Womxn in Radio: Tackling a Lack of Representation
Radio has long been dominated by a cis male presence with women, POC, LGBTQ+ and other minority groups being drastically under-represented in roles such as production and sound engineering, as well as those broadcasting their own shows across the airwaves. However, independent radio stations are slowly starting to tackle this as more and more DIY stations have become determined to address the lack of representation across the scene.
I chatted with womxn working behind the scenes at Threads, Melodic Distraction, Block, Steam and Food Hall Community to discuss the absence of minority groups, what we can do to solve the issue and how more womxn can get involved.
The full unedited interviews will also be dropping weekly in the build up to International Women's day so keep your eyes peeled for those.
So why do these inequalities exist? It’s easy to feel intimidated by male dominated work environments and rosters, and there's no denying that if you are DJing for your radio shows it can be one hell of an expensive hobby (we’d suggest if you're starting out to string together radio shows on programmes like Audacity and Reaper and then record some voice notes over the top).
But it also runs deeper than this. As Rosy Ross pointed out - one of the programme controllers from Threads Radio in London - more and more stories are surfacing involving sexual harassment and bullying of women and other minority groups; something that is not only distressing but understandably off putting. However, it’s extremely important for these conversations to be discussed and normalised so these acts become less common and unacceptable.
This fear seems to be something that has become deep rooted, with higher expectations associated with gender (or identity) and a fear of rejection and making mistakes. It was sad but unsurprising to hear about some of the womxn’s experiences. Kate Hazeldine, a radio producer at Liverpool’s Melodic Distraction Radio talked to me about her fears across the music industry in general. As a female artist, she commented that she has felt "pressure to achieve more in a shorter space of time (due to age and ‘beauty’)" alongside being asked one too many times who helped her produce her tracks (yes, it was all her!).
Likewise, chatting with Grace Lata, a volunteer at Foodhall Community Radio Station in Sheffield, revealed that she was very intimidated when getting into the radio industry: “With radio it can be scary being one of the only women in the room, but also being the only person of an ethnic minority back... Sometimes you have to just shout over the mansplainers and covert sexists just to be heard in this industry, which is not easy and requires building up a very thick skin”. Another point she highlighted was that if there aren’t underrepresented demographics in positions of power then things aren’t right. Indeed these presences are integral in bringing about change, inspiring other minorities to be involved and curating more diverse rosters.
All this may seem a bit doom and gloom but be assured that representation was very much in the mind of all the womxn I spoke to with a unanimous agreement that more was needed to be done in order to get a much higher percentage of womxn involved in radio. Rosy pointed out that Threads Wednesdays Stream 1 (which she manages) is not balanced enough, while Cara Pickering the creator of Block Radio commented that ‘the Coventry’s scene [is] very male dominated’ and she is ‘not as far along in [her] quest for an equal balance in the 6 months as a station as [she] would like to be”. Diversification was the top priority of Grace, who hoped that the future of Foodhall Community Radio would have more womxn and non binary individuals volunteering at the station.
Only one of the stations I chatted to, Steam Radio, had reached a 50/50 divide in broadcast. However, Hannah O' Gorman, the Programme Director at the Manchester based station highlighted that this was something they had to closely monitor: “If I have 5 radio slots to fill and take the first first 5 submissions after a social media call out, odds are 4 of them will be white men...fewer women and nb people come forward when we call out for shows so making sure there’s equal representation is an ongoing task. Work has to be put in to counteract that inequality so that underrepresented groups see the station as welcoming space and are encouraged to give radio a go.”
How To Get Involved
So if you are from a minority group, how can you get involved? Kate from Melodic Distraction rightly pointed out that "above all, it’s about music... a universal thing that connects us all. An opportunity to reach out and build a connection on a shared passion." Melodic Distraction are always open to you dropping a “hello via a warm, friendly email". If you have that passion for music let it shine through and you're sure to get a good response from someone down the line.
Hannah from Steam also put together some great tips for those starting out: Be enthusiastic, join Facebook groups like The Beatriarchy [run by Grace from FCR], don't be afraid to ask questions and start putting together your own Mixcloud and Soundcloud page as a place to build up your own portfolio.
We've all felt that trickling fear of rejection but it's worth taking the risk and pushing through any insecurities. As Grace told me, she may have been scared when she first started her show on Foodhall but has had many opportunities since including being interviewed on BBC Asian Network. Stations infact need those minority groups, as highlighted by Rosy: “pitch them a show idea, offer to volunteer, ask if you can shadow someone to see how it all works”.
Indeed, you can even create these spaces and your own station. After Cara Pickering was knocked back from a local station she decided to start Block Radio in order to "highlight people, groups and music that don’t often get a spotlight in Coventry". The station now has 14 hosts, with many more artists coming through for guests mixes. Female presence was a key factor in shaping the station with the idea being developed alongside Ellie, a female DJ and music PR and most of the strategic conversations being held with a female cohort. Now that's how you come back from rejection.
There is such a need to encourage more diversity across our airwaves and behind the scenes of our stations. Without such representation radio will become stale and creativity will become compromised. It is an undeniable fact that we need these diverse rosters and work spaces. I hope anyone reading from minority groups will feel more encouraged and inspired to get in touch with radio stations and local communities.
A big thanks to Cara Pickering, Grace Lata, Kate Hazeldine, Hannah O'Gorman and Rosy Ross for chatting to me. I've noted down some emails and resources below. In order to celebrate their roles in radio we will be dropping the full unedited interviews in a build up to International Women's day, so keep your eyes peeled!
The Beatriarchy - Facebook Group
A facebook group run by Grace from Food Hall Community Radio which is a safe space to share and discuss all kinds of electronic music. The focus is for all minority groups, particularly womxn, POC and LGBTQ+ members to feel safe and free from judgement. This is a great community for feedback, track and mix sharing and finding opportunities to guest on people’s radio shows, as well as finding out about job opportunities in the industry.
Block Radio (Coventry)
Foodhall Community Radio (Sheffield)
Melodic Distraction (Liverpool)
My own Manchester based collective that I co-founded with Mystique. We are always open to womxn featuring on our radio shows or putting together a mix for us and offer workshops in production and DJing. Feel free to drop us a message.
Steam Radio (Manchester)
TBAM (There's Been A Mix-up)
Run by Rosy Ross from Threads, particularly for new DJs who haven't yet had much chance to play out.
Threads Radio (London)
DJ workshops organised by Nina Franklin from Melodic Distraction.