The Lack of Diversity in Toronto Talk Radio

SheepYears ago, I studied radio broadcasting in Hamilton and while in my second year of college, I had a 30 day unpaid internship at Q107 in their final year at the Hudson’s Bay Centre. It was a coups to get an internship in a major market like Toronto and I was the only one in my class to do so, but I knew someone, which in-turn got me an interview.

Back in 1991, Standard Broadcasting owned CILQ.

I worked in the news department at Q107 with news director Bill Carroll and host of the lunch hour magazine style program, Barometer. My immediate supervisor and producer of Barometer was Sharon, a plucky graduate of Mohawk College. She was a good enough role model although I don’t think that they paid her very well since she only ever wore the two same shirts every other day. She did her own work effortlessly and I was blown away by how she edited tape so quickly (cause in those days that’s how they did it) while delegating my work and showing patience, even if at 21 it was well beyond my expertise.

I was also overwhelmed and slightly intimidated by all of the maleness of the on-air personalities including John Gallagher, Dan Pollard, John Derringer and Music Director Joey Vendetta. Pollard and Gallagher fought like dogs, sometimes screaming at one another so loudly that I had to leave the room. Derringer had been a mess, sent to rehab to clean up his act, returning clean, sober and slimmed down considerably. I’d heard gossip that he’d almost set a plane on fire. I even spent the day with their veteran Queens Park Correspondent, who kept a bottle of booze in his bottom desk drawer. Couldn’t say that I blamed him, because that job was beyond boring.

Working in the ol’ boys network, especially with the owners and management being predominately male, I discovered that radio was going to be a tough business to enter as a woman. There were a few gals on staff in news and on-air, but most of them worked in promotions or traffic, tucked away neatly in a booth in another part of the station. As for diversity? None, like zilch.

After college, I became close friends with an aspiring radio personality, who worked days as a waiter and pulled all-nighters in a major market Toronto station. I’d sometimes hang out with him at the station or call-in to keep him company. He was paying his dues, you see, because with the exception of City TV, it was rare to see any minorities working in the business. The first thing he did was change his name, not an uncommon practice for personalities to do. But he had to anglicize it, because his real name sounded too ethnic.

survey-shows-u-s-newsrooms-lack-diversity2Fast forward to 2015. Television and radio has survived or maybe it’s just hanging on, despite the internet. And yet, as I look at the diversity in radio (and television for that matter), not much has changed.

Why is that? Private media holdings in Canada that include radio, television and newspapers are run by just a few large conglomerates: Rogers, Bell and Shaw. (there are two others, but not nearly as big) I would need a whole other article to speak about why, besides apparent oversight from Canada’s regulatory agency, the CRTC, this is so very wrong. CBC is the exception being a crown corporation and mandated to have its employees reflect Canada’s diversity.

In 2007, Standard Broadcasting, formerly the largest, privately owned multimedia company in Canada, had sold all of their radio and TV broadcasting assets to Astral Media. BCE Inc., owners of Bell Media upon approval by the CRTC in 2013, purchased from Astral Media Inc. its pay and specialty television channels, conventional television stations and 106 radio stations across Canada, broadcasting in 45 markets.

In Toronto, Bell owns CTV, CP24, some specialty channels and four radio stations: CHUMFM, Newstalk 1010, TSN Radio and Virgin Radio. Rogers Media owned CHFI is the number one rated radio station in Toronto with 13% of the market, but CHUM FM is not far behind at 10%. In news, CBC Radio 1 is the number one news station in Toronto with CFRB hot on its tails. 680 News, also a Rogers station, lags behind at 6%.

In recent years, with massive restructuring and some controversial dismissals of on-air personalities and staff, CFRB listenership had dwindled down below 5%. But then August of last year, Bell Media laid off three female staff from Newstalk 1010 including Morning news anchor Evelyn Macko, Queen’s Park reporter Katie Franzios and reporter Amber Gero, a fourteen year CFRB employee and woman of colour. But since then their audience has grown and according to the Bureau of Broadcast Measurement, they showed a respectable 7.5% share in Toronto just last November, just slightly behind CBC.

I realize that it has now taken me about 800 words to get to the point of this blog post. At Newstalk 1010, with all of the rearranging and layoffs and dismissals, there is still almost no diversity. Through their website, I was able to compile a list of 54 on-air hosts, reporters, news editors and anchors. I discovered, not surprisingly, that white men make up the vast majority at 81% while women represent just 16.5%. The most discouraging thing of all is that just two persons out of 54 or 3.5% are culturally diverse (AKA not white). Oh yeah, and they each have a weekly one hour show out 168 weekly hours.

When I asked Newstalk 1010 Program/Brand Director Mike Bendixen (FYI he’s a white dude, too) why he thought this was, I think he was actually surprised at their lack of diversity, but to be fair, he was unable to make a comment. I thought that maybe their listenership was predominantly male but he assures me that that’s not the case. He did reiterate that they do have women working in news, reporting and traffic, but I have accounted for them. I cannot speak for those behind the scenes, and maybe there is an enormous core staff of females and people of diversity running that machine.
Population ImmigrationToronto DemographicsThis is where things get a little more nuanced. According to the 2011 Census (see charts above), 49% of all Torontonians are immigrants with almost 48% being visible minorities. In the GTA, where almost half of Ontarians reside, 38% of the population are immigrants and almost 36% are visible minorities. That means that a third of all persons living in the GTA are not white.

Why should I or anyone be concerned about these numbers? |

Let me break this down – A large Canadian conglomerate owns almost a third of our media, and in the largest market in Canada stockpiles a news station with like-minded persons that don’t offer equitable representation, that is, people without a different voice, a different culture, a different perspective.

To me that is embarking on some scary shit.

And my friend who started out in radio more than twenty years ago? He’s now a house hold name, even if his on-air name is not his own.

Other reading: New Media Looks Like Old Media

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