When it comes to rock ‘n’ roll radio, it’s a man’s world.
From the artists, to the lyrics, to the DJs who play it, the genre is dominated by masculine stereotypes, making it harder for women to break into the scene.
“It’s increasingly male-centric, not only seemingly ignoring or diminishing the female perspective, but also super-serving the male audience to the point where it’s almost creating its own stereotype,” says David Crider, a PhD student in Temple University’s School of Media and Communication. “There is one type of dominant way that you should be if you are a man. These stations have really come to embrace it; some might even say push it. You’ve got to like beer. You’ve got to like football. You’ve got to like aggressive rock music.”
It’s about demographics
Crider, who presented his research on radio and masculinity at the recent National Communication Association conference in Orlando, says it all boils down to money. He believes radio station executives throughout the country have created an atmosphere that caters to the lowest common denominator among the 18-34-year-old man demographic.
It’s a huge shift for a genre of music that embraced voices like Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin and Joan Baez. In the 1970s and 1980s, Joan Jett and Pat Benatar belted their tunes from the radio.
In 2003, while working as program director at an alternative rock station in Chambersburg, Pa., Crider was surprised that his was the only one playing Liz Phair’s new release.
“Just 10 years earlier, she was seen as this major figure in alternative rock music. By 2003, nobody was playing her at all,” he says. “Somewhere along the line, we took a hard turn as we became more niche and fragmented.”
Now, he says stations have latched on to a “token” female band, noting that Halestorm has recently replaced Evanescence as the singular feminine voice on rock music radio.
Beyond the music
Crider’s analysis revealed masculine dominance in every aspect of rock radio, including the announcers, the commercials and how the stations imaged themselves. He discovered a female North Carolina traffic reporter who spoke in a breathy, overtly sexual tone. Most of the female announcers were seemingly there to laugh at their male counterparts. Philadelphia’s WMMR hosts the “Love You, Hate You Line,” which allows listeners to call in to scream and rant about something, which Crider says encourages male aggression.
“It’s not that I want to push for drastic change, because I understand that in radio, you have the commercial imperative to get an audience. It’s not so much telling you, ‘Naughty boys, you need to change your ways,’ as much as it is just spreading awareness, just letting people know that this is out there and also to spotlight the way that women listeners deal with that,” he says.
Crider hopes to further examine the female rock radio audience.
“They want to still listen to the station, but does this mean that they’re passively approving or passively just accepting what they’re hearing? That’s something I’d love to look into.”