What Do Women Want? Gloria Steinem Knows
September 15, 2006

Rosie O’Donnell is really into girl talk these days, and not only as co-host of “The View.” Ms. O’Donnell, along with Jane Fonda, Billie Jean King, Gloria Steinem, and “Friends” creator Marta Kauffman, are backers of a new talk radio network by women and for women.

Called GreenStone Radio and with $3.1 million in venture capital funding, the network was launched this week at a party at Manhattan’s Museum of Radio and Television.

Ms. Fonda cited research that has shown that women are not satisfied with talk, news, or information currently on the air

“There is an enormous market opportunity out there,” she said. “Women are looking for smart and engaging talk radio.”

Ms. Steinem has also complained that commercial radio “has become less about community and more about conflict, less about improving ourselves and more about being angry at the world.” She is critical of the current right wing slant of talk radio, with commentators such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, the most popular voices on the air.

But both Ms. Fonda and Ms. Steinem deny that GreenStone will have a leftwing political bent, even though the programs originate from the financially troubled studios of liberal radio pioneer Air America and the network’s president, Susan Ness, was a Clinton Administration FCC Commissioner. Also included on the board is Robin Morgan, the “Global Editor” of Ms. magazine, which Ms. Steinem created more than 30 years ago at the height of the Women’s Liberation movement.

“When it comes to political issues, we really want to have both sides have their say,” Jim LaMarca, the network’s vice president and one of the few men on the executive team, said. “We are really trying to go out of our way to be fair.”

Yet Ms. Steinem has made it clear that one of the reasons for launching the network is to give voice to opinions different from those forwarded by leading talk show hosts, and she has implied that women, just because they are women, would, inevitably have moderate or liberal viewpoints.

GreenStone is producing nine hours of programming a day, which also can be heard on its Web site. The shows concentrate on typical women’s media topics including health care, raising kids, celebrities, and even “what to do with a frozen chicken.”

Ironically, this was exactly the type of female-friendly fare that Ms. Steinem once scorned when she launched Ms., insisting women were being deprived by male publishers and advertisers of more serious subject matter.

“I don’t know if this means she thinks second-wave feminism has won or lost,” Michelle Bernard, President of the Independent Women’s Forum, a Washington-based women’s policy group, said. “But she has certainly gone full circle. Now she seems to be a proponent of what she once decried.”

Indeed, Ms. Steinem seems to be endorsing the fact that women really are interested in hearing “the pros and cons of kids in sports” and tips on “dead giveaways to tell if he’s married,” both of which were topics on recent GreenStone programs, and have always been and remain basic women’s magazine content.

Others wonder if radio for and about women will really be popular with a female audience. Research has shown that younger women are not listening to the radio, probably because they’re getting what they want (both information and music) on the Internet and TV.

But if they are, there is the question if today’s radio is as devoid of women’s voices or women’s opinions as Ms. Fonda and Ms. Steinem maintain.

Major female radio personalities include Dr. Laura Schlessinger and Dr. Joy Browne as well as Delilah, a talk and music host on the West Coast. And there are popular female political commentators as well, several of whom are conservatives, including Laura Ingraham and Martha Zoeller. In New York, Joan Hamburg, a mainstay on WOR, has a popular morning show on which she dispenses advice and information and interviews celebrities, authors, and newsmakers. Her former producer, Heather Cohen, is now GreenStone’s New York head of programming.

“But there are a hundred talk show hosts who are male and still very few that are women,” Edie Hilliard, the network’s chief operating officer, maintains. “And there is so much programming for women on all other types of media. There’s the morning shows and Oprah on television. There is Martha Stewart and Oprah on satellite radio. It’s commercial radio which is 20 years behind the times.”

GreenStone’s hosts include comedians Maureen Langan, Cory Kahaney, and Nelsie Spencer, as well as a newcomer to radio, Lisa Birnbach, the author of “The Preppy Handbook.”

“They are all very ‘New York,’ ” Mr. La Marca acknowledges, “but I know they will play across America.”

So far, most critics are taking a wait and listen attitude. Ms. Bernard thinks the network has potential, “but only if it isn’t a megaphone for the views of left-of-center women.”

But if GreenStone is only a higher voice and not a different one, then what’s the point? And if it’s broadcasting the same things that TV, magazines, and the Internet already tell women, then is the market really as enormous as GreenStone’s founders seem to think?