Monday, May 11, 2009

Feminist radio as "comedy" and the uncertain future of The Female Impersonators Radio Hour

As some of our readers may be aware, this blog was inspired by a feminist radio show that Kate and I started during our first year at college. We called our show the Female Impersonators Radio Hour after Kate found the Susan Brownmiller quote ("Women are all female impersonators to some degree.") that has been associated with this blog from the start.

Knox College has a unique radio station (WVKC) in that it is completely student run and any student can apply to become a DJ and with some training, put on a show that is broadcast to thousands of listeners. Kate and I thought that this would be a great idea for helping inform people about feminist issues in the news and in our lives.

The Female Impersonators Radio Hour lasted four terms (ten weeks each), and we did not miss a single show. For the first two, we got our top choice of time slot, and once a week we prepared feminist news and music to bring to our listeners. Our third term, we didn't get any of our top six time slots, but we got a spot that (barely) worked for us. Our fourth term, we again did not get any of our top six requested timeslots. It was explained to us that a record number of people had applied for shows, although this shouldn't have effected us as we had several terms under our belts. The real issues began for us when, on the winter 2009 program schedule was sent out. Our listing (here, Mondays at 8:00pm):

Nate Robbins & Amelia Garcia
"Female impersonators"

Issue one: Who's Nate?
Issue two: We had clearly labeled our genre (not an easy thing to do) as "Feminist talk/music" and we somehow ended up with the genre label of comedy.

It should be noted that WVKC has always (in our experience) been horrible with typos in DJ names (and often times show names - note that ours was incomplete). They also seem to assign very random genres, even when they ask DJs to specify their genre. But Kate and I found comedy to be highly offensive and completely inappropriate to our show because we often discussed serious topics ranging from sexual harassment to rape. There was no room to confuse our show with a comedy show, especially since we specified our intended genre. We felt that the comedy label was not only misleading to new listeners, but was also a personal slight because we take our work of informing people about sexism very seriously. It's nothing to laugh about.

Kate and I never contacted the station staff about this, and this is something that I have regretted. We should have held them accountabe immediately, but we did not. We continued with our show throughout the term, and the next term we applied once more for a radio show. This time, after two terms of mislabeling our show and not giving us time slots even remotely near to what we had requested, we did not get a show.

This time we were moved to act. For the spring 2009 term, brand new shows appeared in time slots that Kate and I had requested, which should not have happened since we were closed out and had some seniority. We wrote an e-mail to some of the station staff, outlining the issues summarized here. And we waited.

The first, brief reply we got from WVKC's Online Director who was not responsible for the scheduling. He did, however, take time to point out that the name of our show could easily be interpreted as comedy, and that it was likely that the scheduling staff made an assumption, since it's difficult to know the content of a show from the outset.

This made me mad. There was no excuse for the staff to not know the content of our show if they took the time to read our application. "Feminist talk/music" pretty much sums up our show, and I am still lost as to how that can be confused with comedy.

Also, the idea that "female impersonators" are somehow inherently funny was offensive to me, as someone who sees validity in all gender expressions. I saw this as a show of ignorance that, when used to defend the actions of the station staff, merely made me believe that I was right to be upset with them.

We later got a response from one of the station's general managers, who apologized for us not getting a show and our feelings of being disrespected. These were, according to the e-mail, not intentional doings. The reason we were given for not getting a show? Our application was lost, and apparently we were not the only DJs this happened to. There was more apologizing, more explaining that the job was difficult. I don't doubt the job of running a radio station as a student is difficult. Not at all. But it is a job that is taken on willingly, and when it appears that severe disorganization and major ignorance combine to not only offend DJs, but keep dedicated feminists with a real goal off the airwaves, something needs to be done. Making excuses won't cut it. I want to see real change.

When the general manager offered to try to find a spot that worked for us, Kate and I decided we didn't want to go that route for the time being.


yellowpansy15 said...

I also received the lecture about "how hard it is to run a radio station."

When I brought up the fact that they have spelled my name and show name wrong almost every single term for 2.5 years, I was told to lose my sense of entitlement. Seriously?

They have to copy it off the application. How much time could it take to make a second glance at a one-sided, four question application?

Amelia said...

Note: I rejected Augustus's comment because of the first line that referred to the people running WVKC in a way that I felt was inappropriate. If the author of that comment would like to rephrase the first line, I'd be happy to post it. No name calling. Let's stick to the issues, please.

Thanks for reading this, though.

Ellie Poley said...

I do agree with many of your points, but I want to play devil's advocate for a moment.

A couple years ago, while Graham was studying abroad, I took over as the WVKC techie. It was my responsibility to type up all of the scheduling information into a webpage. It probably took me 10 hours to do each term. It was a lot of work, and it was really easy to make mistakes. Sometimes people didn't put down genres on their application. I was told to make them up, knowing nothing about the show.

Now, I work behind the scenes as a programmer for TKS. I work directly with the editors, and it's frustrating to me how people on this campus are so quick to complain about the paper when they have no idea how hard it is to run.

I do think WVKC could benefit from more organization, but do remember that your newspaper editors and station managers are students too, and they put in way more hours than they're getting paid for.

Amelia said...

@Ellie Poley:I would never try to take away from the amount of work my fellow students have to put into running this radio station, and I tried to make that clear in my blog post. However, as I noted, this is a job that students take on willingly, and when there are clear issues that are causing many problems for DJs and listeners alike, the least these students can do is attempt to address them, which I feel has not been the case with the current WVKC staff.

I take particular issue with the way the station is currently being run (and I didn't touch upon this in the post) in that it feels to me more like the managers, etc. want it to be more like a "friends club" than a business, which is the way I feel it should be run in order to avoid some of these really careless mistakes (misspellings, assigning inappropriate genres). I honestly feel like the people in charge don't really care if they make these kinds of mistakes because it doesn't take away from how they can benefit from being part of the station (getting bands they like to come to Knox, etc.).

I would also note that although I am sure scheduling takes a long time and leaves much room for mistakes, I feel that it is in the interest of those running the station to make sure this task is done properly, and done with attention paid to the information provided in applications. Sloppiness when it comes to this has made many DJs angry, and it just plain looks bad for a station that has so many listeners. Having a group of people work on scheduling and proof-reading is not that difficult. I have been part of that process with The Knox Student before, and it greatly limits the number of mistakes that are made.

Also, in my particular case, I would like to reiterate the fact that Kate and I clearly provided a distinct genre for our show as well as our full title, neither of which were included in the schedule for last term. If people aren't willing to even read the applications they are given, and include the relevant information, then why exactly did we sit through the meeting and fill them out?

Again, I understand this is not an easy job, running a radio station as a student, but I absolutely believe that it is a job that can and SHOULD be done with enthusiasm for doing a good job, and should be done with as much attention to detail as possible.

Thanks for your comment. :)