Women in public radio

The corner of the NPR newsroom in 1972, rudely known as "The Fallopian Jungle." Can you spot Linda Wertheimer? Photo: NPR

The Daily Beast, an online news magazine, published a slide show drawn from a recent Newsweek article about the prominent role played by women at NPR, from its earliest days to the present.

Over the years, I’ve been asked about how and why women do seem to be better positioned in our industry–at both the national and local levels. I think some of this is explained in the text accompanying the slide show. But I didn’t see anything about salaries. Certainly in the early days of modern public radio (which I would say begins with the creation of NPR in 1971), employees in our industry were not well paid. The “stars” received considerably less than the stars of commercial broadcasting–journalists and entertainers; and, behind-the-scenes staff received even less.

Here at NCPR, we attracted a lot of women because, well, men in most cases wouldn’t take these jobs for the salaries we offered. I was hired in 1980 for the fabulous annual stipend of $7,000. You can add in inflation and everything else you think relevant and $7,000 a year, even thirty-plus years ago, was not really a living wage. And, if you were the primary wage-earner in your family, you’d need at least one part-time job to supplement this pittance.

These days, the NCPR staff is paid competitively for comparable jobs in our region and our salaries are equal to or slightly better than salaries for similar positions at similar public radio stations across the country.

Oh, and this: for decades, NCPR has been officially recognized by the federal government as a woman-managed broadcasting entity. This  means that most key managerial positions are held by women.

By the way, if you want to see photos of NCPR staff (men and women alike), here’s a link to our staff contact page. And if you’re interested in a blog entry Brian Mann posted a few months ago about women who occupy leadership roles of all kinds across the Adirondack North Country, here’s a link to that.

Okay, this is a bit goofy, but I’m gonna ask it anyway: who is your favorite woman broadcaster–in public or commercial broadcasting, locally or nationally?

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9 Comments on “Women in public radio”

  1. Bob Falesch says:

    That pic is monstrously fun, and the slideshow over at thedailybeast is more than worth a visit. I can’t say I have a favourite, but the first NPR (I’m using this as synonomous with public radio) woman coming to mind is Brooke Gladstone of the fantastic NPR program, “On the Media”. I love all of the women anchors of ME and ATC (but not all of the male ones, alas). Everyone represented in that slideshow, Nina Totenberg, Linda Worthheimer, Susan Stamberg, Cokie Roberts, and Terri Gross is a given in these sweepstakes. CBC has some great women on air as well, including Carol Off, and for ebullience, can anyone top Sook-Yin Lee? Further, CBC has an excellent lineup of magazine programs, and women are nicely represented there.

    For pure, velvety microphone-induced pleasure, I’ll put Jackie Sauter up against any woman on the planet.

  2. Ellen Rocco says:

    Bob–Amen. Jackie is my pick, too.

  3. Hank says:

    Ellen says: “Oh, and this: for decades, NCPR has been officially recognized by the federal government as a woman-managed broadcasting entity. This means that most key managerial positions are held by women.”

    I say: D-u-h-h-h!

    As for favourite women in public radio, I concur with a vote for Jackie (though the greatest single voice in public radio, in my opinion, belongs to Lora Black at NET Radio in Nebraska)

  4. Ellen Rocco says:

    Hank, okay, maybe I defined the obvious (“woman-managed means key managerial positions are held by women”), but I guess I was trying to be clear about what the federal government considers “woman-managed”–the fact that the station manager is a woman is not adequate…a majority of the managerial positions must be held by women. Should have stated this more clearly. And, who’s this Lora Black? On behalf of all the women at NCPR I gotta say this: are you cheating on us?

  5. Pete Klein says:

    To me, when it comes to radio the voice is everything. Naturally, I’m talking on air. Behind the scenes, it shouldn’t matter. But a lousy voice on the radio, male or female, can drive me away from listening.

  6. Jackie Sauter says:

    But really. The greatest woman in public radio is our own Ellen Rocco! She’s a marvelous station manager, keeps us all inspired to do more and better for listeners, hosts the most fabulous blues show on the planet every Tuesday afternoon, contributes to her community in countless ways, and raises some stellar chickens who supply the NCPR staff with terrific and health-giving eggs. Ellen, you are truly a force of nature and an inspiration and we love you.

  7. Ellen Rocco says:

    Thanks, Jackie. Kind of like having a mother boast about her kid…a bit prejudiced and, geez, very embarrassing!

    Now, how about the guys? Who is your favorite man in broadcasting? Public or commercial, local or national? I’m torn between Todd and Radio Bob–the sublime and, uh, hmm, let’s say quirky…

  8. Bob Falesch says:

    I just came back from a few minutes with Lora Black. On the NET Radio site, there seems to be no air check archive or podcasts, so I listened to her show in realtime. Yup, she’s mellifluous, alright. I’d definitely have her over for tea.

    On an aside: It was nice to hear a Haydn sonata played on an old fortepiano, probably circa 1800 (or a copy thereof). Those early pianos sound very different from our modern pianos and can make for a totally different experience. The timbre range is uneven, they have less resonance (dryer sound); when you play a crashing sforzando: on a modern piano, it just rings out with little apparent effort and no sign of stress on the structure, but play that same two-fisted hammer on a fortepiano and it creaks, moans, and cries out in pain, and does so at less than one-half the loudness of its modern brethren. When we can actually hear some limit achieved, some challenge to the constraints of an instrument, whether the soprano’s top notes, the trumpet player’s lip-trills, or the fortepiano’s dynamic range limits, we translate that into drama. Wow, that was nice.

  9. Bob Falesch says:

    Sorry about the double-post, but I forgot to respond to Ellen’s challenge, just above. I like the wide range of personalities on NCPR. Many broadcasters, commercial and public, seem to ask for as much homogeneity as is humanly possible. That can be a plus, say, on a station like WFMT in Chicago, arguably the best in the business, where the fare is (clears his throat, straightens his tie, ahem…) serious classical music – – the cathedral of the cultured :–)

    For quirkiness, which I find just as essential, at times, as that cathedral, one does not have to go beyond the North Country. Radio Bob and David Sommerstein are a blast. Talking of mellifluousness, Todd Moe is all over it. Bob Edwards has the voice, but much of the time he’s being moody and seemingly subverts his magisterial baritonal timbre, perhaps in service to the mood of the guest he’s chatting with. Todd is solid and seamless. The weekend-night jazzers are terrific as well, as is their music (post-bop jazz occupies a big piece of my heart).

    Radio junkie, –Bob.

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