My short time in talk radio was filled with hurdle after hurdle. Getting a shot on-air was like learning to surf on choppy waters.
It felt impossible at times.
“Well, we already have the rest of the month covered,” NPR’s sports director told me at the first meeting of my Sophomore year.
He was a student just like me, but I got the message quickly. I was not welcome.
The next month I popped up again to ask if I could host. I received virtually the same answer.
“You could just create the teases again this week for Sports Night.”
Two weeks later, when one of our staff members couldn’t host the postgame show, I asked if I could take his shift. I was lied to, and it was handed to a male colleague.
I eventually got my shot to host a few weeks in a row, before deciding to be done with talk radio.
My voice was drowned out, and the opportunities, while “there,” almost always involved weekly pestering. It was exhausting. And it wasn’t something my male peers ever had to deal with.
This is so similar to many women’s experiences navigating the sports talk waters.
The problems are structural. Just look at the news last week. NBC Sports is starting a 12-hour syndicated sports-talk circuit on Sirius XM — with zero female hosts.
Twelve hours worth of shows and no women. Really?!
Program directors decide these things.
Most marginalized groups, especially women in talk radio, have to pole vault over the systemic barrier to receive a shot.
And as Stacy Rost, co-host of ESPN 710 Seattle’s “Tom, Jake, and Stacy,” told Deadspin, producers and program directors do the picking. They “identify a younger version of themselves” in choosing who gets an opportunity.
“I never listened to sports talk radio because I never felt welcomed,” another former sports talk host told Deadspin. “And it wasn’t just about that I’m not hearing women, but I’m hearing people rip NFL players for wanting guaranteed contracts. I’m hearing people rip any labor movement. Anything like that, I don’t want to spend my time getting angry at that stuff. That is part of the issue of why women aren’t on sports talk radio as much, along with the structural issues.”
White men often get shot after shot to prove themselves. They have the red carpet rolled out for them to succeed. You have Craig Carton in New York, who had a massive gambling addiction and wound up spending a year in federal prison.
Or Dan McNeil in Chicago, who has gotten too many second chances to count?
Or Dino Costa, who got a second chance at a Portland radio station after his dismissal from SiriusXM, only to get fired again by applauding the running over of protesters during the Charlottesville protest in 2017.
Women, on the other hand, face an unwelcome environment. The space is always filled with trepidation.
The sports-talk industry preaches a merit system. You pay your dues. But white men seemingly get to jump to the front of the line. Merit rarely applies to them.
In Los Angeles, Boston, Detroit, Houston, Dallas, and New York — combined — there are four women who co-host local daily sports talk radio shows. That’s it.
Amy Lawerence is the lone woman host nationally, while on another network, Sarah Spain and Chiney Ogwumike co-host a show. On the weekends, Spain and Kate Fagan host a women’s sports show.
Eighty to 90 percent of ESPN radio’s audience, spanning over 400 markets, is male. A majority of those listeners are white men.
Most sports talk radio is targeted at men between the ages of 25-54.
When you pull back the curtain, you learn why the listener demographic is the way it is.
Less than 12 percent of women are program directors across 1,304 stations, according to the advocacy group Mentoring and Inspiring Women in Radio. This explains why most sports stations within their designated market grasp less than 6 percent of total radio listeners at a given time.
No investment in women. No investment in marginalized groups. Hell, no investment in the masses who engage with sports content regularly.
It’s a telling indictment when the data is staring us right in the face. Does it require Maria Taylor being harassed online by McNeil before decision-makers wake-up?
Rost’s path to co-hosting her daily three-hour sports talk show has been unconventional.
While she has made many stops throughout her career as a writer and reporter, this is the first radio station where she has been an on-air talent host. The sexism Rost hears permeating through the phone and can’t be tied to a niche male listener. They can be traditionally identifying as conservative or more liberal.
One time, Rost and her hosts spoke on-air about an Arizona Cardinals player, and unbeknownst to them, they were mispronouncing the player’s name. However, Rost was the one who was targeted by a listener on social media. A man who belongs to the same political party as her.
When Rost got off the air, she checked Twitter finding the man had tagged her and her boss. He claimed she “was sleeping with her boss” and “had slept her way to the top.”
“It mortified me,” Rost said. “You aren’t expecting that when you get in this.”
Rost scrolled through the man’s profile. “Democrat” sat in his bio, which threw Rost off.
“Politically, we probably agreed on a lot of things, but misogyny and racism don’t care.”
Rost is right. While there are distinct differences in our two major parties in this country, identifying that you are a Democrat or a liberal does not absolve you of racism or sexism.
Covert sexism runs rampant throughout American society. Unspoken gender roles relegate women into a box and that couldn’t be more true in sports talk radio.
Kate Scott, a host on The Morning Roast with 95.7 FM The Fan, in the Bay Area, says anytime she speaks up on domestic violence or rape within sports, she is harassed online.
“The blowback is always different than my male co-host. That was always the ‘get off my radio,’” Scott said. “’Why do we have women on sports radio?’ ‘This is exactly why we don’t have women on sports radio because we don’t want to hear this when we’re talking about sports.’ I remember that very vividly.”
And the unfortunate part about all of this is Scott has nowhere to turn.
Stations act as they could care less.
Where’s the harassment database for women to report incidents? Who will hold individuals, both employees and callers alike, responsible for their words and actions?
Right now, it surely is not program directors. Women have to cope with the backlash alone.
Diversifying producers and program directors is a start, but the goal should be to transform sports radio ranks to reflect sports audiences at large.