Every year, Radio Ink salutes America’s best program directors. It’s a major undertaking, headed by Editor-in-Chief Ed Ryan and a review board of dedicated programming professionals. For weeks, they cull through and carefully evaluate hundreds of nominations, finally determining the 50 who are “the cream of the crop.”
So I always feel like I am opening an Oscar envelope when the list arrives. But this time it hit like a ton of bricks. I scanned the names — and then I found myself taking another look — and then I started to count. 1,2,3,4,5. Out of 50, only five women. For me, it was déjà vu, harking back over 20 years to when I was interviewed as a general manager about the lack of female program directors.
It seems that not much has changed. The sad truth is that while more women have climbed the ranks to general and sales management roles in our industry, they are still few and far between on the programming (and technical) side of the table.
And it would appear that the bigger players are not taking a lead in this area. I asked Ed for a breakdown of nominations from the top radio groups. While all of them submit a healthy roster of names, as many as a dozen from some, the most female PD nominations from any single group was a mere two!
Richard Harker at Harker Research estimates that there are almost 4,000 stations programming some form of AC, Country or Top 40, all formats that “would be naturals for women.” But the percentage of female PDs even in these formats is probably in the single digits.
As Harker points out, “The normal pattern is for PDs to first be jocks. The industry has always had a very high proportion of male jocks, with most stations having a single female on the whole staff. With smaller staffs, the female jock was the first to be cut, so the pool of female jocks is much smaller. The alternative is to hire female PDs with little on-air experience. A PD does not need a lot of on-air experience to be a good PD (I was one), but today there are few off-air PDs. Many if not most pull an airshift. It creates a conundrum. We’re not hiring enough female jocks, so the chance of finding ones that have the talent to become PDs is very small.”
So, in 2016, there are still very few female program directors. Women have not been able to climb the programming ladder in the same way they have in sales and general management. What can be done to change that? How could — and should — more doors be opened to those talented women who aspire to create, nurture, and manage the heart and soul of a radio station, its on-air content? I sought out several of this year’s female honorees for their perspective.
Leslie Whittle, program director of Houston’s KRBE, had this to say. “There aren’t many female program directors for women to emulate. I believe we often do a poor job of showing our co-workers what being a program director is.
“We need to be more inclusive. I feel in some ways being a woman helped me because I began my career working for an inclusive program director, John Roberts, in Austin. He and his team sought my input because they wanted a female perspective (made sense for a station targeting women!). Then John took the time to mentor me. He believe d mentoring was important. We all should.”
Andrea Becerra Prado, regional brand manager for Entravision’s La Tricolor format, shared these thoughts: “In my opinion, there are not more women program directors because content departments are shrinking around the country. I advise that you open your own door into the content department. Ask about the people that helm the department; know them before they know you. Do your homework, study the format you want to work for, and know its personalities and PDs and read their insights in publications.”
Mary Ellen Kachinske, PD of WTMX in Chicago, says, “There are generally more specialized training programs and mentoring support tailored to the sales team, so there are more take-charge opportunities for an up-and-comer to reveal potential management talents.
“We could take a page from the sales handbook and create more occasions for females on the team who are passionate and want to learn. It also behooves us to do a better job of being generous with our time, get to know women on our staffs better, and show them that while it’s not easy to always balance life and career, it can be done.”
Mentoring: Gentlemen — and ladies – we need more mentoring. We need to take the time to encourage and answer questions from this still largely untapped pool of talent. Not only could they turn out to be the best people to see the vision that will continue today’s success into tomorrow, they also might become the cornerstone to the legacy you know you want to leave.