So Tony Hall has decreed. “By the end of 2014, the corporation is aiming for 50 per cent of local stations to have a woman presenting the high-profile Breakfast shows – either in a solo capacity or as part of a team.”

Kate Adie at Radio Durham

Kate Adie at Radio Durham

I worked in BBC Local Radio for 23 years. I ran three stations, including Radio Manchester for over six years. I was responsible for one of the very few solo women on Breakfast, and hired and developed a range of female talent over my BBC career. I believe in Sound Women, certainly in their aims, if not always in their execution. I’ve blogged about that before. (And in the interests of full disclosure: a year ago, 2ZY pitched a training project idea to BBC Local Radio to incubate and develop female presenting talent. This was not commissioned.)

And whilst I’m still not sure if the modern listener really cares about the number of chromosomes, just whether they’re any good or not – the figures for solo women are terrible. And there are still plenty of brilliant, and rubbish, men and women on the air every day.

A few questions, then, about how this stretching target will be achieved.

1. Does making sure a female newsreader is rota-ed, and that she chips in a bit, ticking the ‘part of a team’ box? If so, stations will be accused of mere tokenism.

2. Will we see hastily-forced marriages, where established breakfast journeymen are given equal billing with a new on-air partner? Getting a double-headed show right is at least twice as difficult as a solo show. There has to be absolute single-mindedness to balance age, seniority and personality to ensure you don’t end up with ‘Old/Nice Young Man in Chinos’ Presenter +’ Younger Female Newsreader Who’s Never Presented Before’ or any other gender-sterotypical cliches.

(And while we’re on that, will there be forensic snooping to eliminate any note of ditziness, assumed mumsi-ness, and naff cross-generational flirtation?)

BBC LR is hardly the home of the ‘side-chick’, but it would be good to ensure any woman in a double-head has genuinely equal billing. Like actually driving the desk too, or doing the presentery stuff around the news and so on. Or to put it another way, if you imagine you were playing Presenter Top Trumps and in most of the skill categories, the guy has the higher score, you’re setting up the woman to fail. This achieves nothing for equality.

3. Will Managing Editors be supported by their regional managers and HQ, through brave decisions to remove established (male) talent and replace with new (female) talent? The BBC LR audience is loyal and dogged, but making any big on-air change (and it doesn’t get much bigger than a presenter change at breakfast) can be a trial. In annual performance review, there’s more attention paid to RAJAR than you might think …

4. Where are all the new women presenters going to come from? It’s not since Viva! 963 that twenty great female presenters were needed in one fell swoop. But the radio road in 2013 is littered with older, ex-commercial, or former BBC Local/network women who left the business for whatever reason in the last 20 years. It will take time for the new generation of female talent to percolate into the territory of BBC LR from universities, so former presenters are a richer seam.

Or you could always hire some nice station announcer types. This has gone badly wrong before, though. Training non-radio people to do radio at breakfast, especially opposite existing talent is a volatile mix. And hard to believe as it may be, there are still some BBC LR stations without a single woman in the daytime line-up, so there’s a low base to work from in some areas.

If this is mis-handled on the stations, it will destabilise many good breakfast turns in BBC Local Radio, cost more money, do the ’cause’ no good at all and damage audiences; If this goes right, it’s the foundation to modernise a key daypart for BBC Local Radio.

You can hear what I said about this issue on BBC Radio 4’s Media Show here.

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