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Why Doesn’t Radio “Talk” To Women?


Radio is an industry that pioneered entertainment content by and for women.

Soap operas began on radio, after all. And later, talk shows from the likes of Dr. Laura and Dr. Ruth and Sally Jesse Raphael spotlighted radio’s incomparable ability to be intimate and one-to-one even as it’s one-to-many.

But does radio “talk” to women today?

In a sense, yes. After all, pick any strong CHR or Hot AC morning show and you have what is primarily “talk” for (and sometimes by) women. Sure, these shows often contain music, too. Who ever said today’s woman wants only chit-chat from their favorite radio station? The balance between conversation and music is a beautiful dance in which there is room for both partners.

But it’s no secret that most of these shows – nearly all of them, in fact – are driven by men.

Hey, how many men are hosting ABC’s The View?

Okay, I’m certainly not going to argue you can’t have men in the mix, but do men have to be in every mix? And do they always have to be the drivers?

Sure, there have been some experiments over the years, but too few and far between, and too often planted on AM stations between male- and older-skewing political wonks like Hannity and Limbaugh. Good luck developing a younger, female audience on that platform and in that particular conservative, prostate-impaired political sandwich.

What’s more, too many of our experiments have been pegged as “radio for women” as if women are some weird subculture like surfers or skate kids. It’s as if we sighted Bigfoot and we need to mold a cement footprint, stat!

Honey, where’s the cement?!

I just don’t get it. We’re talking half the population here. And it is the half that advertisers want the most.

Isn’t it in radio’s interest to address this problem? And doesn’t radio uniquely have the skills to do so compared to, say, Pandora or Spotify?

The last time I was in a room of executives talking about CHR – an abjectly female-oriented format – the entire room was full of 50-something guys. Now I’ve got nothing against 50-something guys, but it’s surely not the same as a room full of women.

Women are not a demographic oddity, they are simply people with their own sets of concerns, wants, needs, and interests – many of which are different from those of their brothers, sons, fathers, spouses, and program directors. CHR morning shows do a pretty good job of addressing what women are interested in - why do we cease understanding those interests the minute we try to create a conversation-based format for them?!

Why have we forgotten the lessons of Dr. Ruth and Dr. Laura and Sally Jesse Raphael? Why do we ignore the lessons of Elvis and Ryan and Kraddick in dayparts that don’t rise with the sun? What if we learned the lessons about what women want from our morning shows and extended that across the whole day, keeping in mind that radio fulfills different “jobs” for listeners as the day goes on?

What if we envisioned a “talk” radio station built for women’s interests that wasn’t only “talk” but also music? In my humble (albeit male) experience, women want to be listened to more than talked at.

Or what if we just let women create content that women like, crazy as that sounds?

It may not snugly fit the format called “Talk” or “CHR” – but it may fit an audience that’s hungry for content and attention they can call their own.

In other words, what if we thought about women first rather than formats first? Women as people rather than targets?

The fact that I’m even writing a piece like this is, in equal parts, embarrassing and humiliating. Because I suspect any woman reading these words is alternatively pounding her fist on the table and rolling her eyes at the sheer pathos of the male of the species, myself included. Sorry!

It begins, as always, with personalities. Personalities who can connect in the way an audience wants to connect.

So what do women want, you ask?

Are you really asking that question?

Okay, then. Begin by asking your spouse.

Or how about checking the categories featured on a popular site like PopSugar:

  • LOVE & SEX
  • FOOD
  • MOMS

Okay, show me that station. I dare you.

And here are a hundred more women-oriented sites from Forbes.

If radio doesn’t “talk” to and with women, then some other medium will.

Already, many other media are.

Give half the population the credit and the content they deserve.

Your advertisers will thank you.

Want a research partner to help you figure this out? Call me. I’m all about it.

(Reproduced with permission from Mark Ramsey. Originally posted at www.markramseymedia.com.) 

Mark Ramsey is a veteran media strategist, researcher, and trend-maker who has worked with numerous media, publishing, and digital brands. Ramsey has consulted with and delivered projects for numerous media, publishing, and digital brands over his career, including Apple, Clear Channel, Pandora, CBS, Bonneville, Sirius XM, U-T San Diego, EA Sports, and more.

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