Years ago while working as a presenter in regional radio, I received an email from a teenage girl who wanted my advice. She had been on work experience with a radio station in another part of the country. While there, she expressed her desire to become a presenter only to be told something to the effect ‘don’t bother; sure everyone knows women aren’t good on air.’
Naturally, she was taken aback, as was I, both by the directness of the comment and its sheer nastiness.
‘Bullshit,’ I wrote, telling her if she wanted to be a presenter, then that is what she should put her energy and skills into, sexist naysayers be damned.
As research repeatedly highlights, women face an enduring battle for representation across so many sectors, to the point where doors that won’t open now deserve to be kicked down. The fundamentals of radio – knowledge, storytelling, creativity – are things no gender has a monopoly on. If the arts are about expressing and exploring what it is to be human, we are all under-served when the voices in our ears and the faces on our stages and screens do not reflect the incredible plurality of human experience.
While mainstream radio may be lagging behind when it comes to the female voice, the podcast format certainly isn’t. From Sarah Koenig hosting and co-producing the game-changing Serial to Lia Haddock, the fictional star of the bone-chilling sci-fi drama Limetown to Karen Kilgarff and Georgia Hardstark of the darkly hilarious My Favorite Murder, women are front and centre of the podcast phenomenon. Here’s to the day traditional radio catches up. In the meantime, below are some of my current favourite female-led podcasts.I would love to hear yours.
Do you like reading? And writing? Warm, intelligent chats about the same? Blessed be – this is the podcast for you. Much like a book you pick up and can’t put down, discovering these gems I wanted to listen to them all in one gallop. Highlights include Sarah Perry discussing the theme ‘imposters’, Reni Eddo-Lodge on her book Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race and vile bodies (the best kind of bodies, IMO) with Sarah Pascoe. Hosted by Carrie and Octavia.
The podcast format is great for many reasons. Chief among them is the way the it allows journalists the space and time to ‘go deep’ with investigations, pursuing stories that might otherwise remain out of sight. Alberta Williams was 24-years-old when her body was found along Canada’s Highway of Tears in 1989. The Highway gets its name from the many murders and disappearances which occurred along it, across decades, mostly involving Indigenous women like Alberta. In her quest to find out what happened to Alberta and bring her killer to justice, journalist Connie Walker explores the plight of Indigenous people in Canada, made all the more impactful by Walker’s own experiences as Indigenous woman. Who Killed Alberta Williams? politicizes the true crime drama, showing how legacies of abuse, poverty, exclusion and State-sanctioned violence impact communities and women. A must-listen.
Self-described ‘radical firebrand’ and she of Book Slut fame Jessa Crispin launched this sparkly new podcast in July. Crispin is entirely her own woman whose opinions are always worth reflecting on even if you don’t necessarily agree. Recent highlights include chats about feminist bogeymen (namely, second wave radical feminists who have been unfairly maligned by the contemporary movement) and the delightfully titled Heterosexuality is a Fucking Nightmare.
Full disclosure: #SOLH featured my research last year, which I was thrilled about because I love what they do. The second series started a few months ago and if you haven’t already, I strongly recommend listening from the beginning. Presenter Elisa Kreisinger isn’t afraid to ask hard, complex questions about pop culture and the female experience, the results of which are always interesting. Recent highlights include a wild tale about race and family secrets, and a look at how property ownership drives but also destroys the American dream.
I’m going to cut to the chase here: if you think sitting around cracking jokes and spinning yarns about murder is morbid and in awful taste, then My Favorite Murder is not for you. If, however, that sounds like something right up your dark and twisted street, come in and meet Karen Kilgarff and Georgia Hardstark, your new BFF. This podcast has inspired a cult-like following since its inception (hi, Murderinos) and although it is not without its (necessary) critics, it is a worthy contender for your next problematic fav.
Honorary mentions: do any podcast enthusiasts not listen to Karina Longworth’s painstakingly researched and produced You Must Remember This? If you don’t, get on it. I recommend starting with her exploration of the Manson Murders but there is wealth of material to choose from. Longworth’s look at the lives of Jean Seberg and Jane Fonda just finished up and would be another excellent place to start.
Lastly, although it is strictly speaking a radio classic in podcast form, the BBC’s Desert Island Discs online archive is a bonanza of good stuff. I could listen to host Kirsty Young interview people all day long – that Scottish burr, those well-observed questions – but to start, her recent chat with Sheryl Sandberg was a masterclass. Raw and emotional, Sandberg spoke at length about the sudden death of her husband, Dave. Two women talking frankly about the highs and crushing lows of life. More of this sort of thing, please.