Photo courtesy: Lori Beckstead

Ryerson prof creates radio data tool

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By Alanna Rizza

A Ryerson professor has created an interactive data tool to show the amount of diversity in Toronto’s top radio stations.

Lori Beckstead, an RTA school of media professor, created Interactive Radio: Diversity on Air, a radio that shows the percentage of racialized male and female radio hosts in Toronto’s top 22 stations. The radio stations were ranked according to audience share ratings.

“I had a feeling that radio wasn’t keeping pace in terms of who was on air and how to access the microphone with respect to the [diversity] of Toronto,” said Beckstead.

Her research started in 2009 and was modelled after the Canadian Employment and Equity Act.

She updated her research in 2014 and saw that diversity in radio has changed “marginally but not much.”

The radio has two knobs. By turning the gender knob, the radio will play back a soundscape of male or female voices from a specific radio station.

“If you were tuning into a [station] where the hosts are 75 per cent male, the radio would play back at 75 per cent volume,” said Beckstead.

There is also an antenna that works like a volume-unit meter. The antenna moves to show the exact percentage of racialized males or females.

Beckstead said that the audience of Toronto is not as engaged in radio because there is a lack of diversity of radio hosts.

“I really want to start a conversation about this issue because radio is an aural medium, you can’t see the people who are on air,” said Beckstead.

“It’s easier to hide behind a microphone, because you can’t necessarily tell from someone’s voice [if] they’re racialized.”

Beckstead’s data shows that out of the 22 radio stations only one station has more female hosts than males. Her data also indicates that the number of racialized people out of all of the stations is under 17 per cent.

Ana Moreno, a first year RTA student, said that talking about diversity is important, especially since, “there is so much change happening.”

“I think it is super important to have an equal balance of both genders and a diversity of races in radio because [people] who are growing up in today’s society should grow up with diversity as a norm,” said Moreno.

“I think we should [talk about diversity] so that there’s no gap of information. If the young [people] of society are growing up with diversity, all ages should be informed in the same way.”

The radio is currently on display at Gallery 1313 on Queen Street West until Jan. 31. It will be put on display at the Allan Slaight Radio Institute in the Rogers Communication Centre in February or March, according to Beckstead.

Beckstead hopes to update her research every five years.

“I hope to keep gathering the data to measure whether there is any change, and hopefully I’ll be able to display the radio in many different places to get people thinking and talking about this issue,” said Beckstead.

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