So many DJs, but so few women ...

The Smashie and Nicey era may be over, but radio is still a male preserve. Katie Sampson asks when girls will get a spin

DISC jockeys don't just play records, they are stars in their own right - witness the amount of media fuss thrown up by Chris Evans's move to Radio 1. Before Evans, the last Radio 1 recruit to enjoy so much attention was Lisa l'Anson - but for rather different reasons. L'Anson, hired to fill the midday slot, is young, black - and female. In fact she is Radio 1's only daytime female DJ, and one of just five women DJs of a total of 17.

Radio 1 is not the only station to have such a small minority of women's voices on the air. For example, Virgin FM and London's Capital Radio each has its sole female DJ relegated to a late-night slot. Melody FM is run by a woman, but there are no female presenters; at Kiss FM, the influential club-culture dance music station, only two of the 25 resident DJs are women, and none holds a prime-time slot.

Across the stations, women are generally confined to the small hours; they usually surface on daytime radio as weather girls or traffic announcers - or flirtatious sidekicks to male DJs.

In January, the management of BBC Radio agreed to aim for a target of 50 per cent of women at all levels in network radio - so where are all the female DJs? Matthew Bannister, controller of Radio 1, is cagey. "Any station broadcasting to the public where women are in the majority should be more reflective of the population than perhaps Radio 1 has been in the past," he concedes. But he says he hires DJs on the grounds of talent rather than gender - and anyway, "of the bucket-loads of demo tapes I receive, only about one per cent are from women".

Bannister suggests this is because DJ-ing is somehow a male preserve. "Women seem to be less anoraky about their music, whereas men pursue this rather sad interest in the minutiae of music to a much later age and are therefore more likely to consider DJ-ing as a career option."

But female DJs and would-be DJs are starting to get angry at the lack of attention. "The discrimination is so blatant I don't know how anyone could fail to notice it," complains DJ Ritu, a freelance broadcaster who is one of the few to have broken through from club DJ-ing to radio. The Rankin' Miss P, the first black woman to have broadcast nationally, claims that most stations have an unofficial policy not to employ women. When she started at Radio 1, a senior member of BBC management reminded her that she was an exception to the rule.

"The reason we don't hire women DJs," he told her, "is because listeners don't like the sound of women's voices announcing records."

Audience surveys have indicated that listeners do prefer to listen to male DJs. But, just as all newsreaders used to be men, yet female newsreaders are now routinely accepted, this may well be simply because it's what listeners are used to.

"If women listen to their radios they will get caught up in the preconception that because it's 95 per cent men then it must be a man's thing," Miss P observes. Christopher Mellor, editor of DJ Magazine, agrees; he feels the problem is that stations simply aren't encouraging women to come forward, even though clubs are now giving women the opportunity to DJ. Even in clubs, female DJs do not get an easy ride. When DJ Sarah HB started working in clubs, men would put their beers down on her records while she was playing them, and she would often be paid much less than the other DJs. "And I'd hear men in specialist record shops saying 'She can't even mix a gin and tonic.'"

When Sarah eventually joined Kiss FM, she met a wary reaction from her male colleagues. "There were no role models around for me then. I was scared of being the only female, without any support, so I felt that I had to be hard in order to be accepted." As a result she gained the appellation "hard bitch", which she quickly incorporated into her DJ-ing "handle" as a reminder of her fight to gain recognition.

Even where women in senior positions have the power to appoint DJs, few have been keen to give a helping hand to other women who want to get a foot on the ladder of music presentation. Sheila Porrit has been manager of London's first easy listening station, Melody FM, since its inception, but she has never employed a woman as a music presenter. Lorna Clarke holds a powerful position as a hirer and firer at Kiss FM, yet still male DJs outnumber the women by more than ten to one.

Clarke admits that Kiss has a rather blokey image, but is indignant at the suggestion that she is not doing enough to encourage women on to the station. "You can't go steaming in to bring the numbers of female DJs up whatever the cost," she protests. "It's important to make a policy realistic. Changing people's minds is a slow process."

For some the process is just too slow. Recently Sarah HB decided to take the situation into her own hands by holding a DJ-ing competition for women on her late-night show on Kiss, the reward being a chance to DJ on the show. "It's absolute rubbish [to say] that women won't submit demos," she protests.

"I've received loads of demo tapes from women, and the quality is brilliant. But I've never heard anyone else publicly encourage women to get involved as DJs on air." She sees this as an essential part of the process of change. "Every station should do it. It's really the only way to bring in new talent." The Women's Radio Group hopes to help turn the tide. This is a networking organisation encouraging women into areas of radio where they are under-represented. It recently ran a course in music presentation, which focused on developing confidence and technical skills. For Julie Hill, who runs the group, gaining technical ability is vital for women who are seriously considering a career as a DJ. "Women create obstacles for themselves by lacking technical know-how," she points out. "To present music you must know how to drive a radio desk, and a kind of mystique still prevails that this is a man's domain."

Hill also acts as programme consultant for Viva! FM, Britain's first official station designed primarily for female listeners, which is due to begin broadcasting in July. She is confident that Viva! and other new stations will provide many new role models for women who want to present music. She is resolutely upbeat: "There are new opportunities opening up. The time has come for women to stop moaning."

n The Women's Radio Group: tel 0171-241 3729.

Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
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
Sport
sportLeague Managers' Association had described Malky Mackay texts as 'friendly banter'
News
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
i100
News
peopleCareer spanned 70 years, including work with Holocaust survivors
News
people
Travel
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?
News
London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities such as ballet
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
Extras
indybest
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
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
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Nursery Nurse

    £40 per day: Randstad Education Manchester: Nursery Nurse needed in salfordI a...

    Nursery Nurse

    £25 per day: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery nurse needed in th...

    Supply Teaching jobs in Thetford

    £21588 - £31566 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education ar...

    KS1 teachers needed in Peterborough

    £110 - £125 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education are ur...

    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