August 20, 2007 — To thunderous acclaim from the liberal intelligentsia, a team of feminist icons – including Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda – last year launched a women-run radio network. The mainstream media dutifully parroted press releases describing the launch as a “breakthrough” for women in the male-dominated world of talk radio.
The Boston Globe, for example, proclaimed that “GreenStone gives women an outlet.” Business Week described the venture as “Talk Radio Minus The Testosterone.”
Last Friday, GreenStone Media signed off for good. Why did this effort fail? After all, the programming carefully was designed by feminist experts to appeal to female tastes. According to Steinem, “women are more and more turned off by the hostility and argumentative nature of AM talk radio.” Greenstone Media was supposed to capitalize on that by offering a different tenor, more “community” and greater respect for different points of views.
GreenStone offered the typical liberal fare – boasting of interviews with Ralph Nader and Alec Baldwin – but also included programming that was downright girly. Morning show segments included “Mean Mommy,” with advice for mothers, and “What’s up with Guys,” providing insights into the elusive male brain.
Similar business plans certainly have succeeded elsewhere. Plenty of media outlets target women – from sappy dramas on Lifetime and Oxygen to family-centered morning shows and magazines – and draw large audiences and big advertising dollars. GreenStone Media sought to imitate those successes. Its Web site explained, “Talk That Women REALLY Want . . . Only Green- stone Media gives you a lineup of personality talk that best appeals to the demo advertisers want most – women 25-54.” It seemed a good sales pitch; certainly advertisers welcome the chance to reach this coveted female audience on the radio.
GreenStone’s problem was it couldn’t attract an audience of either gender. The programming was picked up by only eight affiliates in small to mid-sized markets. Apparently, GreenStone’s programming wasn’t the talk that women really want.
GreenStone’s president and CEO Susan Ness laments the end of its programming as a loss for women, opining that “women need a voice on commercial radio,” and “radio needs women’s voices.” Perhaps Ness should use her time off to tune in to other stations. She’ll find there are many prominent women on the airwaves; they’re just not saying what she thinks they should.
Laura Ingraham, an outspoken conservative and former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Thomas, has been on the air since 2001 and is now heard on 340 stations. Ingraham draws an audience in excess of 5 million, and regularly ranks among the top-10 most influential radio hosts.
Dr. Laura Schlessinger draws an even larger audience with very different programming. It can be best described as an advice show, but is anything but touchy feely. “Dr. Laura” serves as a hard-hitting host, unabashedly lecturing her callers about their morals and values. Other women, such as Martha Zoeller, Janet Parshall and Tammy Bruce, join these two powerhouse hosts.
Of course, most significantly, women don’t just listen to women radio hosts. Women tune in to men on a wide variety of topics. Rush Limbaugh’s 20 million listeners include millions of women. Millions more tune in to hear Sean Hannity and the other conservative, male talk-show hosts around the country. Although Ness may not want to hear it, Limbaugh and conservative talk radio apparently is programming for women.
This doesn’t mean that there isn’t more room for female voices on the airwaves. Women’s and men’s preference for entertainment often do diverge, so a well-crafted program could catch fire with women and change the media landscape.
But it will take more than having “all-female” programming from an “all-female” network. Women want to be entertained and engaged. We don’t listen to radio or (Hillary backers take note) vote out of solidarity.
GreenStone Media’s brand of tepid liberalism didn’t appeal to women. This isn’t a tragedy for women; it’s the market at work. Women will continue to listen to the radio and women talk-show hosts will continue to compete to earn their interest.
Carrie Lukas is the vice president for policy and economics at the Independent Women’s Forum and author of “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex and Feminism.”