WMC News & Features

Feminists Pioneer 'Conversation' Radio


With a new radio show, "Women's Media Center Live," about to launch, the author, executive editor of Raw Story, talks to radio hosts who are changing the sound and scope of talk radio.

Utter the words "talk radio" in a group of women in 2012, and you're likely to conjure up for them images of Rush Limbaugh's spittle-inflected rant against Sandra Fluke in which he called her a "slut" to the delight of his sycophantic "Dittoheads" from coast to coast. Whole organizations like Media Matters and reporters like those at Mediaite have dedicated untold bytes to (and made untold dollars by) documenting the excesses of the mostly male bloviators of right-wing radio.

But while much of the mainstream debate focused on the men who could bellow the most, feminists have been quietly leading a radio revolt in which sound bites don't dominate, commercials interrupt more rarely and people talk to, rather than at, one another.

Robin Morgan, whose show "Women's Media Center Live" starts Sunday August 26 on 1480 AM in Washington D.C., said, "We call [the show] talk radio with a brain because, let's face it, most talk radio is mostly brainless, it's a shouting match." On her show, she added, "There will be no screaming in this. There will be intelligent conversation, that will be funny—feminists do have a sense of humor, surprise!—and thoughtful and truth-based."

Rose Aguilar hosts "Your Call Radio" on KALW in San Francisco and agreed with Morgan's characterization of the stereotype of talk radio. "Radio can be, if you're talking about AM of course, really ugly," she said. "It can be mean, you're talking in sound bites, you can be cut off."

Susan Thom Loubet, who hosts "Women's Focus" on KUMN public radio in Albuquerque, New Mexico, said that the lack of "sound bite" journalism is what draws her listeners and her guests. "It's public radio, so it's people who are used to listening to things in depth more, and they want more out of the time they spend listening," she said, adding, "We have a serious audience, and they're interested in more than just sound bites."

But being a feminist on the radio means more than just speaking in paragraphs rather than sentences. They are all cognizant that, as Morgan and Aguilar pointed out, only 13 percent of their counterparts are women and—more importantly—only about 20 percent of the guests are women, even on more liberal networks like NPR. Aguilar also pointed to a study by the 4th Estate that women are called on as experts in media less than one-third of the time, even on women's issues.

"We make a conscious effort to bring on women, young women, women of color, women who've never been on radio before," to counter that, Aguilar said, adding, "It's always better to take the initiative to bring on a woman guest, because when you call organizations for experts, they'll often offer a man first."

Callie Crossley, the host of "Boston Public Radio" on WGBH, said that opening up the dialogue to new voices was part of her personal mission as a journalist. "If that's the only legacy I leave, I am proud of doing that," she said. Crossley explained further that she made not always calling the "usual suspects" a condition of her employment: "When I was invited to do the program, the very first thing I said to everyone, the people who hired, the producer assigned to work with me, anyone who was listening, I said, 'I am not having the same folk on this show, in terms of guests.'"

Desi K. Robinson, who hosts WBAI's "Women In The Makings" in New York City, said, "The perspective of women and people of color and other underrepresented groups remains important because we do not live in a homogenized world. I hate when people say, 'We're all the same.' I think we're not all the same and that's what makes it interesting and wonderful to be in the world."

Robinson, like most feminist hosts, goes out of her way to book guests from a diverse range of backgrounds and perspectives—and acknowledges that she feels obligated to do so. "There is a little bit of pressure that comes when you are the first or the only or one of the few," she said, "You feel compelled to have to represent every viewpoint that is not being talked about on the landscape of women or the landscape of black people. So I try really hard to maintain an open ear and an open eye to various things, but I also try to use my particular show and my particular voice to showcase a broad range of topics and a broad range of perspectives."

Meghan Murphy, the co-host of "Feminist Current" out of Vancouver, BC, feels the same pressures described by Robinson. "Doing feminist radio means you are filling a gap," she wrote. "You are responding to dominant ideology and confronting mainstream media. " She added, "As a woman and a feminist, I obviously try to prioritize voices of women and of perspectives that are otherwise marginalized by the mainstream media."

Molly Adams, who co-hosts "Feminist Wednesdays" with a more conservative male co-host on Vocalo 89.5 out of Chicago, knows from experience that showcasing the perspectives of underrepresented people doesn't lead to perfect understanding. "What's really different for me is that there are some feminist issues that for me aren't 'political' issues at all," she said. "You can be accused of making something 'political' when you're talking about your life and your life experiences or when you're talking about another women's life or life experiences. But they are basic equality issues, not 'political' issues."

But after three years on the air, Crossley sees the fact that her competitors are now calling the new sources she worked hard to find as a vindication of her efforts. "Any community or any scenario, I firmly believe that there are ways to broaden the conversation and include a multiplicity of voices." And, she added, it's inherently part of the job of a journalist. "If you are elevating the value of journalism, if you are expanding the conversation, because we all know that there are more than two perspectives on any story, then it's your job to find out and ferret the different perspectives and present them to your audience."

To access a live stream with video of the debut of "Women's Media Center Live," this Sunday, August 26, from 3 to 4 PM eastern time, click on WMClive.com. A transcript of each week's program will post Mondays on WomensMediaCenter.com, and podcasts will be available on iTunes, with videos on YouTube.

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