THE "SIDECHICK" SYNDROME
by Dan O'Day
A few years ago I received an aircheck from a female jock in a
medium/small market. Let's call her "Jackie." Jackie
was one-half of a morning team, and she was funny. She did interesting
characters, had clever ideas, and was blessed with good timing.
Her partner - a male - was not as talented as she. As a result,
the show suffered.
I wrote back to Jackie, suggesting that she try to land a morning
gig of her own...or form a new team in which she was the lead
player. Her personality was too strong to be relegated to just
being "the girl" on a morning show.
A month later, Jackie introduced herself to me at a radio convention.
She thanked me for my feedback and excitedly informed me that
she'd just been offered a job as part of a multi-person morning
team at a legendary, large-market AOR station.
"Don't accept the offer, " I said.
"But....But it's a large market," she protested. "And
famous call letters. And the station has good ratings."
"The station also has a large morning show with a revolving
door - especially for females," I replied. "You'll
be the token woman, the fifth jock. You'll have no control over
the program's flow and not much input into its content. You'll
be wasting your talents, and you won't be happy."
I knew Jackie respected my opinion. Indeed, I had become acquainted
with her work because she wanted my advice. So when I recommended
that she refuse the job offer, I had no doubt what she'd do.
She'd take the job.
Of course. How could she resist?
She was there for a few months and hated it. Eventually she was
Since then she's worked at several other stations in large markets,
including a stint as one-half of a team. I know the (male) jock
she was teamed with - talented, personable, a real pro.
And I knew that situation would be unhappy, too. Because he has
the kind of strong ego that needs to dominate a show. So does
Jackie. The show went nowhere, and again she was out of work.
Jackie had another, short-lived stay at a well-known CHR station
as the morning show's token woman. And she's become publicly vocal
about how tough it is to be a female personality.
Of course it's tough. In addition to all the crap that all disc
jockeys have to put up with, women also have to cope with the
prejudices of a male-dominated industry.
And it's the narrow thinking of so many program directors (both
male and female) that makes it vital for the female jock to assume
responsibility for her own career.
The overwhelming majority of female air personalities have been
faced with gender bias sometime in their careers.
If you're a male disc jockey, think back to the last time you
went looking for work. Remember the frustration, the rejection,
and - especially if you were unemployed at the time - the feeling
Now imagine how, in those circumstances, it would have felt to
apply for job after job, only to be told, "I like your tape,
but we already have a male on our air staff."
With a quick substitution of "female" for "male,"
that's what female jocks have heard for years.
If you're a male disc jockey, reflect upon all the arguments you've
had with program directors and managers regarding your show's
content. If you were a female jock, you'd also have experienced
this on a regular basis:
"Oh, you can't do that on-the-air. It would be okay if you
were a man, but women can't be that way on the radio."
Women "can't be"
*"Men will feel threatened by you."
*"Women listeners will feel you're competing with them.
*"That's the way it is. Everybody knows that."
*"Research says so." (The person saying this has never
seen that re-search, but he's been told that somewhere, someone
did some kind of research and it proved that women "can't
be" that way on the radio.)
*"We once tried a woman in the job, and it didn't work."
I see it in market after market: a successful morning show that
includes a female....either as quasi-news person (disparagingly
referred to by some radio people as "news bimbo") or
as female sidekick. I call these "side-chicks." They're
not really newspeople, and they're not considered full-fledged
Instead, they're there to lend a female voice to the proceedings
and to laugh appreciatively at the real entertainment provided
by the male team members.
Often when the "sidechick" works with (or, more accurately,
works for) a very successful, well-known disc jockey, she mistakenly
thinks his reflected glory will illuminate her career even after
she no longer is part of the show.
She doesn't work to improve her craft. Why should she? She's already
one-half of the most successful show in town! It is not uncommon
for her even to become a bit arrogant, to treat others condescendingly
because she is, after all, a star!
But then, inevitably, a change is made in the program, and suddenly
she's looking for work. Certainly she won't have any trouble landing
a good gig; after all, she was a well-known part of the #1 show
But then she learns the cold, hard truth: Yes, people have heard
of her. But few are interested in hiring her - certainly not in
a position of equal status.
THE TEN WARNING SIGNS
You know you've got a job and not a career when:
1. You're referred to on-air by your first name only. With few
exceptions, male jocks have both a first and a last name. Note
how often you'll see a station's line-up in the trades: "Steve
Shannon does mornings, Bob Roberts mid-days, Sean Michaels afternoons,
Carl Baker does nights, and Lovely Lisa holds down the overnight
This tendency is incredibly patronizing toward women. Think about
it: Children are introduced by first name only ("Bob, I'd
like you to meet Tommy; he's one of your biggest fans");
adults are introduced by their full names ("Bob, I'd like
you to meet Paul Dixon, one of our newest clients").
Would Jonathon Brandmeier have such a high-profile career if some
PD long ago had forced him to use only his first name?
("Hi, I'm Jonathon!" Sounds like it should be followed
with, "...and I'll be your waiter this evening.")
2. You're referred to by a first name only, and that name is
an artificial, little girl-type name (Bam-Bam, Barbie, Muffy).
3. You're the only female on a team show, and your duties consist
primarily of being the focus of cheap sexual innuendo and/or acting
as a cheerleader for the boys on the team - i.e., reacting from
the sidelines but never really participating as an equal.
4. You can't clearly define a specific, creative, vital contribution
you make to the show.
5. You are expected to follow orders but never are asked for
6. The lead roles on-mike are always taken by others; you never
begin or end a break.
7. You rarely find yourself thinking, "I can't wait to
get on the air tomorrow and talk about this..." - because
you rarely affect the show's content.
8. You often marvel at what an easy job you have, because all
you have to do is show up for the shift. You never need to do
any show prep, because you don't really do anything on the show.
9. You make far less money than anyone else on the show.
10. When you lose your job, the only other jobs you're offered
in your market are part-time.
ASSUME THE RESPONSIBILITY
How can you avoid the sidechick/news bimbo trap? By caring enough
to build a career, rather than settling for just a job. Determine
what your most valuable radio skills are and what you really want
to do in the industry, and direct all your efforts to achieving
There's nothing wrong with being a news bimbo - if that's enough
to satisfy you. But if you want to do topical satire, you won't
get there by providing a human laugh track for "the boys."
If you want to want to host your own nationally syndicated countdown
show, reacting meekly but good-naturedly while "the boys"
joke about how you've slept with every guy in radio probably won't
speed you along the career path you seek.
If you're already working on a successful morning show but not
in a capacity that affords you self-respect, you can explore other
air shift possibilities at your station ...or, more likely, at
a competing, less successful station in your market...or in a
"But why should I consider going to a smaller market? Isn't
that a step down?"
It can be. But if you're trying to climb to the top of a building
and the ladder you're on goes only to the top of the basement,
you might need first to step down and then start climbing a ladder
that takes you where you want to be.
(Excerpted from PERSONALITY RADIO, Volume II: The Dangerous
Air Personality, by Dan O'Day)