I read a startling statistic last week: Of the more than 200 regular sports talk hosts in the country’s top 20 markets, only seven are women. That number seemed a little low, but when I thought about that, and about how none of Houston’s sports talk stations had a show hosted by a female, the number seemed to be about right.
That seems a bit strange, though. There are a lot of women in Houston, a lot of women in the United States. So why then is this number so low? How are women so cut out of this equation? At a time when there are women referees, women in the armed forces and the presidential front-runner is a woman, why then are there so few women on sports radio?
The Chicago Tribune story containing that statistic posits that it’s because of the overwhelming bro-culture of radio sports talk. There’s undoubtedly truth to this, as anyone who has listened to Houston sports radio during drive time can attest, that time when the sports aspect of the programming can take a back seat to comedy bits, and intellectual sports discussion is replaced with shouting and questioning the manhood of players.
It’s a shame that this has happened in Houston, because when I was a kid, back before there were 24-hour sports talk radio stations, listening options were few and far between. One such option usually involved whichever radio station Anita Martini was working for. Martini was a true sports pioneer. She originally had to report from the stands because women weren’t allowed on the field. It took many years before she was even granted access to the Astrodome press box. She became the first female reporter in a major league locker room when she convinced L.A. Dodgers manager Walter Alston to open the doors to her at the Astrodome. She was also the first female television sports anchor in the country when she took on that position at a Houston station.
Working in the 1970s, she didn’t have the benefit of computers, the Internet and Google. She had to know information off the top of her head, or she had to hope she had the right press guides at hand at just the right time. But she knew her stuff, and I still say that some of the best, most intelligent radio-based baseball discussion I’ve heard was on her show. I don’t remember her being rude to callers, or making jokes about them. She always had good guests, and she asked good questions about things I wanted to know about.
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I interviewed ESPN’s Hannah Storm many years ago. During that talk, we got to discussing Martini. And Storm was quite emphatic as to the importance of Martini: “I don't think people should ever forget her. She was just a trailblazer. She was the first one in...a lot of the players respected her, and she was very knowledgeable. So I always really looked up to her.”
I know Martini's time was nearly 40 years ago, and that times change. She had to appeal to a wide audience because she was on a general news station that actually did news and was programmed for a citywide audience, not some so-called news station programmed for the angry-while-male demographic. And there was no 24-hour sports station that could primarily focus on football, to the detriment of all other sports, because it’s now possible to make money just broadcasting to that very narrow demographic. I’m also quite aware that this is a national problem, not just a Houston problem.
But here’s the deal. Houston should be better than the rest of the country. The city was ahead of the curve back in the 1970s when Anita Martini was hosting sports talk and anchoring TV sportscasts. There’s no reason one of Houston’s sports talk stations can’t do it again. There’s absolutely no reason that women’s voices should be shut off from hosting, especially seeing as how Houston sports stations were more than willing to let a troglodyte like Josh Innes be a sports talk host for many years.
So maybe I am tilting at windmills. Maybe I am the only one who cares about this. But until somebody can prove to me otherwise, I believe that not only would a woman do a great job as a Houston sports talk host, but she would also be a ratings hit.