When you enter the lobby of CFRB, the popular radio station that bills itself as “Toronto’s News Leader,” the first things you notice are the head shots of all the station’s on-air personalities. The second row on the right-hand wall includes a photograph of Anne Winstanley, who has been a newscaster with the station since 1989. But Winstanley’s 8- by-l 0 glossy seems slightly out of place. That’s because of the 35 staffers shown, only nine photos are of women.
If the photo gallery were just of news staff, Winstanley would still be outnumbered: there are nine regular newscasters at the station, only three of whom are womenand that’s the highest number of female news staff CFRB has ever had. In fact, the station’s first woman newscaster, Marlane Oliver, wasn’t hired until 1979.
The situation for women isn’t much better at the other private English-language stations serving the Metro area. A late-winter survey of the 14 outlets revealed that women make up just 35 per cent of the on-air newscasters. And as surprising as that statistic is, it’s actually on par with the national average.
George Pollard is a Carleton University social sciences professor who has studied employment trends in Canadian radio and other media since 1978. His 1990 study of newsworkers found that 35 per cent of those in radio are women. (In television the comparable figure is a relatively high 42 per cent; in newspapers it drops to 34 per cent.)
As Winstanley says, in classic understatement: “There is a strong male presence throughout this industry.” Gloria Bishop, who’s been in the industry for more than 20 years and is currently director of special projects for CBC Radio, is more blunt: “There isn’t equality of opportunity.”
What accounts for this abysmal record for women? In other male-dominated fieldsengineering, say-one common excuse is that women just aren’t attracted to the business. But this doesn’t hold true for radio news. Women currently make up the majority of students specializing in radio or broadcasting at schools such as London’s Western University, King’s College in Halifax and Toronto’s Humber and Seneca colleges and Ryerson Polytechnical Institute. And this isn’t a recent phenomenon -the population of most Jschools has been at least 50 per cent female for a decade.
Some blame conservative listeners for the preponderance of male news staff, the notion being that audiences don’t think women sound authoritative enough to read the news. While this may have been a common view at one time-largely because listeners had no opportunity to get used to female voices on airit’s abating now. Dave Agar, news director at CFRB, says he only occasionally hears from people objecting to female newscasters. And as he points out, “Generally it’s the older listeners who complain.”
But if this prejudice against female on-air news staff is uncommon among listeners these days, there are still a lot of dinosaurs in management. “It wasn’t that many years ago that management would not allow a woman on in the morning,” Agar recalls. “There was a perception back then that people didn’t like the sound of women’s voices, and there are still some people in this industry who think that.” And those people include the almost exclusively male managers who make hiring decisions. The survey of the 14 Toronto stations found only four female program directors and one female news director-and she works at CFNY, which has a medium-sized audience of 418,000.
Still, it’s not strictly true to say that women haven’t found a niche in radio, though the highest percentage of women are announcing weather and traffic conditions. Andrea Rooz, who graduated from Seneca College’s radio and television arts program in 1990, thinks she knows why. “We’re just there to sound sexy and appealing,” she says. Rooz currently works a split shift at Toronto’s light favourites station, CJEZ, mostly what else? -reporting traffic, although she also does some news reporting and reading. She doesn’t want to be a traffic reporter forever, nor does she want to continue working a split shift for much longer. But she’s not very hopeful of either situation changing soon. Why? “This whole industry seems to be dominated by the male.”
Vince Delilla, director of operations at CJEZ, disputes Rooz’s contention that she was hired to do traffic because she is female. The station wanted her because she “had the right sound,” he explains. He also says that the reason that all three of CJEZ’s newscasters are men-while the only traffic and weather announcer is a woman-is that the recession meant layoffs, and the staff with the most seniority just happened to be male.
Ingrid Tammen, a newscaster at Vancouver’s CKLG, is concerned that women continue to be typecast as weather and traffic reporters. “You can get used to hearing a woman just reading traffic,” she points out. She also recalls an incident last autumn, when the station needed a short-term replacement for its female traffic and weather announcer. She suggested that one of the men at the station fill in. Most of her colleagues were shocked. Her story suggests that not much has changed since two decades ago when Jeffrey Dvorkin, how managing editor and chief journalist for CBC Radio News, entered the business. He tells of a private radio station in Montreal in 1974 where the handful of female broadcasters were referred to as “newsgals”-on the air. “We’ve come a long way since then,” Dvorkin says. Then he concedes that for women in broadcasting “opportunities are still largely that-just opportunities.”
The one exception to this depressing truth is Dvorkin’s own network, where half the newscasters are women. The CBC is different from its private counterparts in another respect: pay levels, which are much higher, largely because most employees are unionized. George Pollard, the Carleton social scientist, researched salaries as part of his newsworker study, and found that the average annual income across all three media surveyed was $36,539. For men in radio news, the figure was $33,352; for women, it was almost $10,000 less. No wonder most of the women I interviewed for this piece suspected that their male colleagues were being paid more than they were.
As lousy as the pay is, at least the women surveyed had jobs. If the Radio-Television News Directors Association is right, even those are in jeopardy. Last September, the association sent an open letter to all broadcasting teachers in the country. In it, the RTNDA’s president, Gary Ennett, cited a recent study the association had carried out, which indicated that fully 45 per cent of radio and TV newsrooms surveyed had trimmed staff in the previous 18 months. “While a full economic recovery may allow for some new jobs to be created,” the letter went on, “the RTNDA is convinced that the current excess supply of journalistic talent will adequately meet most additional demand, at least in the forseeable future.”
Ennett, who is the news director at CFPL in London, isn’t much more upbeat in person. “What we’re seeing in radio is newsrooms being gutted and downsized drastically,” he says. If there’s any good news, it’s that he doesn’t believe it will be any more difficult for women than men to get jobs. In the last three years he’s hired only women for on air positions.
Shari Adamek is the acting executive director of Canadian Women in Radio and Television, a group helping to advance professional women in broadcasting and related fields. She too has a positive outlook. She notes that just trying to find women to interview for this kind of article would have been close to impossible even 10 years ago.
Back at CFRB, there’s hope that Anne Winstanley and her female colleagues may not be so outnumbered forever. Dave Agar recounts how he recently received about 50 audition tapes in response to ads placed in trade publications. He considered only three of them to be good. They all belonged to women.