It’s March 8, 2019, and International Women’s Day today! Today, and all through the month of March (and, really, every day), is a celebration of women that began when the Socialist Party of America organized a Women’s Day on February 28, 1909. The following year, it was suggested that it be held annually. It became a national holiday in Soviet Russia on March 8, 1917, and in 1975, the United Nations officially chimed in. In 2019, it’s embraced in many places and ignored in others. I say let’s go to embrace International Women’s Day!
Over the course of writing this blog, my love of radio has been mentioned a lot. And why not — it’s a huge part of who I am today. I also may have mentioned my love / hate relationship with radio. I have loved radio for 40 years, but apart from my wonderful time at college stations like WUMF and WHSN, and community stations like WMPG, radio has not loved me…yet. And, the radio I listened to at age 12 vs. the radio I listen to at 52 is far from the same.
One thing I’ve noticed as of late on commercial radio, namely Classic Rock or Oldies stations (OMG 80s is Oldies now! Holy cats!), and the question I ask more than any other — where are the women at?! Yesterday (March 7, 2019), I researched a few radio stations around Portland, Maine, Boston and New York just to compare how many women are represented in playlists today. And, apart from Top 40, which has always had a large representation of women played on their stations, even dating back to when I listened to Top 40, the playlists at the Classic Rock and Oldies stations I researched were sadly dominated by men.
Apparently (and unfortunately), the whole “recently played” feature has yet to catch on in the three major Portland, Maine radio stations I researched. C’mon Portland, you’re the 96th radio market in America! Act like it dammit!
So, when I struck out in Portland, Maine, I went down to the No. 1 radio market in the country — New York — to find a Classic Rock station. And success! Well, depending on how you look at it.
In the three-hour period I first researched of this iHeart radio station that brands itself as “New York’s Classic Rock,” Pat Benatar was played once, and Fleetwood Mac was played twice. I go back another three hours, and Fleetwood Mac is there again! I get it! RUMOURS is one of the biggest albums of all time, an rightfully so; it’s an incredible album.
But, in the six hours I researched, so many great male artists were played more than once, and yet no Joan Jett, no Heart, no Janis Joplin, no Go-Go’s. Hey, Men At Work is in there, and I love Men At Work! So, why not The Go-Go’s? In six hours, three songs by Fleetwood Mac (two featuring Stevie Nicks on vocals) and one Pat Benatar song. Three songs featuring women on vocals in six fucking hours. Where are the women at?! And no proper 80s radio station in New York? What the what?! I’ll have to get right on that.
I then went up to Boston to the station formerly known as “Boston’s Greatest Hits.” This was promising. Then the station recently rebranded itself as “80s & More.” I was intrigued. Apparently, “80s & More” for this station means they play 70s and 90s with an emphasis on 80s. Still intrigued.
In the same six-hour research time period, Stevie Nicks and Don Henley’s “Leather And Lace” kicked things off. Then it took almost 90 minutes for Pat Benatar’s “We Belong” to be played. That was followed later by Scandal, Eurythmics, The Go-Go’s (!), Fleetwood Mac, Pat Benatar again (three hours after “We Belong”), Nena, and Cyndi Lauper’s gorgeous “Time After Time.”
So, compared to the other station, seven female artists (or female-led acts) were played on eight songs in the same six-hour timeframe vs. three female artists. That’s better, but still not great. After the 90-minute wait between Stevie Nicks and Pat Benatar, it was a 45-minute wait between Pat and Scandal, another 45 minutes between Scandal and Eurythmics, 40 minutes between Eurythmics and The Go-Go’s, and so on. An average of six to eight songs by men vs. one song by a woman in the average span of 45-60 minutes. It’s better than the New York station, but it’s not enough. You play Michael Jackson, why not Madonna? And where’s Aretha? The Motels? Janet Jackson? Tina Turner?! I shouldn’t have to get angry about this shit.
Back in mid-December 1983, more than three months after its release, a new single by a relatively unknown 30-year-old woman by the name of Cyndi Lauper made an unassuming debut on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 at No. 80 with “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” (which features Rob Hyman and Eric Bazilian of The Hooters, Jules Shear, and David Letterman’s house drummer, Anton Fig).
Three months later, in March 1984, the native New Yorker reached No. 2 on the Hot 100 and had a huge hit with “Girls Just Want To Have Fun,” but was denied the No. 1 spot by the four-man Pasadena, California Hard Rock band, Van Halen, and their hit, “Jump.”
“Girls Just Want To Have Fun” was written and recorded in 1979 by Robert Hazard (whose “Escalator Of Life” was a moderate hit in the Spring of 1983), but when Cyndi recorded her version for her brilliant album, SHE’S SO UNUSUAL, it took on a whole new meaning and a whole new life.
As Cyndi mentioned about “Girls” in her 2012 autobiography, CYNDI LAUPER: A MEMOIR, “I said to myself, ‘Hell yeah, I’ll make [it] an anthem! Maybe it’ll be something that will bring us all together and wake us up.’ It would be a movement right under all the oppressors’ noses, and no one would know about it until there was nothing they could do to stop it.
“It was very blatantly feminist [and] it doesn’t mean that girls just want to fuck. It just means that girls want to have the same damn experience that any man could have.” And absolutely should have.
“Girls Just Want To Have Fun” may have stopped at No. 2 here in America, but globally, it was the fourth-biggest single of 1984, reaching No. 1 or the Top 10 in at least fourteen countries around the globe. And, its staying power and strong message has lasted through generations and I know it will continue to be an inspiration for women (and girls) for generations to come.
Every time I’ve seen Cyndi perform “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” in concert, I often find myself looking at the crowd, and I see so many girls dancing to this song with their friends or sisters or mothers or aunts or grandmothers, and it’s beautiful. The last time I saw Cyndi was in Bangor, Maine on a July 2017 double bill with Rod Stewart (and her first time performing in Maine since the TRUE COLORS tour!). I was near the front, and reveled in the excitement over Cyndi performing this amazing anthem for those in attendance. I look forward to the next time I can experience that again.
For 35 years, Cyndi Lauper has been a beacon of hope and love and peace and music and togetherness for everyone, especially for those who don’t get the respect and love and peace they deserve and then some. TRUE COLORS UNITED (formerly the TRUE COLORS FUND; truecolorsunited.org) exists to combat homeless youth, especially LBGT youth, who, as of 2016, made up 40% of the homeless youth population in the United States.
And for 35 years, Cyndi’s “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” has conveyed that all women truly want to have the same experiences that men have. And I know that could be conveyed to radio, too.
So, if there are any actual program directors left out there who might be reading this (and not some stupid computer-generated program which predicts what people want to hear, as opposed to listening to what people really want to listen to), Cyndi’s right.
For those stations out there (in any genre) already playing women in heavy rotation, I applaud you. I love you, radio, I always have. And I have always believed in you. But, you can do better…