind the microphone.Not because of their gender, but becuse they have valid things to say.

And Scott, "chambray wearing".....can't believe you fessed up to that. Now THAT is brave...
Scott Muller(6:35 29 Feb 2012)
Hi Amanda, I was hoping we'd hear from you, seeing as you're one of the stars of the topic.
I may be totally missing the point because of the same reason I can't ask for directions even at gun point, but what perplexes me when I hear comments like the ones you've described is ... can people actually substitute "have you got your period" for serious show feedback? Without a whole team from C.S.I-H.R descending upon them?

Then again, I'm sure I've given more than my fair share of totally inappropriate show feedback, too, so ... glass houses.

Your point "we will see more women behind the microphone, not because of their gender, but because they have valid things to say" is the core issue. It shouldn't be about gender. At all. But with the imbalance Wendy raised, unfortunately it still is. We need a lot more like you.
Stuart Endersby(8:11 29 Feb 2012)
Great to hear Amanda's point of view and well done for being so honest. I suggest, let Amanda run her own race and give her the opportunity to tackle the hard stuff the AM talkback audience are looking for. Engage the listener - is that not what we do! Yet alone creating recall and building TSL? You have got guts posting that comment Amanda. The stuff great AM talk hosts are made of. Demand the show you want and the results will come.
Richard Fox(17:37 29 Feb 2012)
It always amazes me that even though Australia and the UK are close relatives, programmers and producers in Australian radio often won't adopt what clearly works in British radio.
Obviously there is a lot of topical content and subjects that won't translate, but regarding this subject in particular, there's absolutely no issue with female presenters on high profile news / talk (and AM) stations like BBC Five Live.... a multi Sony Radio Award winning station including station of the year.
In fact, between 6am - 7pm weekdays, 4 female presenters (with 2 presenting solo)... 3 male presenters (with 2 presenting with a female co-host). Wowzers!!!

I really don't understand why Australian radio doesn't have that same 'radical' approach to female presenters on talkback stations.
Scott Muller(0:04 01 Mar 2012)
Thanks, Richard.
If we're staying on the topic of women's roles in radio, on- and off- the air: absolutely agree.
Although there are surprisingly significant differences in the two country's cultural and media histories - unfortunately, "close relatives" is a long-dead myth, I'm sorry to say - the broader point that the UK has more examples of women in the kinds of roles being discussed is spot on. Even in the UK it's far from balanced, yet it's certainly more so than the examples in Australia already given. And Five Live is a near perfect example.

Separate point: I believe there's a big piece planned on international and cultural influences on Australian radio, which will be addressing the myths and truths of how close, culturally and broadcast-media-wise, Australia is to Britain and the U.S.
(Whether we like to admit it or not - and we don't - the short summary is, for audiences under a certain age: very little in common with the former over the last 20-30 years; unfortunately quite a jolly lot in common with the latter).
Jerimiah Busniak(17:12 01 Mar 2012)
Add Katrina Tibbits to the list... she was just made Group Content Director for regional WA. Awesome!
Scott Muller(0:51 02 Mar 2012)
Great news - congratulations, Katrina
Bianca Dye(6:17 04 Mar 2012)
Omfg! Where do I start..... Scotty - Wendy I adore & admire u both... If only I could contribute without offending anyone! Lol
I think I'll come back later as anonymous...
Scott Muller(16:00 04 Mar 2012)
Hi. Just checking: is that really you, Anonymous, pretending to be Bianca?
Paul Cook(7:46 31 Dec 2013)
Having worked with Amanda early in her radio career - I can vouch for the tough run she had. I have worked with many talented people and I rate Amanda as one of the best presenters I have worked with. To watch her go from being hated by an entire city to being universally adored in 18 months was quite an eye opener, and it was due to her hard work and the kind of stoic resistance to the status quo that see's lesser people fall by the wayside. That said, I think 15 years on it has definitely changed and many women are stepping in to the limelight as CD's, presenters and all points in-between. On the AM side of things, I think there is sill a huge conservative audience who just want to hear their opinions amplified without having to think too much, and if you have articulate intelligent person (and women are generally smarter) on-air with a balanced and well-thought out position your audience is going to have to change - and that equals a big risk for a programmer. Sooner or later that change is inevitable, in the meantime though the mortgage has to be paid. As a talk-radio PD you'll just keep your pseudo-conservatives and your sports guys for now.

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