Media: On a woman's wavelength: An experimental radio service giving 'a voice for women in London' may herald a permanent fixture, says Margaret Farrall

London's Celebration Radio was launched this week, offering what it sees as a well-balanced seven-day diet of female broadcasting entertainment, which might even mark a change in the nation's listening habits.

A week-long Radio Authority Restricted Service Licence has been granted to Celebration for an experimental service described as 'a voice for women in London'. The station plans to inject some much-needed variety into the staple broadcasting fare for women. It hopes that by doing this it will not only help to make more room at the table for young up-and-coming women broadcasters, but also reinforce the need for independent radio stations with a female perspective.

Julie Hill is the driving force behind the Women's Radio Group, a national arts charity which provides training for women in all areas of radio production. A group of radio trainees aged between 17 and 65, many of whom want to become professional broadcasters, are running Celebration - the second all-women's radio station in the capital - following closely on from Brazen Radio, which had two weeks of broadcasting that ended earlier this month.

Hill, who for three years has been running courses for women seeking careers in broadcasting, defends the project against the charge that it is creating female airwave ghettos.

'Although we are beginning to see and hear more women in broadcasting, there are still not enough in the industry as a whole. For example, there are very few female programme controllers. The time has come for women's radio made for women by women, and it is a very serious issue.

'There's no such thing as the ghetto of Woman's Hour any more - but there is a message coming across from women who don't want programmes about cakes and crochet but who want to hear a woman's voice on political issues, women's comedy, sport, drama and music.'

There is a feeling among already established women in the media that the time could be right for a female-oriented station. Viva Radio - still a working title - is putting the finishing touches to an application for a commercial London-wide radio licence to be submitted in June. A decision follows in October.

Katy Turner, sales and marketing director for London-based Jazz FM - soon to be launching in the north of England - says Viva was inspired and created by women. She is spearheading Viva's application on behalf of Jazz FM's parent company, Golden Rose Communications. 'It is for everyone who enjoys the challenges of living in the capital.'

Viva has a powerful line-up of women behind it, including chairwoman Lynne Franks, the public relations consultant, and two non-executive directors, publisher Deborah Owen and broadcaster and producer Linda Agran. Other names linked with Viva are Carol Thatcher, Dr Miriam Stoppard, Anna Raeburn, Glenys Kinnock and Pattie Barron.

Turner supports the need for female-perspective radio not only because this is the message coming through from women, but for the commercial reason that women often hold the purse-strings and buy many of the advertised products. She quotes Advertising Association statistics which estimate that pounds 750m was spent in 1992 targeting women via television, and pounds 350m through the press - which is 39 per cent of total spent on advertising on TV and in the press.

'This compares with around pounds 9m on radio, which is only 8 per cent - so there is a vast market there.'

Established female broadcasters support the idea of women having a chance on the airwaves.

Sue MacGregor of Radio 4's Today programme says: 'I do think single-sex radio can be an excellent idea, but I don't say it always is.

'We can never underestimate how unsure of themselves and how uncertain of their abilities many women - even those who want to be journalists - are. One automatically thinks they must be tough cookies if they have to express themselves on radio or television.'

Pattie Coldwell, of Carlton Television's Capital Woman programme and a former presenter of Radio 4's You and Yours, agrees and supports Celebration.

''Things are so bad that we have to have positive discrimination. I wish that there wasn't this need across the board in the media, but there is. Would you rather have no positive discrimination and stay out in the cold, or have it and at least be heard?

'I do think women appreciate things from a different point of view. Eve Pollard, editor of the Sunday Express, had a fabulous line that the trouble with a lot of women who are doing very well, especially in radio, is that they behave like men and ask their type of questions instead of those women would ask.'

Angela Rippon, an award-winning pioneer in women's broadcasting and television who now presents the three-hour Drive Time programme on the London radio station LBC, welcomes Celebration, too, but has strong reservations about broadcasting with a female bias.

'If it is giving the opportunity for women who want to broaden their broadcasting experience then it is a marvellous idea. I believe it is the only way to do it. You can have all the qualifications in the world, but if you don't have the chance to put them into practice, you don't know whether you can do it under live conditions.

'I have reservations about an all-female station. I would hate it to be targeted at women and only come with a women's perspective. Financed by women, staffed by women, with women executives and presenters - I have no problem with that.

'But I would hate to think everything that went out was rampantly feminist - I am not rampantly feminist and never have been. I am doing something for listeners regardless of creed, colour, age or sex. It is broadcasting, not narrowcasting, and you must always keep that in mind.'

Rippon believes that isolating groups could cause problems. 'You are making assumptions that women only want to listen to women and men to men, but they like to listen to whoever is a good broadcaster.'

But the Radio 2 presenter Sarah Kennedy is anxious about specialist women's channels creating female ghettos. She had a tough struggle entering broadcasting without an Oxbridge degree, but found a way in through the British Forces Broadcasting Services.

'I think anyone has a tough time breaking into broadcasting. It is one of the most sought-after jobs. There is no easy route. I think it is just as hard for a man as it is for a woman.

'I stride the corridors of the BBC at various times of the day and I see about a 50/50 mix - in fact, on first impressions there seem to be more women than men. I can truthfully say it is exceedingly fair where I work. You have to be tough to get in there and you have to be tough once you are there to stay there.'

Radio Celebration broadcasts on 87.7FM starting at 6am each day until midnight on Sunday in the London area.

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