Women in Radio

Whispers in Our Ears

If you are like most Americans, you probably have a commute or school drop offs in the morning and tuning in to your favorite radio station is automatic. It becomes background noise that helps us focus or keeps us up to date on weather or road closures and lets us know what is coming up next. When was the last time you paused, and really listened to the voice on the radio?

For me, it was a moment last year when it suddenly occurred to me many of my local stations were dominated by male voices. The morning shows had a sole male host; the night show was also a sole male host. Two other stations in my area had just one host for the entire station and guess what gender the hosts were? Also male. Only Saturday mornings and the mid-afternoon during the week had a female host (both known to be unpopular radio listening times). 

Let the Show Begin

It is surprising that even the radio seems to have fallen prey to the male domination that is seen on Wall Street or Congress. Radio started off being progressive. Women were on the front lines of the telegraph which was the precursor to radio.

The first collegiate radio broadcast was performed by an African American male in 1920, a time when racism was still running rampant in the United States. The first popular female radio announcer came not long after in 1922 and she read children’s  stories on air. Women continued to have a presence on radio from then on. But they never took the industry over.

Sound Matters

Why is it that in many radio stations, men are the dominant voice we hear? With this question in mind, I began to do some research. According to a study by Rindy C. Anderson and Casey A. Klofstad, science has found that those with lower voices sound more authoritative, competent and trustworthy to listeners. Hence why many news broadcasters and morning radio hosts are male, because that is who we most trust to hear tell us important events.

It is important to note that women are capable of having the desirable deep tones. If a woman has a lower pitch voice because of physical biology or other factors, they are assumed to be older in age and thus the same trustworthy attributes are implied. But an interesting twist is that men tend to prefer to listen to a female voice, while women prefer the male tenor.

I believe this difference in preference is why most stations large enough to have more than one host employ at least one female announcer. When it comes to music and what is listened to audibly, people prefer variety.

If a larger city station only used male on air hosts, the listeners would ignore what was being said after a while, because it would become monotone. That is why most radio hosts have four to five-hour long shows. More than that and you are bored of hearing the same person drone on. The same logic holds true for why large stations use both men and women. However, the further outside the city you get, the more male voices you hear. 

The Voice at the End of the Tunnel

However, I do not want women to give up hope. More and more stations and announcing positions (think Olympic event announcers, video game voices, etc.) are increasingly trying to hire women. In my local town, while even the smallest of the stations is entirely controlled by men, the larger station is nearly a 50/50 split between female hosts.

Arguably one of the most famous voices heard on radios across the United States is a woman, Delilah. She has been a constant presence on our radios for decades. With the invention of podcasts, women have even more opportunities to get their voices out there. Even better than radio hosting, podcasts allow women to talk about what they want on their own terms. 

Equal Terms

Radio also tends to be less of a glass ceiling business since you’re paid based on your time on air. I know that several of the male radio hosts in my area make equal to the female hosts. Women are also increasingly running the show behind the scenes, they manage the production and scheduling of radio.

So while male hosts outnumber females, women are becoming a larger and larger presence in the business. It won’t be long until the division between the voices you hear on the radio are as diverse as their listeners.

Indigo Ferra, 25-year-old writer and educator, has lived all over the United States and the world. She has her BA in political science from Loyola University and an MA in international politics from the University of Warwick. She currently work as an EFL (English as a foreign language) teacher and as a temporary history teacher at a boarding school. An avid writer, she has written a few novels and is working on her first non fiction book. She’s passionate about spreading awareness about the female experience and empowering fellow women to overcome negativity.

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