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?
Until the world can get beyond differences in sex, color, and religion there will always be biases everywhere.
The word “power” is over used and threatening to the groups it excludes. Maybe if the focus was put on surviving and getting along instead of “I’m focused on organizing my group of people to be number one at your expense,” the edge in today’s world would be greatly reduced. This may all sound utopian, but everybody trying to be king of the hill sure isn’t going to work.
Who, Me? Culture shock. They don’t even see themselves doing it. That braggadocio that makes them bad-boy entertainment makes people (women) who have not been affected defend them. Then the trolls escalate it. Its a whole toxic culture it’s best to avoid.
You’re right, Carol — a lot of us are attracted to bad-boys. I’d like to think we grow out of that. And I’d sure like to see the whole culture grow beyond it.
Tom, I don’t think women are trying to be king — or queen — of the hill. It would be nice if the hill were flattened a bit so there’s room on it for everyone.
All I know is that I listened all the time to Catherine Johns and, later, Don Wade and Roma on radio.
Catherine’s post raises lots of issues. But I, not being in the media business and without direct knowledge, see that there are questions to answer, explicit or implied.
I am reasonably sure of this. Real men do not tolerate and are disgusted, angrilly disgusted, by the sexism that we keep hearning about in national media, movie and sports fields.
Raising another question, “Why does it continue?”
As soon as I was in a management position, decades ago, I immediately changed the culture of ‘the girl’s jobs’. The higher level jobs that I could influence required specific degrees which limited my ability to promote (for example, not a medical doctor without med school) – but, I did help some prepare for their ‘stated’ future ambition.
(I have been out of management for 2 decades.)
Expanding on this, women seem to avoid STEM education. I recall there being 1 lady in my engineering classes, circa 1970. The numbers today are better but not equal. I do not advocate lowering of standards for professional occupations. The question is, how is our education system working? That is another subject, isn’t it!
My working mother and grandmother who overcame much were examples to me.
Glad that Catherine leads.
Thanks for weighing in, Jim. So good to know you were listening … and you still are! You’re right about women in STEM. You hear an awful lot of women pooh-pooh their own ability in math, for instance. (Full disclosure: I’m one of them.) And women who are in STEM fields sometimes tell the rest of us to stop underestimating ourselves and our skills. Here’s to the inspiration you took from your mother and grandmother!
Good write-up, Catherine. Say, I’m curious how your personal experience was when you were on WLS-AM. Were you harassed by some (or all) of the men at the station? (Obviously, only answer my question if you feel comfortable doing so.) Thanks.
You know, Fred, I got a note today from a guy who said he used to listen and he remembered me “taking an unbelievable amount of abuse” when I was working with Larry — said it was “sometimes funny, and sometimes cringeworthy.”
I felt awful–about the email! I have great memories of working with Larry and Jeff and Les. Yes, there was definitely some gender-related humor — I have to say, I was as much a part of that as they were. I was occasionally embarrassed, but I don’t remember ever feeling abused. And I always think one reason I’m a terrific speaker now is that I got comfortable being embarrassed in front of an audience and keeping right on with the show, regardless.
Times have changed, of course. We all said and did things in 1983 that we might think better of today. For the most part though, I look back at those years with affection and even gratitude. You might like this piece I wrote about what I learned from Larry that I share with my clients today.
Sadly, I don’t think sexist behavior will ever stop. Happily, I’m glad Catherine and more and more others keep calling it out. Maybe, with time and more patience and persistence than it should take, fewer people will say such ridiculous things and do such destructive acts.
You’re probably right, Bill, about the prospects for an end to misogyny. I do think things have changed, though, since my early days in radio … and they will continue to evolve, especially if more women move into high profile positions. Which means airshifts other than nights and middays!
The great thing is now the internet allows everyone to do their own radio or television shows or newspaper or blog or magazines.
Chicago radio was always male-dominated and I watched so many broken hearted women walk away from their career dreams due to men who took up too much space, refused to share and never learned how to be gentlemen.
Whenever I was asked why I got into radio, I answered “I wanted to have a voice” but most of the men who were asked the same question replied “I wanted to get hot chicks and I wanted to get laid.”
Since I wasn’t allowed to use the urinal in the boy’s room, I learned most of us hardworking radio women never stood a chance. We were viewed as a novelty and second class citizen no matter how great we performed.
You’re great Catherine!
Thanks, JoAnn! Yes, there were a lot of guys who refused to share. I was pretty lucky, landing with Larry and then Fred, and later Landecker. All of them were decent. In fact, you might get a kick out of this piece about the things I learned from Lujack that I tell my clients now.
You’re right about the internet as an equalizer. We can all have a voice now, one way or another. And those big radio stations? They’re not nearly as big anymore.
Glad you got in touch.