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Let's Talk About X! Is It Wrong to Target a Male Radio Audience?

30/09/2015 17:28 BST | Updated 29/09/2016 10:12 BST

Amid the fanfare and publicity that saw the arrival of Radio X, there was more than a touch of discontent about the station's target audience and male presenter line up. The likes of Fiona Sturges wrote in the Independent about the station taking radio back 20 years, partly down to its supposed male focus and pretty much all male line up, describing the marketing of Radio X as ham-fisted. When Moyles opened up the station with a denial about the 'all-male' tag, it did seem a confusing message. But the publicity blurb had done its job. Created a stir.

So here's the question. Is it really so wrong to target a male audience in radio? Talksport has been doing it successfully for a few years, building an audience of more than 3 million - of which around 80 percent are men. The station also has a male dominated line up, with Georgie Bingham the sole female, presenting weekend breakfast. But those people that have criticised Radio X have not named Talksport in any of the articles I've read. Is this because it's ok to target a sport station at men and not a music station?

As for the all-male line up, this is more a cause of complaint perhaps. I've not seen research that says men prefer listening to men. However, I have also not seen research that says bringing in female presenters will make more women listen. I am no fan of the Moyles style of banter - the horrible blokey culture that took hold during the 1990s. But I have no problem with those that do enjoy it. Radio needs to cater to all tastes. Talking of the 90s, at the time I considered TFI Friday a 'laddy' programme, but didn't read the same complaints on its return. That's probably because just as many women enjoyed the show as men. Certainly there's no evidence it had a male dominated audience.

Commercial radio is generally successful where its target audience is well defined. It's a simple science. Talksport has proved that, as have Classic and Heart to some extent. Those that have criticised Radio X for being sexist (at least in intent by targeting men) have missed the point here. The sexism that does overtly exist, is in the lazy out of date advertising thinking that still lingers across radio (and other platforms). For years commercial radio has predominantly targeted women. This is because the thinking was that women were at home and looked after the major household purchases. But we have moved on from those lazy stereotypes. You could argue that having a music station aimed at men is in fact, refreshing. Heart, Magic, Kiss and Capital have all over the years been aimed (or are aimed) at women. Local commercial radio too is still focused heavily on a female audience.

Is chasing a male audience worse than targeting 25 to 45 females, or teenagers, or over 50s (if only there was such a beast in commercial radio!!)? All define their priority audience. It is sensible marketing. If a new station came along called something like Loose Women, I'd welcome it! You'd understand who the audience was meant to be. But men would listen too I'm sure. Just as women will listen to Moyles and co. I predict that the audience will be 60-40 with a male bias once the figures settle down. That's hardly excluding the female audience is it?

Let's be clear here that I'm talking about commercial radio. If the BBC turned Radio 2 into a male targeted station there'd be understandable concern (BBC 6 Music by the way has a very similar audience to that which Radio X will have - mostly male). Commercial radio though should be allowed to choose an audience and be braver with programming. Those concerned about gender bias should concentrate on the real inequalities across media - such as differences in pay or treatment of women that have career breaks to have children. Or even lazy profiling by advertisers. A new(ish) station with a well thought out strategy is great for the industry. For too long, commercial radio has blandly ticked the 'housewife' audience. That audience has moved on and so has society. Radio might not be turning the clock back but at last catching up.