"It seems to me that women and minorities
get a chance at leadership
in places that are really in trouble," observes Mathes.

Women head many of the country's largest public radio outlets

Updated in March 1998 from an article published in Current, Oct. 6, 1997

By Geneva Collins

Public radio stations may have glass walls for their studios, but at least the biggest ones apparently don't have glass ceilings in the corporate suite. While public TV managers' meetings remain a sea of male suits, women are running some of the country's largest public radio stations.

Female general managers head one or more of the stations in six of the top 10 markets:

This doesn't count the female c.e.o.'s who head TV-radio combos, like Sharon Rockefeller in Washington, Mary Bitterman in San Francisco and Cheryl Craigie in Dallas, or Pat Scott, who manages the Pacifica network.

And it also doesn't count Chicago's Carole Nolan, WBEZ's longtime president who retired in the summer of 1997, who remembers when there were just one or two female general managers when she started in 1970.

"Women are more risk-takers," said Nolan. "They're used to juggling a number of duties at the same time. In order to succeed in this business, we had to take risks in order to move ahead. I think women are a little more flexible."

"Is the term 'being ballsy'?" mused Judy Jankowski of Long Beach's KLON in the Los Angeles area. "These women [in major markets] are not afraid of adversity, all have very strong beliefs in public broadcasting. Look at Ruth [Seymour, of KCRW in Santa Monica], who turned a little under-performer into one of the most listened to stations in L.A." In November 1997, Jankowski and Seymour were joined by Brenda Pennell, who is taking over KUSC, Los Angeles, after running Cincinnati's WGUC.

In Boston, where women have a lock on all three of the city's pub radio stations, WUMB's Pat Monteith notes that only two of 52 commercial stations in the market have women at the top. "It's the type of programming we do. When you talk about community service, it's a whole different creature than making money for corporate giants," she said. "Although all three of us here in Boston want to get the largest audience we can, serve the audience the best we can, we see things differently from men who run commercial stations."

Most women interviewed didn't feel the lower salaries of public radio might explain the phenomenon, although Valerie Van Isler of WBAI in New York notes that women have traditionally flourished in the nonprofit sector.

"I do think public radio, because of its tradition of [emphasizing] human values ... has had its arms open for women at a lot of different levels," said Laura Walker, who heads WNYC-AM/FM.

Walker, like the others interviewed, says she likes to network with her female colleagues and remembered the value of women mentors she had over the years. Seymour and Cleveland's Kit Jensen (WCPN) were singled out numerous times as pioneers and role models.

Caryn Mathes, who has run WDET-FM in Detroit since 1984, has a theory:

"It seems to me that women and minorities get a chance at leadership in places that are really in trouble. In my case, the station had an accumulated deficit of $750,000."

The previous g.m. convinced licensee Wayne State University to turn the reins over to Mathes, who was then news director. The station has operated in the black ever since and recently acquired new facilities and a new tower. JoAnne Wallace similarly faced financial adversity in running San Francisco's KQED-FM.

As Jankowski puts it, "I've always said anybody can run a station with money."



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Related story: Jane Christo has built Boston's WBUR by making some of the right choices.


Web page revised April 5, 1998
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