The headline of today's post alone ought to generate some raised eyebrows. But the fact is, this question is asked a lot in media circles.
And the fascinating thing about this bold query is how different media verticals view the battle of the genders through different lenses and filters.
Let's start with voice, the fast-rising platform occupying more and more gadgets. They're the “assistants” we're talking to more and more in our cars, in our kitchens, and our bedrooms. Alexa, Cortana, Google Voice, Siri, as well as the voices that occupy our cars, are becoming parts of the family, helping consumers run and control their media and gadgetry.
Perhaps you've noticed that most of these voices are decidedly female. And that's no accident. In fact, there's a news site that focuses on diversity and sexuality out of Western Australia – OUTinPerth – and they say women simply test better when it comes to voice command hardware and software.
They quote a Stanford professor and author, Clifford Nass, who boils it down this way:
“It’s much easier to find a female voice that everyone likes than a male voice that everyone likes. It’s a well-established phenomenon that the human brain is developed to like female voices.”
Talk to most people who've worked in the radio industry for any length of time and they may tell you just the opposite.
OUTinPerth notes that a few years back, Amazon tested a series of voices for their Echo smart speakers – and as we well know, ended up with a female voice assistant, the now ubiquitous “Alexa.”
Siri is a female, and while Apple provides an option for a male voice, its devices are shipped with the more familiar female persona. And it's the one most of us end up using.
So, if all this research clearly indicates that a woman's voice is the overall preference, why then are there so many more male voices on the AM and FM airwaves working on the air in broadcast radio?
Last spring, we partnered with Don Anthony's Morning Show Boot Camp to produce AQ, radio's first ever research study among air talent. It was a wide open survey, and a more than ample 1,100 members of radio's personality community took the time to answer our questions, representing the biggest and smallest markets, prominent morning hosts as well as overnight DJs.
Now, there's no census taken in radio, so none of us knows with any certainty the true demography of those working on the air. But I have confidence that with a sample as large as we attracted for AQ, we have a pretty good representation of the people plying their craft behind the mic.
Here's how gender broke out in AQ 2018:
If you work for a radio station in a local market, I'm betting this 3:1 ratio has the ring of reality when you think about the people who walk in and out of your cluster's air studios. And while perhaps there are more women working on the air today than there were in 1999 or 1969, the belief that male DJs are more appealing than their female counterparts must be in play here.
What else would explain why a medium that depends heavily on female listeners to generate ratings and of course, revenue, would be so tipped toward male DJs and hosts?
In every industry, beliefs about what works are passed down like folklore from generation to generation of radio programmers. Like stopset placement, artist separation, and time checks, certain “rules of engagement” are formed over time, becoming as firm as cement, accepted as industry standards.
How many times have we heard (or said) that women on the air in back to back dayparts isn't good for ratings? Or that two female vocalists in a row is “clumpy?”
Or that women would rather listen to men on the radio? But if that's true, how would you explain the iconic appeal of hosts from Delilah to Ellen K. to Dr. Ruth? They've all pulled down pretty good numbers among members of their own gender.
Those types of “isms” become entrenched throughout the entire industry. So, when something like this story in OUTinPerth comes along suggesting tech companies on the scale of Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, and Google have determined that a woman's voice is more appealing than a man's – well, it should make all of us in radio sit up and think about that.
Meantime, in an effort to rid the world – or at least gadgetry – of gender association, a group by the name of Copenhagen Pride and Virtue has created a voice known as Q – billed as “the world's first genderless voice assistant.”
And here's a clip of Q. See what you think:
Personally, Q doesn't do much for me. And while I hate to sound insensitive or politically incorrect, I'd much rather hear production voiced by Randy Thomas or Ann DeWig, or listen to radio shows from the likes of Mandy James, Randi Scott, Ann Delisi, Kristine Stone, or Rita Wilde.
There are a lot of talented women on the airwaves all over North America and the world, not to mention those on the outside, working hard to find their place entertaining and performing on the radio.
Maybe we should suspend “the rules” and admit that in a rapidly changing media landscape, things are indeed changing.
Of maybe they've been this way all along.
More diversity on the airwaves just might make for more interesting sounding stations, and a way to expand the tent to reach audiences otherwise not engaged by broadcast radio.
We'll be in the field later in the spring for AQ2 – the follow-up study.
Let's see if anything's changed in 12 months.