The voices on U.S. sports radio stations are overwhelmingly one-sided—male, that is. While women have made gains in sports television, digital media and print, sports radio remains a male-dominated medium, prompting industry observers to wonder about radio stations’ efforts to advance women on their airwaves.
The country is about to have its first female presidential candidate from a major political party; meanwhile, most top radio markets do not have a single primetime female sports host. Among 200 regular, weekday hosts on sports radio stations in the top 20 markets, only seven are female, according to Jason Barrett, president of consulting firm Barrett Sports Media, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Some women in sports radio are trying to change that and speaking out on issues that female sportscasters confront daily. Those advocates include Julie DiCaro, an update anchor at CBS Radio-owned “The Score” WSCR (670), who made an online video with fellow sportscaster and ESPN Radio weekend host Sarah Spain to combat online threats to female sports broadcasters. In the video, men read back some of the derogatory messages the women had received from male listeners on social media. In the video, called #MoreThanMean, Spain and DiCaro listen to terrible, hateful messages they’ve received, including calls for violence against them. The viral video has gotten nearly 3.5 million views on YouTube.
“After years of working in the sports industry, I’ve grown accustomed to being insulted and threatened for something as simple as an opinion on a player or a game,” Spain told ESPN about making the video.
And while women in other industries similarly face online abuse, Spain says it is acute for sportscasters. “Anger usually isn’t a result of the opinions you’re giving or the words you’re saying, as it usually is with male reporters,” she said. “Instead, insults are personal, often about a woman’s weight or appearance, her sexual history or femininity.”
At WSCR, DiCaro is the only female on the on-air staff. Among the top 100 sports talk shows, only one is hosted by a woman—CBS Sports Radio Network’s Amy Lawrence.
Despite the abysmal stats, some radio programmers are working to boost women’s ranks, in part because many women are sports fans.
Sports radio's audience skews male, ranging from 75% in some markets to as high as 90% in others, according to Nielsen PPM data and published reports. Sports consultant Barrett has estimated the range is between 80 to 90% male. However, in some markets, the female audience may be larger.
In Jacksonville, FL, women account for about half of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars’ fans, according to Steven Griffin, president/general manager for “Jax Sports Radio” WJXL (92.5, 1010), which is the Jaguars flagship radio station. In part to speak to those female fans, WJXL airs a Tuesday-night radio show featuring an all-female cast.
On “Helmets & Heels,” four female hosts talk about football and off-field life for players and coaches, as well as lifestyle segments, such as game fashion and tailgating recipes. “It is for women by women and it isn’t all Xs and Os,” Griffin told Inside Radio recently. “If women are 50% of the fan base, it makes all the more sense to do it.”
On a national level, ESPN Radio is expanding its roster of female hosts, seeing female listeners as an untapped audience. “The next opportunity in the genre that we play in are women,” ESPN’s senior VP, Production, Business Divisions Traug Keller said at the recent Hivio Audio Future Festival. “Women are becoming more and more sports fans. They have been incredibly under-served.”
So far this year, the network has launched several new shows with female hosts, including “The Trifecta,” featuring espnW writers Kate Fagan, Jane McManus and Spain, airing Saturdays from noon to 3pm, and “Will & Kate,” with Fagan alongside ESPN contributor Will Cain. Spain also hosts a new podcast series for ESPN titled “That’s What She Said.”
ESPN is incubating these shows on the weekends, just as it does with other new programs and hosts. Said Keller: “I think by giving a diverse set of talent on the weekend their 10,000 hours to get good, I think you’ll see a changing face of ESPN Radio.”