Belfast Telegraph

Call for Northern Ireland radio bosses to put more female voices into top slot

Caroline Fleck
Caroline Fleck
Carolyn Stewart
Kerry McLean

By David O'Dornan

Radio stations here need to follow the example of network programmers and have more female presenters on their prime time weekday shows, according to one of the organisers of a festival supporting women in music.

Charlene Hegarty, one of the co-ordinators of Women's Work running from June 5-9, said that "there's work to be done" when it comes to women fronting high-profile radio slots.

The festival, in its fourth year, will be holding a free event called Revolution Radio, where a panel of guests will discuss whether there has been "a seismic shift from the historically double-decked male dominance" in Britain.

The billing points to examples such as Zoe Ball and Sara Cox - both at the UK's most popular station, Radio 2. Ball has taken over the coveted breakfast slot from Chris Evans, and Cox hosts the drive time show.

One of the panel at the Oh Yeah Music Centre event will be Downtown's Caroline Fleck who along with U105's Carolyn Stewart and BBC Radio Ulster's Kerry McLean, are the only women in Northern Ireland to present their own weekday daytime shows.

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Carolyn Stewart

Apart from those three, the only women regularly on air in the Monday to Friday primetime hours are breakfast co-presenters: Rebecca McKinney (Cool FM with Peter Snodden and Paulo Ross), Cate Conway (Q Radio with Stephen Clements), Denise Watson (U105 with Maurice Jay) and Karen Patterson (BBC's Good Morning Ulster).

While some women do have their own programmes at stations here in the evenings and at weekends, Charlene would like to see more prime opportunities for women.

She said: "In the UK there was a massive restructure and in January it all took effect.

"It was quite astonishing from our perspective watching it, the amount of females that came to the fore there who are dominating the really prime time slots on key stations.

"That's really good and we take a lot of heart in that but there's definitely work to be done.

"Again, I think that's the whole ethos of Woman's Work, that there's work there to be done and we're not going to shy away from it and we'll celebrate best case examples as a means to try and encourage other people to follow suit. There have been new initiatives by the BBC to try and get young voices into the BBC and pushing on the female side of that as well, so maybe there's somewhat of an understanding that they've fallen behind but whether the action follows just as quick as that remains to be seen.

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Kerry McLean

"We've got this radio event and we're trying to be agents for positive change here.

"We want to raise the visibility of Women's Work and the festival because we believe in it. We're not afraid or going to shy away from the difficult conversations."

The BBC said: "We are constantly reviewing our schedule to make sure we are bringing our audiences the best talent across our programmes.

"We recognise the importance of having women presenters and have been working to develop a range of new voices for radio."

Q Radio programme manager James Devlin said the station "has championed female talent over the years", adding: "At present, the group has three fantastic female presenters - Cate Conway on Q Breakfast, Yazz Zemmoura on Q Weekend Breeze, and Olga Kaye on The Q.

"Edna Gibson has also been contributing to Breakfast for the last six months and has proved hugely popular with listeners.

"Women make up more than half of the newsroom staff at Q Radio and the company as a whole has a majority of female employees.

"We'd welcome more women presenting their own shows, but when we look for new talent, the vast majority of applications come from men. This is something we hope will change and we certainly intend to play our part in making this change happen."

On behalf of Cool FM and Downtown, Gary Stein, group programme director at Bauer, said they were "giving more opportunities for women to forge a successful career in broadcasting".

He added: "Bauer has been championing big initiatives to encourage more women, not just on air, but also in production and content roles throughout our radio network.

"A great example is with Downtown Country, now having Kirstie McMurray single-handedly carrying the all-important breakfast show on the station, as such, it's the only station here that has a Solus female breakfast presenter.

"Our other two breakfast shows also feature Rebecca McKinney and Rachael Anderson on Cool FM and Downtown Radio respectively."

U105 and parent company News UK did not respond to a request for comment.

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