Media: Women jockeying for a job: Female pop DJs are still few and far between. Martin Wroe wonders why

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The Independent Online
LAST WEEK Radio 1 announced that a disc jockey called Claire Sturgess would be taking over Dave Lee Travis's Saturday morning show. This is noteworthy simply because Ms Sturgess is a woman. Even in 1993 precious few women make their living spinning discs on pop music radio stations.

There is Jakki Brambles on Radio 1 at lunchtime - the woman with the biggest audience - and the veteran Anne Nightingale, still hosting her Sunday evening request show . . . . But after that the names do not exactly trip off the tongue.

To be fair, there are two other women at Radio 1 - that makes four out of their 24 disc jockeys - but none in peak daytime shows, where they can be catapulted to celebrity by huge audiences. At rival Virgin Radio they have just one woman, Wendy Lloyd, overnight on Monday and Tuesday and at weekends.

The trouble is the talent, says Virgin's Managing Director Richard Skinner. It is just not around: 'It's not for want of looking but I won't put sub- standard jocks on the air just because they are gay or women or have yellow hair. I hear women jocks on other stations and it's obvious that they are there simply because of their gender.'

Two years ago Atlantic 252, the long-wave pop station broadcasting from Ireland, carried out research which found that of 45 Independent Local Radio (ILR) stations and 860 disc jockeys, only 8 per cent were women. They launched Jocksearch and received 4,000 entries from prospective women jocks.

Unfortunately, the winner, Clare Ashford, signed for Capital Radio before she could begin work for them. At present, Atlantic's only female disc jockey does 'overnight' shows. Women, says Travis Baxter, Atlantic's Managing Director, tend to be attracted to radio journalism but not to playing records. This is in contrast to the United States where celebrity female jocks are much more common. British music radio, he argues, cannot shake its history of 'cloning'.

'There's a clear set of clones, such as the Gloria Hunniford type who present middle-of-the-road music, the journalist on BBC local stations, the ILR clone who is predominantly male and the Radio 1 jock who harks back to the days of the pirate ships and is also usually male.

Women pop-pickers, he continues, remain a rare breed because of '20 years of management prejudice in British radio.'

This was illustrated by the case of Julie Maddocks, a former disc jockey with Invicta Radio in Kent, who last year was awarded pounds 11,000 compensation because the station had told her she had to choose between her job and being a 'mumsy'.

Some managements claim to be trying to undo that heritage. John Birt, Director General of the BBC, has asked Radio 1 that its presenters 'reflect the profile of our audience, which is roughly half female.' By this measure the station would need 12 female disc jockeys.

Would politically correct radio be popular radio? No, it would be fatal, argues Len Groat, Head of Programmes at Trent FM and Gem-AM in the Midlands. But it's happening, he says, citing the meteoric rise of Claire Sturgess, who was Simon Bates' secretary and had never spun a disc until she was selected for the Friday Rock Show after the departure of Tommy Vance in April.

'It's nepotism and it's unfair when someone who hasn't gone through the grounds of radio training gets a show like this. It's also the BBC shooting itself in the foot - she'll never keep Dave Lee Travis's ratings.'

A Radio 1 spokesman puts a different spin on Ms Sturgess's rise: 'If women are not out there in local radio then we will train them ourselves.'

They are obviously not there in local radio - Mr Groat has had just one tape from a hungry female disc jockey in the last four months, but hundreds from men. He has a theory: 'The role of the radio DJ was designed for men in the same way that a typewriter keyboard was originally designed for women's fingers. Women being DJs have to adopt a male role.'

Ms Sturgess reasons that the absence of role models accounts for the paucity of female disc jockeys and that her rise could help change things. 'There was no one I could look to when I was at school, but if I could be a role model for other girls that would be great. I'm already getting lots of letters.'

(Photograph omitted)