Women Light Up Morning Radio

Nina Reeba

   Have you noticed a lot more women on morning radio lately? I've heard some say when there's more than three of anything, it's a trend. More and more women are showing up in a time slot that was formerly reserved for men. As recently as the early '80s, women were heard mainly on late-night and overnight shifts. If they piped up at all during the day, they were usually reading the news. My, how things have changed.
   For the last three years I was part of a morning team on KiFM hosted by the entertaining Susan DeVincent. Unfortunately for me, the management decided the program was "perceived as being too female-oriented." Now that doesn't mean that there were too many women or that women weren't a good thing. But for some unexplained reason, being perceived as "female-oriented" was the downfall, according to the program director. I couldn't make sense of it, since KiFM is one of only two radio stations in San Diego County that features women in two prime-time slots: DeVincent in the morning and Lynda Smith in afternoon-drive. Go figure. KiFM isn't the only "female-oriented" station in town.
   Over at Rock 102, Shanon Leder recently moved from midday back to her old morning-drive time slot. Her old partner, Kevin Cranker, was let go. Rock 102 also has the hard-rocking Peg Pollard as its afternoon-drive DJ. DJ Karen Harlow, better known as Cha Cha Marconi, also made the jump to mornings at Jammin' Z90. She's survived innumerable format and management changes over the last nine years. For the last few months, she's hosted the morning show with comedian Rene Sandoval. Jan Darwin handles the news. Darn, almost had a trio of women. (Rene's a guy.) Evidence of even more women in the morning can be found all over the FM dial. Perky Pat Brown co-hosts KYXY's morning show with Sonny West. B100 recently contributed to this roster by hiring the husky-voiced Jools Brandt for its morning show. Jools can be heard with temporary co-hosts Frank Anthony and Larry Himmel. The remaining women on FM stations heard during morning-drive are usually reading the news. You can hear the sonorous tones of Shelly Dunn matching wits in the a.m. with Dave Rickards and my hero, the hilarious Cookie "Chainsaw" Randolph on KGB.

   Otherwise, female traffic reporters seem to take up the slack in the morning and add some balance to the all-male shows. Jeff & Jer frequently interact with the giggly Laura Cain on Q106, while KJQY has Jim Doyle and Metro Traffic Monica Zech. On KCLX, former newswoman Cindy Manbeck plays straight person on my new favorite morning show: "Rumble and Thrower" with the talented Mike Dale on the newsbeat. 91X goes against the integrated grain with Berger, Prescott & Nailz and a male traffic reporter. Russ T. Nailz defends the male bastion by claiming "Miss Julia" is a regular part of the show. Nice try, Russ. I still miss the days when Russ and Cynthia Heath-Kerrigan cracked up together. Management dropped Cynthia from the program last year when 91X switched from Airwatch to Metro Traffic. But the drama between the traffic reporting firms is a story for another column.
   While digging in the San Diego radio archives - memories of old DJs- I find that 91X is the only FM station with a track record of hiring women on its morning shows. Before "John and Mary" did the morning show. Shortly thereafter, Russ T. Nailz co-hosted a show in the morning with Sue Delaney, who is now lying on a beach somewhere in the Caribbean, contemplating three job offers. Pam Wolfe and Katie Manor, who entertained listeners with their knowledge of music, took over morning duty through the '80s.
Larry Himmel co-hosted a morning show with Laurel Lee on B100 in the early '80s before the Rich Brothers ruled. Remember when Ashley Gardner started at 13-K (KGB-AM, which is now KPOP) in the early '80s? But, alas, she had a day gig. I was impressed, however, because it was rare to find women anywhere on the AM band at the time.
   KFMB-AM made a lot of personnel changes recently. One of the biggest was the hiring of Ms. Rollye James for the evening talk show vacated by Bill Ballance. There never has been a full-time female talk-show host in the coveted morning slot. The only women who came close are Geni Cavitt at KFMB 760 AM in the midday slot and Danuta, who worked afternoon-drive at KSDO AM about three years ago.

   Why is broadcast management so guarded about its morning shows? One reason is the bottom line. As the bulk of listeners tune in while driving to work each morning, the station sells the most expensive commercials at that time. It's realistic to expect radio stations to act just like other businesses, which try to maximize profit while rendering the best service possible. But listeners should know that some overpaid consultants and researchers have been telling programmers that people don't like listening to women on the radio. I say that's a lie. My own personal survey, albeit unscientific, indicates both men and women enjoy hearing female voices in the morning, as well as during other time slots. Listeners called us to say they don't like hearing bimbos.
   As a public service, I'm offering a few clues for program directors who are considering air talent choices in the future. Kelly Cole is languishing on overnights at KiFM; Coe Lewis and Denise Westwood are much too talented to be stuck on weekends - even though it is at KGB; and veteran Diana Vincent is using her considerable skills on a mere weekend shift at KCLX.
   While it's great to work anywhere in radio, if that's one's chosen profession, I know how frustrating it is to be stuck on weekends and overnights when one has already paid her dues and has enough talent for more suitable and better-paying air shifts. Especially when one is equal to her male counterparts.

   Women have fought long and hard for equal rights and considerations in radio and elsewhere. I'm asking listeners and programmers alike to judge women as individuals. The next time you laugh during a morning radio show, ask yourself if the gender of the jock delivering the line really matters. Entertainment is the theme of most morning shows, and as long as the on-air personality can deliver the goods, so be it.

Nina Reeba is a 13-year San Diego radio veteran.
She's worked as a traffic reporter for Airwatch,
a talk show producer for KSDO, a features/entertainment
on-air reporter for KiFM and as a DJ for KSDS.

The opinions expressed in this column are
those of the writer and not necessarily of
Radio San Diego Magazine.

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