Workshop delves into gender divide in radio industry

Vassar’s Feminist Action Collective invited NYU grad and WNYU host Laura Pfeifer to lead a workshop on women in radio podcasting, a group generally underrepresented in the industry. / Courtesy of Alexia Garcia

“Music is a very lopsided field in general—it’s extremely male-dominated,” feminist Laura Pfeifer said, casually sitting at a sunny desk in Rockefeller Hall to the few nodding women who gathered to talk about women in radio.

On Feb. 18, the Feminist Action Collective held a Women and Femmes in Radio Podcasting Workshop with Laura Pfeifer, a NYU graduate and WNYU radio show host. The workshop was an open forum for Vassar women in the radio scene to ask questions about anything from editing podcasts to jobs in the music and radio industry. In the end, however, it evolved from a more specific conversation about podcasting into a larger discussion about gender politics at WVKR, Vassar’s longstanding, student-run radio station.

The workshop’s guest of honor, Laura Pfeifer, has special insight into the issues facing the world of radio. During her time at NYU, Pfeifer hosted a post-punk, new wave, experimental radio show featuring underground artists. Her show eventually grew into a three-hour punk marathon on afternoons. As a recent graduate, she is considering applying to host shows on renowned radio stations such as punk London radio NTS or the freeform Los Angeles radio KCHUNG. Pfeifer is also thinking about working for the Monorail Trespassing Music Label, among others.

“For me it is fundamentally about music and the radio is my way of fostering that interest,” the punk pundit commented, starting off the conversation. Saskia Globig ’19 responded, “For me, it’s the opposite. I like radio as an activity. It’s a very community-centered hobby.” Most of the women at the meeting agreed that the radio was more of a hobby than a career path, but a great way to pursue interests in music and journalism. 

The women in attendance recognized that a lot of their goals were to spread feminist ideas and also to make sure that underrepresented groups are heard. “I try to delve into femmes’ stories for most of the pieces I make because I think it’s easy to get excited about feminism,” Globig said. She also commented that she didn’t want to impinge on girls’ “complex, messy dues on air,” but rather empowering women’s voices. Lena Redford ’18 saw merit in this sentiment as well. She started her show, “Girlelectra,” freshman year after realizing how historically underrepresented females were in electronic music. She decided, “I’m only playing female-identified artists from here on out.”

While the conversation started off centered around the attendees’ love of music and various editing techniques, the discussion opened up into a broader conversation about gender politics at the station. The consensus seemed to be that WVKR is very male-dominated.

“Do you think there is a specific dynamic between the men’s shows and the women’s shows?” Pfeifer asked about WVKR. From her time at NYU, Pfeifer remarked that she had dealt with a lot of male hosts with very specific music interests, saying, “There were a lot of opinionated males at the station, but that is not to say that they actively didn’t include women.”

WVKR executive board member Alexia Garcia ’18 understood where Pfeiffer was coming from. Garcia agreed that WVKR can appear to exclude women, as an overwhelming majority of its shows are run by men, and the board, which decides what shows are selected, is disproportionately male. This is not to say that these men actively disapprove of women-run shows; however. to a female outsider, the station might appear exclusionary.

Sammy Storz ’20 said that she didn’t apply for a show because she thought that she didn’t have the proper skills to have her own show and that the process of applying to the radio and maintaining a show was “a little intimidating.”

In response to the evident gender imbalance, the station has been working hard to include more women. “I think there has been a lot more focus on female voices lately. Especially since the station is very lopsided with its amount of men,” responded Garcia, host of “Girls’ Night Out.” The station recently added a show put on by the Feminist Action Collective that features female artists in genres ranging from jazz to hard rock to indie.

When asked how they were going to get more women involved, the workshop attendees agreed that their first task should be to get WVKR more well-known on campus. Globig commented, “We all know about The Misc and Boilerplate, but I think it is important for people to know that WVKR is a creative resource on campus too.”

Some other ideas the women and femmes discussed in promoting WVKR on campus included having local bands come and perform live on radio shows, getting the Deece to play WVKR tunes and also holding an open house after the station gets renovated during spring break.

While there is a push for more female involvement overall, one collaborative show in particular, the pre-org Audio Picnic, is mostly comprised of female members. Audio Picnic is a podcast show that airs on Thursday nights from 8 to 9 p.m. and is open to anyone who wants to contribute a short podcast or interview, or just wants to listen to creative and interesting conversations. Storz commented about the podcast show: “Audio Picnic is a great space, and I always feel like my thoughts are valued. I also don’t feel like it’s a boys’ club.”

In addition to Audio Picnic, WVKR has launched Pink Noises, a series of workshops, discussions and live shows by and about women, femmes, non-cis people and non-binary people in hip-hop and electronic music. The aim of Pink Noises is to empower a hugely underrepresented group in music, and also to encourage more people who identify as female or non-binary to get involved in the Vassar music scene. The showcase hosted several widely successful events last spring and is planning another one in early March.

At the end of the day, the workshop didn’t so much focus on defining the female voice in radio, but rather centered on the need to get more women involved in the Vassar music scene. “We should just have witching hours,” Garcia smiled. “Or maybe we can just turn Audio Picnic into a whistle-blowing platform,” Redford and Garcia joked. “That will get people involved.”

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