Celebs commit $3.1M to women's radio
Washington Business Journal - March 17, 2006
by Ben Hammer
GreenStone Media has lined up backing from a high-profile group of women to syndicate talk shows for women on FM radio.
The D.C.-based company (www.greenstonemedia.net) has secured $3.1 million in venture capital as part of its first-round of funding from investors such as Billie Jean King, Jane Fonda, Gloria Steinem and Rosie O'Donnell.
Former Federal Communications Commissioner Susan Ness co-founded GreenStone Media last year to create radio programming aimed at women between 25 and 54. Other investors include Marta Kauffman, the creator of "Friends"; Jamie McCourt, president of the Los Angeles Dodgers; and Wallis Annenberg, vice president of the Annenberg Foundation.
"A group of us were lamenting that there is virtually no programming that really targets women on the radio dial, and so the more we looked into it, the more we realized there was this huge hole to fill," says Ness, the company's chief executive.
Ness is running the company from D.C. but expects the headquarters will eventually move to New York. Executives in charge of operations are located in Seattle.
The group behind GreenStone may be on to something. The percentage of weekday talk-radio listeners who are adult women has remained relatively constant at about 33 percent since 1998, according to media research company Arbitron. Adult contemporary is the only format that attracts a larger share of female listeners.
"Probably more women than men feel there's not enough on the radio for them," says Tom Taylor, editor of industry newsletter Inside Radio. "The challenge is getting on the air in a good spot on a competitive radio station."
Inside Radio is a subsidiary of Clear Channel Communications, which owns 1,200 radio stations in the United States.
More talk shows are taking up real estate on the FM dial as music migrates to alternative media such as satellite radio and podcasting, analysts say.
That creates opportunities, but getting wide distribution and attracting a devoted audience can take years of hard work wooing program managers at each station in each market, Taylor says.
To do that, GreenStone's Ness has recruited Edie Hilliard as chief operating officer and Jim LaMarca as vice president of operations. The Seattle-based executives were top execs at Jones Radio Networks, a provider of satellite-delivered live programs, music and consulting services to individual stations.
GreenStone joins other radio companies producing shows for women, such as D.C.-based XM Satellite Radio, which launched the Take Five channel in October 2005 with shows hosted by Ellen DeGeneres and Tyra Banks. Amy Reyer, XM's director of women's programming, thinks there will be a "revolution" this year in distribution of programming tailored to women.
"All it's really going to take is a few markets," she says. "What we're able to do here is take some risks, test the waters and find out what's happening. Hopefully that will create a chain reaction for women's programming."
GreenStone would like to syndicate programming in all major markets, though Ness won't detail the initial targets. GreenStone also plans to distribute programming online, in podcasts and through proprietary services such as airlines and cable TV providers.
Ness says the company plans to add programming for every time segment and day of the week. The shows will steer away from politics and instead focus on issues such as faith, business, families and relationships.
"The talk that typically appears on the AM radio tends to be harsh and confrontational, and that's not the kind of radio that women want to listen to," Ness says.
GreenStone has already lined up actresses and comediennes to host talk shows in the morning, mid-morning and afternoon drive-time slots. Ness says the launch of broadcasting will depend on syndication deals.
The 6-9 a.m. show will be hosted by stand-up comics Maureen Langan, Corey Kahaney and Nelsie Spencer, author of "The Playgroup." The 9 a.m.-noon show will be hosted by Lisa Birnbach, author of "The Official Preppy Handbook." The 3-6 p.m. show will be hosted by Mo Gaffney, who has appeared on TV shows such as the "That '70s Show," "Mad About You" and "Absolutely Fabulous."
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"... and so the more we looked into it, the more we realized there was this huge hole to fill," says Ness, the company's chief executive.
So we're going to have the radio equivalent to "We", "Oxygen" and "Lifetime" now?
Love my Sirius!
Programing line = 3 weeks of Blues and Mood music followed by a week of Ragtime.