Media queens battle for ears of the sisters who tune in for themselves

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The Independent Online
BATTLE HAS commenced for the ears of British womanhood. Two rival consortia - both led by formidably successful females - have bid to run the country's first radio station for women. It could broadcast in London next year.

Joan Bakewell, doyenne of serious-minded women television presenters, announced on Thursday that she was heading a franchise application from London AM, backed by the owners of Kiss FM. Fellow directors include Felicity Kendal, the actress, Liz Kershaw, the disc jockey, and Sarah Greene, the TV presenter.

Lynne Franks, the 'absolutely fabulous' queen of PR, revealed her own plans five weeks ago. Her station, Viva AM, is backed by Jazz FM. Debbie Owen, literary agent wife of Lord Owen, and Linda Agram, the television producer, are co-directors.

Both agree there is a gap in the market, though Bakewell insists London AM will not aim exclusively at women. Both will offer news, hard-hitting features and carefully selected music. But do women want a separate radio station? What will it sound like?- And who thought of it first?

Why women?

Joan Bakewell: 'We will aim to be a station for Londoners, and half of those happen to be women. There is an area of listening choice which can be extended, and that includes a lot of women who don't like heavy rock or endless sports. They want something more sophisticated.'

Lynne Franks: 'A radio station can be like a friend, but most - perhaps with the exception of Radio 4 - are too male-oriented. There is a huge group of women which is not being properly serviced.'

What kind of programmes?

JB: 'That's a secret until Tuesday. An interesting mix of music and talk. It'll be entertaining, commercial, lively and intelligent.'

LF: 'The environment. Alternative health. Careers. Education. Literature. Drama. Current affairs. International affairs too - we have one big name lined up to see Hillary Clinton. And music. What record expresses best our feeling? Aretha Franklin's 'Sisters'.'

What about fashion, diets and babycare?

JB: 'No, it won't be all knitting and cookery.'

LF: 'It's not going to be froth. It will be alive, positive and joyful . . . we won't ignore the traditional women's issues like health, beauty and fashion; it's the way they will be done that matters.'

What kind of women listeners?

JB: 'When you mention intelligent women, people think you're talking about intellectuals. I'm talking about the woman in the library, the post office, the butcher's. Ordinary, bright, intelligent, lively, assertive women.'

LF: 'Mainly women in the 25 to 49 age group. A broad mix. We've done our market research - there's a huge demand.'

Are women fundamentally different from men?

JB: 'Apart from sharing the fact of being women, they are as diverse as people generally. But we do feel there are certain things women are more likely to be interested in than men.'

LF: 'They have a difference of perspective. It's time for men and women to become more equal. I'm not a feminist with a capital F, but I like to talk about the women of the 21st century.'

What about the opposition?

JB: 'I've never met her, but I've a high regard for her. I'd hate this to be presented as her versus me.'

LF: 'London AM is trying to have it both ways. They're saying they are not just for women but men as well. Good luck to them, but I don't believe they can get it together so quickly.'

Who thought of it first?

JB: 'We've been working on this for a year. A number of people in broadcasting began listening to the radio, asking how we could do it differently. Emap (owner of Kiss FM) had the same idea and Terry Smith, one of their directors, is a friend.'

LF: 'The idea came from Golden Rose (owner of Jazz FM). They called me three months ago. Joan Bakewell has jumped on the bandwagon. If she says she's been working on it for a year, who am I to argue?'

LYNNE FRANKS

Status: Fashion, pop and

entertainment publicist extraordinaire.

Age: 44.

Famous for: 'Being Absolutely Fabulous' (TV sitcom starring Jennifer Saunders which lampooned her).

Style: Brash, loud, abrasive, go-getting, enthusiastic, tiring. Padded shoulders and garish trouser suits.

Background: North London Jewish, butcher's daughter. Left school at 16. Never looked back.

First job: Chopping meat. At 17, secretary to Eve Pollard at Petticoat magazine. Started own PR agency at 23. Sold it for pounds 6m in the 1980s.

Children: Two, aged 16 and 14. Parted from her husband, Paul Howie, last year after 22 years, but on better terms than ever.

Religion: Formerly Nichiren- sho-shu Buddhist. Used to chant for two hours a day, but gave up last year after growths on vocal chords.

Private agenda: 'Bringing out the feminine side of myself . . . rediscovering the mother principle. I've somehow managed to claw myself back from the brink of self-destruction.'

JOAN BAKEWELL

Status: Deeply meaningful television presenter.

Age: 60.

Famous for: Being 'The Thinking Man's Crumpet' (Frank Muir).

Style: Solid, intelligent, serious-minded, fragrant, hard- working. Dresses for the vicar's tea party.

Background: Working class, Stockport High School for Girls and Cambridge. Said to have gone into the lavatory and come out talking posh.

First job: BBC studio manager, putting on the signature tune of Mrs Dale's Diary. Began doing radio interviews. A TV star in Late Night Line-Up 1965-72 when she was famous for short skirts and smart questions.

Children: Two, both grown up. Parted from first husband, Michael Bakewell, after 17 years. 'We both did things we shouldn't have done.' Now married to Jack Emery, 12 years younger.

Religion: A brand of C of E. Presents BBC religious programme Heart of the Matter.

Private agenda: 'I'm like a whirlwind . . . TV is enormously powerful. I still love doing it and I hope to continue for another 20 years.'

(Photograph omitted)

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