Triple M tweet celebrating winning the radio ratings

Triple M tweet celebrating winning the radio ratings Photo: Triple M

Listeners don't want to hear them? They're too sensible or don't want the job? Whatever your theory on why there are so few women radio presenters, few would deny men dominate our airwaves.

Women comprise just 17 per cent of presenters for the major metro talkback stations on weekdays, according to media monitoring company iSentia. Five stations, including Sydney's 2GB, Melbourne's SEN and Perth's 6PR, have none.

"The split for commercial talkback is six women and 71 men, or 8 per cent [women], although there is a higher proportion of women on commercial stations on the weekend," said iSentia's Patrick Baume.

Jackie O is one of the few successful women presenters in the male dominated radio industry.

Jackie O is one of the few successful women presenters in the male dominated radio industry.

"The split for ABC metros (excluding Hobart and Darwin) is 14 women, 24 men, or 37 per cent. Melbourne easily has the highest number of female talkback presenters, with six, while Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Canberra have two each." The ABC's numbers are boosted by nationally syndicated shows.

But in Melbourne, the top-rating FM network Triple M recently created a stir when it tweeted a picture of 25 male presenters - and not one woman. Among the social media quips were Triple M standing for "Male, Male, Male" and, "It is a stunningly gorgeous gathering but I can't quite put my finger on what's missing? #oestrogen". 

The jibes got Guy Dobson's goat. The chief content officer at Triple M's owner Southern Cross Austereo said Triple M was a "male-skewed, football-calling network" - but it was "patently unfair" to call it sexist.

The men in that picture were mostly former players with the "insider knowledge" that listeners crave, Dobson said.

Southern Cross Austereo's female-focused station is 2Day FM in Sydney and Fox FM in Melbourne, and Dobson said that's where women apply to work. In a similar vein, he said it was hard to find male newsreaders.  

"We're building two brands - one targets men, one targets women. If they [women] come knocking, and they're exceptional talent, then bang."

Dobson said it was women who were sexist when it came to presenters. He said radio research showed that men would listen to both genders, but women were women's "harshest critics".

There are, of course, some high-profile women who have made it in the world of radio. Jackie Henderson, one-half of Kyle and Jackie O show, and Amanda Keller, of WSFM top-rating program Jonesy & Amanda are two examples. In Melbourne, Jane Hall and Chrissie Swan recently topped the breakfast ratings, giving Mix its first breakfast victory.   

Fairfax Media talkback channel 3AW, which has just lost the ratings crown in Victoria to the ABC, does not have any women hosts from Monday to Friday.

Asked why there were so few women on air, 3AW's long-time morning host Neil Mitchell put it thus: "There was a theory amongst one of our management ... some years ago that the talkback audience didn't want to hear from women.

"I don't know if it was a policy but it was an attitude which was argued and fought often, off air. I don't think it exists any more," Mitchell told a recent Melbourne Press Club lunch.

He said he would "really like to think that it is the best person for the job" and he had more women producers than men.  

"So why doesn't it translate through to on-air?" he said. "I don't know. Maybe the women in the industry are too sensible. Seriously. Maybe they just don't want it ... I'm sure some want to do it but maybe the majority don't. I don't know."  

Jon Faine, Mitchell's rival at 774 ABC Melbourne, said he frequently questioned why there were few women on-air.

"We've got to work hard at developing the on-air skills, the presence, the experience, the flying hours for people so they can take on these roles," he told the same audience.

"The ABC is trying to get people into these key shifts; it's just there's this sort of terrible, curmudgeonly prick of an old bastard in Melbourne who won't go away and let someone else have a go - I love it too much to walk away."

There are other theories on why men rule the air: the talkback radio audience is older than the broader radio audience and prefer the "authoritative" male voice, and the feeding pool for radio - comedy and those who already have a media profile - is already dominated by men.

Laura Bartal, group strategy director at media buyer Carat Australia, said: "In the good old days, radio microphones were designed to pick up the lower register of voices, so unless you had a husky voice it was more suited to men. The technology has evolved but it makes you wonder whether male roles in radio were firmly established during this period.

"Historically, commercial radio shows were structured with a 'token' female co-presenter, partnered with a lead (ego inflated) male presenter. This is starting to change but it will take time."

The latest global report on gender in the media, the Global Media Monitoring Project of 2010, found that less than one-third of stories were written or presented by female reporters and newsreaders - and the percentage was even lower in sports journalism.