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Fred Jacobs: Breaking The Glass Ceiling Air Studio
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Steve Shannon & Mandy James, WZOK Rockford

You learn a lot about radio and where it’s headed when you attend industry conferences.  For me, it’s a fascinating window to the radio business where I get to see numerous sessions, while spending time with people in all walks of radio life.  During the past two weeks, I’ve been fortunate enough to attend both the Conclave and the Morning Show Boot Camp.  Both events share some common themes – especially the element of youth in radio.

L-R Greg Strassell, Bill Hendrich, Peter Bowen, Kevin LeGrett, Joel Denver

At Conclave, the very first event the schedule – “Ask Me Almost Anything” – was a strong one.  It featured iHeartMedia’s Kevin LeGrett, Hubbard’s Greg Strassell, Cox Media Group’s Bill Hendrich, and Cumulus’ Peter Bowen.  Moderated by AllAccess publisher Joel Denver, the panel did a great job of navigating some good questions, and providing candid responses about all things radio

Then the first question came from the audience – and it was a blockbuster.  WZOK morning co-host, Mandy James, stepped up to the mic, and asked:

“If you could change one thing for women in radio, what would it be?”

And there was a moment of silence from the all-guy panel on stage.  Then the execs pointed to the obvious – many of their own companies are run by women.  Ginny Morris, Kim Guthrie, and Mary Berner were quickly mentioned.  And of course, other names came to mind, too.  Mary Quass, Weezie Kramer, Caroline Beasley, and several others who are shining examples of the changing power center of the radio industry.

But Mandy’s question was more focused on her milieu – the air studio.  She’s a Minnesota native who got her first job as a polka DJ on an AM station in Denison, Iowa.  Mandy has worked her way up to the morning co-host role with veteran Steve Shannon at WZOK/Rockford.  She’s wondering what’s next for a personality in her position, and what upward mobility looks like for female DJs and personalities.

And as Mandy looked around the Conclave room, she noted that “the one thing that was really lacking was a female presence.” She later told me that she loves “hearing about the success of women in our industry,” but says women in radio “feel like they are second-class citizen, aren’t taken seriously, are left out of management conversations, don’t get credit for their success, miss out on endorsement opportunities because they aren’t the host of the show, get paid less, and handle most of the workload.”

Whew – that’s a list.

Now, the other side of the conference coin was Morning Show Boot Camp.  And while I didn’t do a hard count of the room, it felt to me like women may have actually outnumbered men attending the conference.  During his interview with Ginny Morris, Scott Shannon looked around the room, and observed how encouraing it was to see so many women in the room.

And it wasn’t difficult to get a sense for what appears to be an industry shift – not just in the corner office, but in the air studio.  Mercedes (“Mercedes in the Morning” on Las Vegas’ Mix 94.1) addressed that issue.  And she shared the stage with Murphy, Sam, & Jodi – a syndicated show where the show’s female – Jodi – is the center of its universe.

Ginny Morris also talked about her company’s often challenging journey with myTalk in her home market – a station geared toward women and entertainment.

But the outstanding issue revolves around opportunity.  And from Mandy’s perspective, some of  same questions linger about where radio is headed when it comes to on-air opportunities for women.

As she told me, “I’m not saying every program director or GM should go out and give every woman at their station a promotion or a raise, but maybe start by advocating for a co-host who wants more air time or an endorsement; if someone asks for the opportunity to learn more about what you do, try to give them some of your time instead of making them feel like they’re just being pushy. The truth is, this isn’t just about putting women in upper management or giving them more air time; we’d all love that, but what the majority of women in this industry want the most, the one thing they would change, is to just be treated like an equal.”

My bet is that every executive in radio – from the corporate office to market managers to PDs want to win and doesn’t care who’s sitting behind the mic.  Talent is talent, and the radio industry never has enough.

But whether the playing field in the studio is leveling is the driving question that Mandy expressed at Conclave, and it came up at various times at Boot Camp. It’s a complicated issue with lots of moving parts.

So, what’s your take?

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