Talk Radio and the GreenStone Media NetworkShannon Sonn
A series of firsts in the United States history – the naming of Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House, growing momentum around Hilary Clinton's potential presidential candidacy in 2008, and Katie Couric's move to the CBS anchor chair – throws into sharp relief the ever-increasing number of women who distinguish themselves as key contributors to the American scene. The emergence of The GreenStone Media Network figures into this trend of broadening female participation in business, public dialogue and policy formation.
Within the context of dwindling traditional audiences, mounting advertiser dissatisfaction, and growing prominence of women in all areas of American life, a commercial talk radio network run by and designed to appeal to female listeners has emerged. GreenStone is predicated on the notion that hostile, argumentative talk radio programs have prompted women to switch off their sets. Network organizers identified a demographic whose needs and preferences they think the industry has historically marginalized and they seized a window of opportunity to transform the face of contemporary radio. Strangely enough, only a sharp decline in the overall popularity of radio encouraged GreenStone's architects to bring their concept to market.
Currently women represent 36 percent of talk radio listeners. Research suggests, however, that a significant market exists. A nationwide survey conducted by PhiPower (a media research firm) in the fall of 2005 revealed that 74 percent of women ages 25 to 54 would tune in to talk radio for women. Such figures may prove enticing to prospective advertisers, frustrated with campaigns that fail to reach women effectively. Aware of the spending power women possess (women control the checkbook and pay bills in 85 percent of American households, assume responsibility for 80 percent of all spending in American homes, and represent 88 percent of all retail customers in this country), the promise of a concentrated group of this highly desirable yet unsuccessfully targeted population appeals greatly to advertisers. Thus far, promotional efforts to reach this demographic have failed to yield satisfactory results. GreenStone thinks that it can deliver such an audience and that considerable potential to capture advertising revenues exists.
The creators of GreenStone criticize existing formats and established networks because these have failed to deliver. Women represent approximately 62 percent of today's workers. As an industry, radio largely fails to mirror this reality. Lagging behind societal trends that draw women from the periphery into central roles, male-controlled management teams still make up the norm in radio. Men fill 91 percent of radio programmer and 85 percent of general manager positions. Gloria Steinem, one of GreenStone's founders, suggests, "The problem for radio now is that too few decision-makers look like, live like or know how to empathize with women listeners." The numbers suggest that these executives failed to create alternatives or implement methods that appeal to women. For the driving forces behind GreenStone, male-dominance within the industry contributed to both radio's overall decline and the persistent flight of female audiences.
Shannon Sonn is an M.A. candidate in American Studies at Columbia University in the City of New York.