Sexing the airwaves

Tune into a commercial pop station these days and you get either blatant laddism and Mike and the Mechanics or cosy chats and Celine Dion. Sexual stereotyping attracts advertisers but produces cringe-makingly awful radio, says Matthew Sweet

IT'S WEDNESDAY morning, the time is just coming up to 9.38, and you're listening to the Chris Evans breakfast show on Virgin FM. The hot topic of the morning is "Have you ever met a woman that wasn't mad?" It's casual misogyny plus the ironic get-out clause - and more fun than you can have with a rolled-up copy of FHM. But material like this also suggests why radio is slowly becoming more gender-specific, and why - like His'n'Hers perfume gift sets - most of it is so inescapably naff.

The Evans effect has been good for Virgin - they've put on listeners like Pub Man puts on Lynx aftershave, and generated some of the most attractive advertising slots that the medium has to offer. Never an hour goes by without the voices of Nick Hancock, Neil Morrisey or Martin Clunes trying to sell you breakfast bars, cough sweets or cars. And commercial radio is a booming market for such advertisers.

So, a fortnight ago, when the star of the Soho Square-based station took a holiday, it made good sense to leave an Evans clone minding the shop. Robin Banks (surely one of those joke names, like Seymour Knickers?) kept Virgin's listeners and advertisers happy with a familiar patter: farmers, apparently, have found that playing relaxing music to cows makes them produce more milk. "If you've got a grumpy cow," advised Banks, "do what I do - let them pick the restaurant on the date." (Cue Mike and the Mechanics).

Despite the gruesomely alienating nature of this stuff, attempts to formulate radio stations for women have not met with much success. After a high- profile launch packed with dazzling celebrities (well, Lynne Franks, anyway) the female-dominated Viva! was reaching audiences that were too small to measure - earning the nickname Vulva! among radio journalists didn't help much, either. It's successor, Liberty, is less obviously tailored to women listeners. And is it giving Evansite laddism a run for its money? Retune to 953KHz and what do you find? Early morning femme FA? A crepuscular Handbag session? Some disco diva larging it over her Golden Grahams? Janice Long, even? You should be so lucky. Instead, the station's breakfast show has become the final resting place for Simon Bates - he of "Our Tune" fame. As Liberty's owner Mohammed Al Fayed would probably concur, it's like a bit of fugging 1981 that's somehow managed to survive into the present day. The ads are for the Curtain Mill, the play-list is Bee Gees- led, and instead of weather, Liberty supplies a gossip round-up after its news bulletins.

The difference between Viva! and Liberty sheds some light on the attitude of female listeners to their radio. Launch something that's brazenly gender- specific, and women switch off in droves. Trowel on the soft-centred girliness that's the female equivalent of a Ben Sherman shirt drenched in pissy lager, and commercial success is easier to attain. No-one ever lost money overestimating people's capacity for bad taste.

A mimsy, fluffy name-tag helps - London has Heart 106.2 and will soon be able to tune into First Love. It's best not to have too many female DJs, either. Heart's orientation towards women listeners is evidenced not by female presenters, but by its ads for fitness centres, healthy breakfast cereals and Ladies Nights at unspeakable nitespots. For those listeners on their way to such places, the frequency offers the Saturday night pre-club warm-up of Dancin' in the City. For those who didn't manage to score, there's 2am reassurance from Jeff Stryker - the fact that he shares a name with an Eighties porn star who marketed his own range of prosthetic penises is presumably coincidental.

The breakfast show's Morning Crew are like a scrubbed, softer, gentler version of the Virgin team: they have a Willy Boy rather than a Johnny Boy, an atmosphere of cosy chat rather than uneasy sycophancy, and a playlist of misty-eyed Celine Dion and The Lighthouse Family. Kara Noble leads the show with all the good-humoured basso profundo that she perfected at Capital Radio under her erstwhile mentor, Chris Tarrant and there are no cow jokes and no husky maidens breathing "Stick your tongue in it," just acres of comfy cuteness. The trouble is, it's not very interesting.

However, I hear that the breakfast show on Radio Tirana is terrific - accurate goat forecasts, corking Enver Hoxha jokes and neither Aerosmith or Celine Dion on the playlist. You have to stand on the roof and wave a coathanger around to pick it up, but anything's worth a try.


Capital gold MW 1548: proper "choons" from the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties for retired rock chicks who aren't too proud to get down to Leonard Skynner as they hoover. Listeners: thirtysomethings who never had that much taste in music in the first place

Heart FM 106.2: lots of solo songstresses, lots of chart, plus keynote golden oldies from Katrina and the Waves and the Eagles. Non-crunchy and Gallagher-free. Listeners: office girls; teenagers; suburbanites

Melody FM 105.4: slushy love songs, showtunes, the Carpenters. Radio 2 with ads, only less challenging. Listeners: new-borns and the hard of thinking


Virgin FM 105.8: Britpop, Mike and the Mechanics, Aerosmith, Steve Winwood, plus irritating indie pop from the Lightning Seeds et al. Listeners: New lads and old bores

Jazz FM 102.2: Otis Carmichael, er, Fats Backgammon, that sort of thing. Frankly, it's a mystery to you and me. Listeners: polo-neck wearing, chess- playing, purist jazz bores who tune in to complain about commercialisation and jazz-funk fusion

XFM 104.9: Very alternative, very cutting edge, very indie, very hard work. The John Peel show for the chemical generation. Purveyor of fodder to the review pages of the NME and Melody Maker. Listeners: erstwhile fans of the Cure; disaffected youth; depressives

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

    Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

    Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

    £30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

    UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

    £45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

    Day In a Page

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

    Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

    The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
    La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape