Months after WhyNotHer launched to give women more airtime on Irish radio, have things changed for the better?

In the last six months, statistics showed that 85% of the top 100 most played artists on Irish radio were male.

A woman standing behind a microphone

Last summer, the WhyNotHer campaign caused a ripple in the music industry in Ireland. Sarah McKenna Barry caught up with activist Linda Coogan Byrne to reflect on how far we’ve come, as well as the work that still needs to be done.

With over 15 years of experience in the music industry, Linda Coogan Byrne felt that it was time to finally confront the gender disparity on Irish radio. Initially, Linda calculated the airtime female Irish artists are given in comparison to their male counterparts across the airwaves, and the results were truly shocking.

Of the 27 radio stations studied, male artists accounted for 95% of the airtime dedicated to Irish musicians on 16 of the stations. On FM 104, there were zero female Irish musicians in their top 20 most played artists. Linda collected the data and shared it across social media as she launched the #WhyNotHer campaign and hashtag.

WhyNotHer paints a vivid picture of the challenges Irish women are up against in the music industry today. “I knew it would upset a few people by putting out the report as it was so stark. It’s a data-based report, and that’s what’s really important here,” notes Linda. “It’s not about opinions.”

The data was quickly circulated across social media, and soon the #WhyNotHer hashtag was viral. “It was just phenomenal,” says Linda. “In the first month, it got over 20 million views, and it trended over five times on Twitter.” 

Since the initial report, there have been some improvements, with Irish women experiencing increased radio play as documented in the follow up report released in January. Linda acknowledges the power of data in this respect: “We put it to them and said ‘This is just data. It’s in your hands, and you can change it’. When we put it to the public, they can’t deny it, and people are going to ask questions. There was such a huge wave when we launched the campaign, with people from all walks of life supporting the movement. It’s just brilliant and it shows the radio stations – who are the gatekeepers of our culture – that people want change.”

Having said that, there is still a long way to go in ensuring that radio stations are more equitable with their airtime. The implication of reduced radio play can be devastating for Irish musicians, particularly in the present moment, as Linda explains: “The single most important form of revenue for an artist is royalties. If you look at the top 100 most played artists on Irish radio, in the last six months, 85% are male, only 11% are female, and 4%  are collaborations, so that’s only 11% of Irish women getting airtime on Irish radio, in the most difficult financial crisis. It’s just unacceptable.”

In order for there to be a level playing field on Irish radio, change needs to come from the top, however it is here where the WhyNotHer campaign is met with the most resistance. “The barrier isn’t ignorance,” notes Linda. “It never has been. It’s built-in oppressive systems and misogyny. We’re operating from an ineffective system, one that is led by white, cis men and it’s not working for us. There’s a really wonderful array of diversity that is yet to be showcased by the gatekeepers of our culture. We need to act on this. There are leaps and bounds happening, but not to the extent of how quickly they should be happening. A lot of people say we have to do this slowly. But for who? Women are ready for equality. The LGBT+ community is ready for equality. The Black community is ready to be treated fairly.”

As the WhyNotHer campaign looks to the future, Linda hopes to move beyond awareness and tackle these systems head on: “We’re just working on a diversity and inclusion package that we’re going to roll out next week, and it’s up to radio whether they want to actually take it on board. We will supply this pack, and we have amazing people on the team who are helping us with it. So it’s really down to their openness and their want to actually be part of the solution as opposed to the problem.”

Going forward, Linda notes the importance of maintaining the momentum of the WhyNotHer campaign for the sake of our musicians: “We can’t keep losing our creatives just because they’re women, or because they’re POC. This is so important and we can’t just dismiss it. When we work together, as cliché as it sounds, we do rise together.”

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