Women In Radio: The Next Chapter Or The Same Old Story?

August 19, 2019 | Fred Jacobs
Jacobs Media

It’s been another interesting chapter in the saga of women in radio. Like every industry, broadcast radio has diversity challenges — and we saw that up close and personal at Morning Show Boot Camp 31 this month in Chicago, as well as in the charts and graphs in AQ2, our talent on talent survey we’ve now conducted for the second consecutive year.

On the surface, the environment appears to be improving for women in radio. But when you start digging a little deeper, you can’t help but encounter some of the same congenital issues. As our AQ study shows, men outnumber women on the air by a 3:1 ratio — same as last year. And that starts an important conversation about the state of the medium, whether it’s in morning radio or even when it comes to voiceover work.

To be sure, some women are hitting it out of the park. Those seeking a shining success story should look no further than the trajectory and accomplishment of KOST/Los Angeles morning star, Ellen K. As most people in radio know, Ellen was the sidekick for two morning show superstars — Rick Dees and Ryan Seacrest — before striking out on her own.

While those partnerships were no doubt an important part of Ellen’s learning curve, she sought to go solo in 2015 — and hasn’t looked back.

Like many in radio, Ellen got her start while at college, and interned at WXUS in Lafayette, Indiana. While the beginnings of her career were in a small market, she makes no bones about the need for women to think big — the majors:

“The biggest payday should always be in the biggest markets simply because the ad revenue is so large, but the biggest payday isn’t always the path to happiness. I’ve been happy in the smallest market I’ve worked in because I love the radio business.”

But whether in L.A. or small towns, Ellen K has always relished the personal connection, whether it’s on the studio lines or out in public, connecting with her audience.

Kudos to Ellen for carving out a great career in a tough business. But then there’s the rest of the radio world.

And judging by the “Women’s Forum” at Morning Show Boot Camp, the radio industry has a long way to go.

Led by the solid and steady moderation of Elizabeth Kay (WMYX/Milwaukee mornings), the panel was comprised of outspoken women in radio who discussed how they navigate the many speed bumps they’ve encountered over the years — and today.

And of course, there’s the gap between how men behind the mic think about women’s chances to advance are — and how women approach the same question. As you can clearly see below, they see two very different industries and disparate realities:

Not surprisingly, that gap we saw in 2018 continues today, underscoring the challenges radio has to provide not just diversity, but opportunity.

Much of the way in which women perceive their chances has to do with support — and where it comes from. In AQ2, we asked the entire sample about where they derive the most support across the spectrum of people, co-workers, and managers in which they have contact. While the answers don’t deviate greatly among the genders, it is clear that women feel their co-hosts and other women at the station are most likely to have their backs.

On the opposite end, they point to upper management, corporate, and sales as least likely to be supportive. That’s not a great set of circumstances.

Interestingly, Ellen K provides advice for fledgling broadcasters;

“Find a top seller to give you tips on ways to keep a long-term advertiser or land a new one. Finding creative ways to bring revenue is always a top priority.”

Connecting with revenue and how it is generated came up at Boot Camp, too. As the radio industry struggles to reach its financial goals, women — and all on-air personalities — have a chance to prove their ROI and become even more valuable to the enterprise.

That’s all well and good, but this issue of a lack of support among management may, in fact, be the central theme behind women’s frustration. And while it came through loud in this year’s AQ2 study, it may be one that air personalities in general — and women specifically — have felt for eons.

But at this important junction in the country’s trajectory — and the ways in which people are presented and represented in the media — support needs to come from the entire organization, especially those in influential and power positions.

I felt that sting in my AQ opening session at Morning Show Boot Camp. Elizabeth Kay asked a question about the fate of aging female on-air personalities and whether they have a fair shot at continued success. While I provided a truthful answer, I did so hastily, moving to get to the next questioner and to stay on time.

After having a post-MSBC conversation with Elizabeth, I realize that like so many others in positions of power in radio, I have to be a better listener, especially when it comes to hearing from those who are striving to advance but often are unheard or ignored.

We all do.

Radio personality Ellen K talks about her life in radio from small-town Indiana to host of the KOST-FM morning show

Radio personality Ellen K. is the host of the Ellen K Radio Show on KOST 103.5 FM in Los Angeles. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Source: Los Angeles Daily News

Radio host Ellen K says she was deep into a particularly intimate examination of a pregnant cow when it struck her that the life of a veterinarian might not be for her.

“You have to get in there and make sure everything is in the right place, and then you get outta there,” she says of the barnyard epiphany that hit her one cold and snowy Indiana day in her sophomore year at Purdue University in the early ’80s. “It was a very dramatic day, actually, that I’ll never forget, and it was my turning point.

“I realized at that moment, I love people a lot more than I think I’m going to love examining animals like this,” Ellen K continues, laughing as she talks in the empty Burbank studio where a few hours earlier she’d hosted the “Ellen K Morning Show” on KOST-FM/103.5.

It turned out to be a very smart move.

Radio personality Ellen K. is the host of the Ellen K Radio Show on KOST 103.5 FM in Los Angeles. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Today, after years as a co-host on shows led by celebrated men such as Rick Dees and Ryan Seacrest, Ellen K is one of the few women ever to have her own morning show on Los Angeles radio. She’s got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, hosts the celebrity hand-and-footprint ceremonies at the Chinese Theatre, and is the unseen omnipotent voice of the Grammy Awards.

“It was dream come true stuff,” she says of the journey so far.

Radio personality Ellen K. is the host of the Ellen K Radio Show on KOST 103.5 FM in Los Angeles. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Transistor radio days

She was born Ellen J. Thoe in Palo Alto, where her father was a doctoral student at Stanford University, but grew up in Indiana where the high-powered AM radio stations in Chicago were home to superstar DJs such as Larry Lujack and John Landecker.

“I listened to John Landecker every single night with a transistor radio,” Ellen K says. “I’d share a room with my sister because there were so many of us and I had to keep it kind of low. So I put it under my pillow and then I could hear. He did this thing called Boogie Check and he’d have celebrities on and it was so much fun. I never missed a night.

“And then in the morning, when I’d wake up to get ready for swim practice before school, there’s Larry Lujack,” she says. “I constantly had them on and loved their shows even before I knew that I would fall in love with radio.”
Looking for a new direction soon after the bovine baby business, Ellen K spotted an internship at a local radio station, applied for it, and soon found herself inside the funhouse world of FM radio in the early ’80s.

“I loved the atmosphere of the radio station,” she says. “Everybody just seemed to be goofing off but yet they’re working. I was like, ‘Oh my god, not only is this a fun job surrounded by music and people who are loving what they’re doing, but all those flashing lights (on the request lines) you could answer and talk. There’s a different person on every line. I loved that connection, and I still love it today.

“To me that was magical.”

After the intern semester ended the station, WXUS-FM in Lafayette, Indiana, hired her as the overnight DJ, changing her air name to Ellen Thomas to protect her privacy.

Sometimes she’d invite her sorority sisters over to keep her company and do homework as she played music for the night owls. Once she fell asleep in the wee hours as a record played, and woke only after the station manager raced to the station to rouse her.

“He laughed it off, and it was my first learning curve experience,” Ellen K says. “Even the mistakes are great memories.”

Go West, young woman

Vacations in San Diego after her younger brother moved there convinced Ellen K that she wanted to live there, too.

“I’m sitting on the beach in La Jolla, watching my baby brother surf, and I said, ‘I don’t want to leave,'” she says. “I love this radio station they have in San Diego. I want to be in this beautiful Southern California.”

For a year or two she sent audition tapes, building a bridge with the boss at KFMB-FM/100.7 who eventually hired her – after she briefly worked at a station in Modesto – for a late-night shift on air from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. In the dark, a row of phones blinking, she took calls from listeners about different topics each night, some dark, some uplifting, all of them fascinating, she says.

“I knew right then this is what I’m meant to do,” she says of the way she moved past spinning records to engaging listeners in more meaningful ways. “It was amazing.”

At the end of the ’80s, though, she landed a job in San Francisco, a bigger market, which was great until a month or two after she started when the station announced a format change along with the layoffs of all its staff, including Ellen K.

K for a Kiss in LA

Ellen K says she believes in saying what it is you want – “If you say it out loud, you’re going to do it,” she says – so when in San Francisco she ran into the producer of radio legend Rick Dee’s morning show on KIIS-FM. She moved to LA. after an audition with Dees led to job in 1990 as his co-host.

It’s Dees who is responsible for her current name. Ellen Thomas wouldn’t work, he told her, because his LA radio rival was Jay Thomas on Power 106. Dees suggested she use her middle initial instead.

“I said, ‘Well, you’re not going to like it, my middle initial is J, so I’m Ellen J. Thomas,'” she told him. “So he said, ‘That’s got to change, we’ll go to the next letter in the alphabet, K.'”

From 1990 to 1994 she was Dees’ sidekick on KIIS-FM, and when Ryan Seacrest took over mornings on KIIS in 1994 he kept her as his wing-woman, too.

“Being on the air in the morning, in this city, we experienced so many things,” she says. “So I really feel like I grew up in LA.”

That connection she felt with the Chicago jocks as a kid she now felt with those who listened to her on KIIS, or at sister station KOST where she jumped to launch her own morning show in 2016.

“It feels like family,” Ellen K says. “It’s that connection.”

And while she’s not as instantly recognized as a TV host or actor, there’s one thing that can always give her away.

“I’ll be in the grocery store with (my husband) and I’ll say something, ‘Oh, honey, could you get the milk’ or whatever. And then someone in line will say, ‘Are you Ellen K?’ Because they recognize my voice.”

KOST-ing solo

At KOST, Ellen K got to shape her own show, mixing celebrity interviews with topic-of-the-day discussions with her on-air team and listeners, often bringing her family and her own life into the show to create a sense of community. Her son Calvin’s broken arm led her to do the show as a fundraiser for Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles on Giving Tuesday the week after Black Friday.

When her mother Eileen was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago she launched a regular series titled “Meaningful Makeovers” to give women of all ages a bit of feel-good pampering as they deal with the disease.

Sharing her life – even when it’s difficult, such as the morning earlier this year when she went on air to let listeners know her mother had died – is important to her because of the community she has built and cherishes from her many years on the radio.

“I realize that everything I go through my listeners are going through or have experienced,” Ellen K says. “As far as kids and being in a hospital, it is every parent’s nightmare. And then cancer, there’s not one person I know who’s not touched by cancer.”

In addition to her weekday morning shows that air live from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m., the “Ellen K Morning Show” is now syndicated in 60 markets in a taped version that airs Saturdays at the same time. Earlier this year she started hosting the Chinese Theatre ceremonies in her new role as the historic venue’s official ambassador. She’s been the voice-over announcer for the Grammys for a few years now, too.

But still there’s more on her to-do list. She wants to make a TV show version of her radio show and has shot a pilot as that inches into development. She’s got plans to write a book, a mix of motivational essays and stories from her life and career. And she wants to do more work on cancer-related causes such as her partnership with Thrive Causemetics, which released a pink lipstick in her mother’s favorite shade and named it Ilene Pink.

“This is the feel-good station,” Ellen K says of the adult contemporary format at KOST, which has held the top spot in the Nielsen radio ratings for Los Angeles so far this year. “I was really attracted to that. And I really want to do positive, good things with my show.”

Is it #ChristmasInJuly or #QuentinTarantinoDay? I’m obsessed w/both. #OnceUponATimeInHollywood IRL on the retro red carpet!! @LeoDiCaprio #BradPitt @MargotRobbie #QuentinTarantino

Still infatuated with the World Premiere of the Quentin Tarantino’s 9th film, “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.” Thanks to my wonderful partnership with TCL Chinese Theater, I was invited to attend and capture these moments I could share. Being on that retro red carpet made us all feel like we were stepping back in 1969. Speaking of that, KOST 103.5 is doing a super cool special running tonight at 6:00pm for an hour and playing all things from that magical year… 1969! Happy Quentin Tarantino Day! The movie is out today!

Check out my photo gallery, here! 

Thank you for having me on #GoodDayLA 😘☀️ @FoxLA 💖💄 @kost1035fm #ellenkmorningshow

It was a very productive Friday eve on the Ellen K Morning Show. Just to give you an idea, here’s how Ellen’s morning played out.

3:30am – The morning started before the sun came up. Ellen K’s alarm went off at 3:30am (that’s right 3:30 AM!!) to make it into her studio dressing room by 4am!
4:00am – Hair and makeup by the fabulous @XoLoveMo makeup artist and friend Monique Vergara.
5:00am – 10:00am: Live in-studio for the Ellen K Morning Show!
With a little bit of radio & TV magic, Ellen K was also live on the TV with the beautiful ladies at FOX 11’s morning news show, “Good Day LA”

Watch and see all the juicy topics they went over:

You are so kind #KeanuReeves – it was magical hosting your #handprint ceremony today – you are surrounded with love and loyalty and it was special to witness♥️

https://www.instagram.com/p/BxdBBy3hfD-/

Keanu Reeves stepped into wet cement and immortalized his name at TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. Our very own, Ellen K hosted the ceremony.

Watch John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum in theaters May 17, 2019.

#JohnWick

Check out all of the pictures, here: https://www.facebook.com/officialellenk/posts/10157306629499444

Sandra Oh, Hoda Kotb & Ellen K Among Winners Of The Gracie Awards

The Alliance for Women in Media Foundation has announced the winners for the 44th Gracie Awards. The list of highly esteemed winners will recognize esteemed ladies in the media industry: Sandra Oh, Tisha Thompson, Rachel Maddow, Connie Britton, Ellen K, Elizabeth Perkins, Patricia Arquette, Leah Remini, Robin Roberts, Laura Lynch, Rachel Bloom, Angela Yee, Maura Tierney, Hoda Kotb & Savannah Guthrie, along with some of the most talented women in television, radio and digital media.

You can view the complete list of winners and honorable mentions, at: allwomeninmedia.org.

 

GAME OF KOST!! #ForTheThrone #BendTheKnee

 

For your viewing pleasure, here is the rest of the schedule for the final season of “Game of Thrones” on HBO:

  • Episode 1 – April 14, 54 minutes.
  • Episode 2 – April 21, 58 minutes.
  • Episode 3 – April 28, 1 hr. 22 minutes.
  • Episode 4 – May 5, 1 hr. 18 minutes.
  • Episode 5 – May 12, 1 hr. 20 minutes.
  • Episode 6 – May 19, 1 hr. 20 minutes.

Important side note to share: If you have the HBO app, the episodes are ready to view at 6:00pm Eastern Time.