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Are there no funny women on FM radio?

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Mass culture has produced no form more lifeless than radio journalism. If you’re yet to read this stuff, please, don’t start now. That modest rise in Radio Shitstack’s 18-24 demographic is only of interest to shareholders, and that monumental rise in some twit’s salary can be only of interest to masochists. Reports of broadcast radio so rarely mention broadcast. The business of this writing is almost always business, so is likely no business of yours.

You may wonder that statements without general appeal can continue to be made in general publications. I have wondered my way to this theory: radio journalism is a legal form of abuse. Entertainment editors can no longer easily garotte young reporters, so they suffocate them with the ratings beat instead.

A poll this week gave us “FM Radio’s Top 20 comedians”.

The radio trade paper is a more specialised form of punishment. Publications like Jocks’ Journal, a photocopied collation of old jokes and new appointments when I first read it as a young broadcaster in the 1990s, addressed a worker niche. What this print mag and the first local online trade AMT, now RadioInfo, did not and could not address were the creative possibilities for the medium.

We should note here I was a bit of a wanker. In fact, I am a bit of a wanker and have long been unable to perform any sort of labour without the sense that it could be truly made my own. I have found this tendency to be as unwelcome in the call-centre as it is in broadcast media. The worker is so often required to follow a boss’s script.

Radio trade papers, which are often produced by former radio bosses, explicate this script. A worker learns to understand industry terms like “positioning” or “cume” or, “you know, it’s not sexual harassment if we’re both in a pub when it happens”. Very useful if you’re the sort who longs to remain employed. Useless if you’re the sort who has trouble ever returning to the box you were asked to think outside of at a weekend staff retreat.

Radio trade mags are intended not to elevate the work of broadcast but to efficiently diminish the broadcast worker. Radio trade mags distance the worker from the possibility of creative labour.

If we do not count “Where the fuck is my name?”, my first response to this list was crudely feminist. Just one lady and nineteen chaps is unconscionable sexism etc.

So, what these business documents can never provide is a true account of broadcast itself. If it’s all market share, messaging and ways to please some Adult Contemporary gobshite boss from the lower north shore, there can be no legitimate criticism of what comes out of the radio. They can describe this as a commodity only. They cannot tell us if it is good or bad. They only know if it has been profitable.

But, the managers, or aspiring managers, who produce and consume a publication called Radio Today decided to give cultural criticism a go. A poll published this week gave us “FM Radio’s Top 20 comedians”.

If we do not count “Where the fuck is my name?”, my first response to this list was crudely feminist. Just one lady and nineteen chaps is unconscionable sexism etc., I thought, before searching again for my name.

I then read that “The list has been compiled by reader votes.”

Hm. Unless we take “reader” to mean one expensive white bro from the lower north shore, this claim is rather odd. Joke-cracking women are no longer in short supply in FM radio and it is seems unlikely that “reader” could overlook moneymaking names that include Denise Scott, Kate Langbroek, Jo Stanley, Wendy Harmer, Chrissie Swan, Yumi Stynes or Amanda Keller. That anyone at all could ever overlook the name of Fifi Box is just impossible. I have never heard the lady but remain confident that she is funny. You just can’t live life as a Box and then come to think inside it.

Perhaps you and I shall never learn the true reason for the absence of women from a list in a journal few will ever read.

Naturally, I have shared these thoughts with the publication and demanded a full account of their data collection methods. Naturally, I was in a mood when I sent this request and may have included some colourful written memories about a radio manager we’ll call Craig. Craig reeked of high-end drug vomit every Monday. Craig went to a charming private school. Craig reconstituted his fragile masculinity every morning by electing to despise all women. He defined himself by what he was not. And what he was not was functional, yours etc.

Perhaps you and I shall never learn the true reason for the absence of women from a list in a journal few will ever read. Of course, we could simply say “sexism” and leave it at that, but this is an inadequate answer. We could also say that racism is responsible for an over-representation by honkies. Both these things are true, of course, but neither is truly explanatory.

Some readers have asked the editor to explain the lady shortage. He answers,

“It’s a great question. And one we debated internally while reviewing the reader-voted results. Australian radio certainly isn’t short of magnificent female comedic talent. So standby, Radio Today will publish The 15 Funniest Women in FM Radio next week, with a new poll to open this week.”

These words do not attempt to convey an explanation. They help explain the tendencies of managers nonetheless.

To be among the 15 Funniest Women is not to be among the 20 Funniest Comedians.

If our editor genuinely deemed the question of absent women to be great, or even worthy, he would have answered it. He would have told us a little about the culpable “reader”—I still suspect it’s Craig—and would not have told us that the “female” would be honoured next week in her own assuaging category. To be among the 15 Funniest Women is not to be among the 20 Funniest Comedians. To be among those who cannot sniff this as marginalising condescension is to be just the sort of manager that can make any creative endeavour a truly miserable business.

Radio is a miserable business. Managers that cling to baseless orthodoxies of any sort—sexism, racism, the belief that audiences can be mathematically described—do not foster creativity or cheer. They constantly seek profit and they assiduously avoid all risk. To radio management, any joke is a risk. Any joyous act of human productivity is a threat to profit, until it has sold an ad for insurance at drive time.

That anyone can make a joke within this miserable business is a miracle. That few have ever written about the joke-killing medium is really no surprise.

21 responses to “Are there no funny women on FM radio?

  1. Hello.
    Is your closing sentence of first par an intended echo of Milton Friedman’s “The business of business is business”? Or just a coincidence? Either way, love your work. And I reckon you dead funny – I chanced upon an older article of yours yesterday, and chortled aloud at the phrase “Well slap my arse and call me Red October”.

    1. Alan. It was not intentional. But, I do happen to live with a great loathing of Milty, so I may have been influenced.
      Let me know if I start quoting von Mises.

  2. The fact that you put Kate Langbroek second in your own list says it all. If she makes their new Top 15 next week, the state of comedy in Australia is even worse than I thought.

      1. Haw haw. Well it ain’t alphabetical, is it? My point is that she shouldn’t be mentioned in the same sentence as comedy, let alone one of the first that springs to mind… but you knew that.

  3. If I hear any comedian say “f—k” as part of their repertoire I immediately know they are not classy comedians, not requiring any cerebral input to understand any of their punchlines. It is the equivalent of old TV & picture comedies slamming cream pies into each others faces. Not really funny to raise a smile.

  4. Survey obviously centred around eastern cities. No mention of Adelaide. But then again, being a resident I can verify the complete lack of funny women (unless we include Vicky Chapman) in this town. Tory Shepherd can be scathing but that’s a different story…

  5. “Denise Scott, Kate Langbroek, Jo Stanley, Wendy Harmer, Chrissie Swan, Yumi Stynes or Amanda Keller.”

    I just don’t know Helen, but my thinking on this is that firstly, does Denise Scott do radio? (I seriously didn’t know)

    Kate Langbroek, Chrissie Swan, Yumi Stynes, aren’t they exclusively Melbourne? I wouldn’t know them except for appearances on The agony aunts series, which I loved, and some of the D Generation productions on channel 10.

    So that leaves Wendy Harmer, who hasn’t raised a genuine laugh in decades, if ever, and Amanda who is smart as a whip and modestly funny.

    And how did you miss out, well, fair question, but I never heard you on radio, yep, that was during my ‘I refuse to listen to triple J while all they will play is rap’ period. Sorry about that, I really only know of your talents through your writing (more scathing than humorous, I would have thought, not that there’s anything wrong with scathing).

    I am continually amazed that Wendy Harmer has gone so far.

    But yeah, it is commercial radio, and mostly I haven’t listened to commercial radio in 20 years, to my benefit.

  6. Yes, Helen, you’re a wanker, but that’s no reason to ignore ABC Radio National. Lots of life in its journalism; lots by women.

    1. Not sure of your critique, here.
      This is not an article in which I recommend things. I am looking at recommendations by others.
      And the recommendations were confined to a pretty specific category. Funniest comedians on FM radio. RN is on the AM band and not often in the comedy business.

  7. Thank you for mentioning RadioInfo, which you correctly identified as a trade publication for people who work in radio and not the general public. We make no apology for that. With Survey 1 for metropolitan markets released last week, we covered the results in a clinical manner as our readers expect us to do eight times a year.

    However, our regular readers know that outside of surveys we do plenty of articles about talent and creativity. In respect of funny women in radio (without ranking them) you may have missed our story about that very subject and the gender pay gap.’-it-themselves

  8. Just following this thread added a bit of humour too my day. Thanks Helen. I did find the comments thought provoking& more than a little interesting.. Well done as always..

  9. As someone who used to work in in radio (legal) I can say that without a doubt Amanda Keller is one of the funniest people on radio. And one of the nicest.

    Ratings parties were (and I suspect, remain) horrendous affairs where congratulations go to decimal point audience increases and the knives sharpen to sack quickly (and expensively) the ‘talent’ that haven’t delivered a .1 cume increase – to be replaced with someone just slightly different but not too different because audiences are generally held in contempt by most directors.

    But you’re right about one thing: the high end drugs were always on supply – which may go most of the way to explaining why FM commercial radio is as homogenous, white and flavour free as milk.

  10. From my reading of her article, it would seem what Helen Razer is advocating is a rigged survey. Sort of like a quota system in employment, where women, ethnic migrants or indigenous minorities are selected ahead of anglo-saxon males, even if those anglo-saxon males might have better qualifications for the job.

    Don’t get me wrong, I support the idea of favouring women, Aborigines or migrants for positions when there is a situation of a group of people who are equally qualified for that position. But if I want to hire a person to do electronic repair work on my expensive computer systems, I’m not going to hire a woman who recently learned how to wire up a three-pin plug over a man with a certificate IV in electronics…just the same as I wouldn’t hire a man over a woman if those situations were reversed.

    So the survey (and I am at a disadvantage since I didn’t see the article) presumeably asked people to nominate their favourite radio comedian/comedienne. Now, once again, if the question were put to me and I thought a certain man was a better comedian than a certain woman, am I meant to nominate the woman instead so that we can meet some sort of quota? That just doesn’t make sense. Furthermore, it’s sexist…I would be nominating a woman purely on the basis that she was a woman.

    The other question I would put is what was the gender make up of the survey respondents? How many women decided to respond to the survey as opposed to how many men?

    True sexism, just like racism, is abhorrent and should not be tolerated. But those words are thrown about far too easily, simply because there are some in our society who think their opinions should be blindly followed by the rest of us. Surely, shouldn’t true equality mean allowing us to make up our own minds about who we like as our entertainers?

    1. Fuck, dude. Can you even alphabet? Your reading comprehension is all over the shop, here.
      Let me break it down.
      I said that trade publications, and those that read them, are not real good at cultural criticism. I did not say Women Were Better and I did not attempt to interrupt your This Is A World Of Merit where, what was it “Aborigines” shouldn’t ever be favoured.
      Well. For a start, I don’t think there was any mention of Aboriginal people, right? Like, you put that in there because it fits your view of a world where Political Correctness Has Gone Mad, or whatevs.
      Second, who ever favoured Aboriginal people? Like, seriously. What the shit are they have supposed to have been the beneficiaries of ? Give me details.
      Third. Seriously.
      Finally, I do not give one nth of a shit about “awards” doled out to the ladies. I requested that the site remove my name from their Little Miss Second Best poll.
      I am just making the fucking point that profit changes everything it touches, and changes it more when it changes it directly. And, seriously. Are folks so thick and/or deluded about their ability to understand or make an argument that they just get about on the internet pretending that everything that twit Andrew Bolt said represents all basic problems.
      I mean. Fuck.

      1. Not only am I able to “alphabet”, as you so succinctly put it, I am also able to make a point without resorting to cheap abuse and an expletive laden rant.

        All I did was proffer an opinion. I never resorted to any belittling of you or your thoughts, I simply disagreed with them.

        If that is the best attempt you can make at responding to an opinion that just happens to differ to yours, it is clear you have made a career that is certainly not based on your intellectual merits or any sense of decency.

        1. Look, Lord Muck. Your “preferred opinion” may be absent of curses, but this doesn’t make it any less diminishing or vulgar.
          There is in my text no basis for your claim that a “rigged survey” is advocated. You have missed the broader point, which in no way can said to be consonant with or supportive of the view that little ladies or “Aborigines” need awards from rarely visited websites.
          Your reading comprehension is at issue here. You have attributed to a text a range of assumptions you make about an opinion you have not taken the trouble to understand.
          This is an arts and culture review site. We discuss arts and culture and sometimes the terms for arts and culture review. My point here is that for-profit business and arts and culture review are rarely compatible and how you got to the “rigged survey” “safe space” conclusion (which replicates Andrew Bolt’s general view) is anybody’s guess.
          Behave yourself.

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