In My Opinion: Sunta Templeton: One in five solo voices on the radio are female

NEW research by Sound Women – the networking and support group for women working in radio – has found just one in five solo voices on the radio are female, with that dropping to one in eight during the peak hours of breakfast and drive time. One of the most shocking things about this research has to be how un-shocking it is to this female radio presenter.

I’ve been a radio presenter, as well as a journalist, for seven years and have always considered it a great achievement, having been told so many times that “women just aren’t as good at radio as men” or ‘it’s mostly women who listen to radio and they don’t want to listen to other women”.

The first argument is just offensive, the second baffling. Why on earth would female listeners not want to listen to female presenters? Is UK radio so steeped in the misogynistic idea that the ‘little lady’ can only cope with an authoritative male voice or she may be over-stimulated and need a lie down? Is it really a case of ‘women know your limits’, as the Harry Enfield sketch goes?

The research tells us solo female presenters more likely to have slots at the weekend than during the week, and those on during the week are more likely to have shows outside of peak hours. And this is where my main concern lies; the lack of women hosting breakfast or drive time is, I think, detrimental to the industry as a whole. Seriously where are they?

Let’s take breakfast shows, which are seen as the most important slot by most stations. Often, they are the most listened-to, the most returned-to, and the most likely to instil a sense of listener loyalty. So how does only hearing male voices, or only hearing women as secondary to men, affect young girls and women listening? The research shows only 13 per cent of breakfast shows are solo female presented. As a teenager, I could wake up with Zoe Ball, and later Sarah Cox, when they were ruling breakfast on BBC Radio 1. These women formed my most regular radio consumption and instilled in me a sense that it was a job I could do too.

There have been others of course – Lauren Laverne on Xfm, Ruth Barnes on Amazing Radio, to name a couple – but all since moved to different daytime slots, so where are the female presenters hosting breakfast shows now?

Surely the golden days of female breakfast show hosts can’t be over already? I find it frustrating – as women, a presenter and most importantly as a listener – that there isn’t the option to wake up with a female hosted show to start my day. Or how about two women co-hosting together? Before taking over the Radio 1 breakfast show, Sarah Cox presented an all-female double header with Emma B. Currently, of co-hosted shows 57 per cent are male/female, 39 per cent male/male and just four per cent female/female.

Surely the formula of older man and younger woman sidekick is starting to feel a bit dated now, isn’t it?

I’ve been the female voice on a number of breakfast shows during my career and I’ve loved every single one. There’s nothing like the close bonds you form with a group of people when you’re all getting up at ‘stupid o’clock’ to be unnaturally happy and informative. Each show has been an unique learning experience; but, in my opinion, the best shows were the ones where the male host wasn’t afraid to divert from the traditional, he-tells-a joke-she-laughs-at-it role, who saw the benefit in subverting role assumptions and making some much more interesting and gender-balanced radio.

I feel proud that, at XFM, we’re doing better than one in five, but the lack of solo female hosts in the industry at the moment is something that needs to change. I’m not pushing for positive discrimination; all presenters, male or female, should be given the job based on their talent and ability, but Sound Women reports anecdotal evidence that there just aren’t that many of demos being sent to station managers by female presenters.

Could we be missing out on a wealth of radio talent because of a lack of prime time role models?

As I was inspired by the likes of Sarah Cox and Zoe Ball, who will be the inspiration to the next generation of women in radio?

SUNTA Templeton hosts a radio show on XFM between 1pm and 4pm on Sunday afternoons and is a member of Sound Women, a networking and development group for women in radio.