A NEW year, but the same old story – on Irish radio, anyway. Pat Kenny, who turns 65 in a few weeks, has revealed that he intends to carry on working, basically because he can't afford to quit. He's not the only veteran still broadcasting: several others have passed retirement but continue to take jobs.
It's symptomatic of two damaging elements to Irish media: conservatism and patriarchy. The first is seen in a paralysing reluctance to take a chance on new talent; it seems to get harder and harder for tyro broadcasters to get their break. But more pernicious by far is the lack of female voices on radio. They make up 51pc of the population, but turn on most stations most times – especially 7am to 10pm – and you'd think there were hardly any women in Ireland at all. There's a massive absence of female presenters, and it seems to be getting worse.
It's staggering when you fully comprehend the extent of our male-dominated radio, even though your ears have been telling you this for years. But the facts don't lie: there
are hardly any women presenters.
Today FM has just one, across some 25 programmes; Newstalk has five out of roughly 30, 2FM three from twenty-something. And most are hived off to late nights or weekends. Even RTE Radio 1 has only two women across more than 10 shows – albeit in pivotal drivetime slots.
The situation is just as bad when it comes to contributors. For instance, during Newstalk's Lunchtime on New Year's Day, you'd have heard a male host shooting the breeze with four middle-aged men – the show's regular guests. Ironically, in a programme dedicated to 2013, it could have been aired in 1970.
Irish television has a reasonable gender balance, but radio very often feels like the last bastion of the old boys' club: blokes blathering on about sport and politics, or slagging each other off (George Hook even calls some guests by their surnames, something most of us gave up after primary school).
It's even more absurd when you have several men discussing something like abortion, an issue which by definition can't possibly affect them, with nary a woman's view to be heard. There's a real sense of "father knows best"; don't worry your sweet little heads, ladies, we'll sort it all out – even the stuff that affects your bodies, not ours.
It's insidious and pernicious. Commentators rightly criticise the lack of women in top political jobs, but this in a way is even worse: all sorts of programmes with very few women represented.
So what's the cause of this imbalance? As a radio columnist, I'd say it's a mixture of received wisdom, old-fashioned chauvinism and that stupid cliché about listeners not liking the higher-pitched female voice.
Whatever the reason, things have to change. Right-wingers often make ludicrous claims about "PC gone mad", but in all fairness, it's not unreasonable to ask that the other half of the human race be included in the "national conversation" on radio.