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.

FOR GIRLS

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

FOR BOYS

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
News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site this morning

News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
people

Mike Tyson branded 'superhero' after a surprise good turn

Sport
A Rutherford Raiders shirt with the PornHub sponsorship
football

PROMOTED VIDEO
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
Arts and Entertainment
Charlie Sheen said he would
tv

Charlie Sheen could be set to revive his role as a hedonistic womaniser

Life and Style
Jamie Oliver’s version of Jollof rice led thousands of people to post angry comments on his website
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
glastonbury
News
Apple CEO Timothy Cook
people
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film

Review: Mike Leigh's biopic is a rambling, rich character study

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    KS1 Teacher Cornwall

    £20000 - £45000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd...

    Early Years Teacher - Jan 2015 - China

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Position: Early Years TeacherRequired: J...

    KS1 and KS2 Primary NQT Job in Lancaster Area

    £85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education is urgently...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultants

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K: SThree: We consistently strive to be the...

    Day In a Page

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
    The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

    Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

    Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
    Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

    What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

    Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
    A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

    Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

    Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
    Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

    'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

    A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

    Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

    The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
    Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

    Paul Scholes column

    Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
    Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

    Frank Warren column

    Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
    Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

    Adrian Heath's American dream...

    Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
    Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
    How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

    Turn your mobile phone into easy money

    There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes