Listen to the audio version of this post here.
Stop the presses! Apparently, there’s some sexism in the broadcasting business.
You’re not really surprised, are you?
Big front page story in the Chicago Tribune: “Women in Chicago radio call out ‘toxic and sexist’ culture in male-dominated industry.”
I’d like to point out that women in Chicago radio have been calling out that “toxic and sexist culture” as long as there have been women in Chicago radio. As you know, I used to be one of them.
A lot has changed since I was starting out in radio decades ago. And a lot hasn’t – that’s the part that’s so interesting.
The gist of the current uproar is this: a popular and very successful disc jockey, Eric Ferguson, has seen one female colleague after another complain about sexual harassment and depart. He’s now being sued, along with his former employer, Hubbard Radio Chicago. They took Ferguson off the air as details began to emerge; he’s since left the station.
We didn’t really need investigative reporters to tell us that whatever Eric Ferguson said and did (and the allegations are appalling), he had plenty of support from a company and an industry that values a highly rated morning man above all else. Certainly, above all the other players who might come and go from that same highly rated show.
The Trib reporters did a great job, though, looking beyond the Eric-and-Kathy-and-Melissa-and-Cynthia story at the broader picture. You know, that “toxic and sexist culture in a male-dominated industry.”
They profiled two long-time Chicago radio executives in particular, quoting women they’ve offended with unwelcome comments and contact. And yes, those women, especially the ones who are still in broadcasting, are taking a risk when they talk so frankly to reporters.
If you read the piece (and I recommend it) you’ll see a lot of wagon-circling by the people who run radio stations now. Along with the usual boys-will-be-boys defenses and apologies to “anyone who might have been offended.” You’ll also see a lot of “didn’t respond to our request for a comment.”
One guy who did respond to the story was Tribune columnist Rex Huppke. He’s betting the boys in broadcasting are starting to sweat because they “face a reckoning over loutish behavior.”
Huppke recommends “a deluge of listener phone calls to local radio stations demanding they do better.” I think he’s dreaming.
My guess? Women shrug off this story and continue listening to their favorite radio hosts, unfazed by the reports of sexual harassment and indifferent to the fact that, “In Chicago, some station audiences can go hours without hearing a female host.”
I can’t imagine women calling radio stations telling them to get rid of sexist jocks, add women to their line-up, or feature more female artists.
Quite the contrary. I’ll bet money the emails, Tweets, and phone calls will go to the women profiled in the Tribune who’ve been dismissed, harassed, and insulted. There will be unfavorable comments about their hair styles, wardrobes, physical shapes, and facial features. Not to mention their talent and the stories they’ve told in this article.
And many of those hostile messages will come from … women.
I know, I know. I’m the one who’s always talking about how we should amplify other women’s voices in meetings to make sure none of us are ignored. Help each other stand out, especially in companies or industries that are mostly-male. Support women rising through the ranks of our organization.
And I do believe that sort of solidarity exists.
I also know for sure that in my early radio days, it was common for women to call the station complaining about those girls on the air. Their voices are irritating, see, and they don’t sound serious.
Even as people got used to more of a mix, there was often negativity aimed at women on the air from women in the audience.
And that was in the days when people had to write a letter and put a stamp on it! Seems the critics are even more active now that it’s easy to plaster your opinion out there by clicking on “Send” or “Post.”
There’s nothing wrong with calls for change in broadcasting or any other business.
Sometimes that means getting rid of the worst offenders. Hiring people with a different frame of reference or a new attitude. Even imposing rules about how employees treat each other—some people seem to need that kind of structure.
I’m not sure any of that is enough.
If we really want things to be different, on the radio or in our own companies, we need to be different as listeners, customers, users, or voters.
Whether we’re part of a radio audience, a clientele, or a congressional district … when women insist that our sisters/daughters/friends are treated better, they will be.
Are you ready to exercise that strength?