Cross-currents: Gender and Transnational Broadcasting

Report about transnational workshop at Bournemouth University, Centre for Media History, July 6 – 7, 2017

When I presented my PhD project “Radiophonics, Noise and Understanding” at the fist workshop of the Australian-German “Transnational Media Histories” collaboration[1] at the Centre for Media History at Macquarie University, in Sydney in February 2017, Dr Jeannine Baker asked me if I would like to join a workshop, which she and her colleague Dr Justine Lloyd were planning together with the British radio scholar Dr Kate Murphy for July in Bournemouth, UK. Its topic: Gender and transnational broadcasting. I asked her, if gender would refer exclusively to female aspects of broadcasting or if I also would be allowed to discuss the topic of my PhD about noise and radio art from a male and masculinity studies perspective. Jeannine liked the idea and so I got invited to participate in, and to present at, a very fruitful and inspiring international, two-day workshop at the Centre for Media History at Bournemouth University.

Eighteen of the nineteen presentations focused exclusively on women in transnational broadcasting and on female aspects of media history. It was an impressive variety of speakers and topics. For example Dr Anya Luscombe (Utrecht, NL) spoke about Dorothy Lewis (1896 – 1978), US American radio pioneer, who worked at the 1946 establishing of United Nations Radio together with Eleanor Roosevelt, and who also became the first UN coordinator of radio broadcasts. Leonie Thomas (Exeter, UK) presented her research on the Jamaican feminist writer and activist Una Marson (1905 – 1965) and her transnational “Message Parties”, which she hosted at the BBC in London during World War II and which delivered messages via the air to families and friends of the participants back home in the Caribbean. And Mita Lad (Edge Hill, UK) gave us insight into her empirical research on the female audiences of Indian soap operas in the UK. (Complete program see below)

With its focus on transnational broadcasting, the workshop meshed nicely in the current wave of European and international research projects and networks on transnational media.[2] Of course as everyone interested in radio knows, “radio waves are not stopped by national borders, and radio has always been shaped by transnational arenas” (Badenoch 2016, 243). But only lately – certainly also due to the advent of digitisation, the world wide web, globalisation and funding policies – this transnational aspect has received the academic attention it deserves and requires if one wishes to understand radio. However, the title “Cross-currents: Gender and Transnational Broadcasting” touched upon a crucial aspect of these latest transnational developments in the field: Although all projects and collaboration mention gender as an important topic in their research outlines (cf. e.g. Cronqvist & Hilgert 2017, 134), so far female histories of the media have remained subprojects. This might also highlight a danger, about which the renowned US-American radio historian Michele Hilmes lately quite provocatively stated: “The best way to disappear from history, is to be a woman and do transnational broadcasting.”[3] In this respect the organizers of the “Cross-currents” workshop made an excellent job in fighting this danger and bringing together a group of scholars from all over Europe (incl. Turkey) and Australia, who are going against the mainstream of media research and its risk of either neglecting female media histories or forgetting about the achievements of feminist efforts in the last decades or even “enforcing the ‘great man’ mode of history” (Hilmes 2017, 143).

Although there were a few presentations on women and TV, the focus was clearly on women and the history of Anglophone radio broadcast. This privileging of the radio certainly was also related to the fact that one of the organizers lately published a monograph on this topic: Kate Murphy (Bournemouth, UK) spoke about Isa Benzie and Janet Quigley at the BBC’s Foreign Department, two protagonists of her sound and comprehensive Behind the Wireless: A History of Women at the Early BBC (2016). Inspired by Asa Briggs’ impressive History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom (5 vols.; 1961 – 1995) and its claim that women played a ‘key part’ in the setting up of the organisation since its beginning in 1922, Murphy came to the conclusion: “women worked in the interwar BBC at all levels, apart from the very top: […] their shingled hair, smart clothes and lipstick smiles” were regarded as “a symbol of the modernity of the BBC” (Murphy 2016, pos. 245 Kindle Reader). Murphy also shows that “(o)ne of the ways the BBC expressed its modernity was through an ethos of equality of opportunity. A non-gendered grading system operated from the start, offering, in principle, equal pay and equal promotional chances.” (pos. 296) Thus, Isa Benzie (1902 – 1988) for example could rise from the position of secretary of the BBC’s Foreign Liaison Officer (£ 3 a week) in 1927 to Foreign Director (£ 1,250 a year) in 1937. However, due to the so-called “marriage bar”, which was introduced at the BBC in 1932 and did not allow married women to continue working (although it was not strictly enforced, especially not for permanent employees), she resigned a few months later after she had married. Janet Quigley (1902 – 1987), her assistant for six years and friend since study times in Oxford, around that time became producer for women’s programs at the Talks Department, making excellent programs with the aim to improve women’s lives, e.g. by saving them from the ‘tyranny of beauty advertising’ (pos. 5629). When Quigley retired in 1962, she was BBC’s Assistant Head of Talks. Women certainly could make a career on their own at the BBC, even in its beginning. However, in 1985 still only 4% of women were at the very top and only in 1990 was the first women appointed to the Management Board (pos. 7055).

Jeannine Baker (Macquarie, AUS), whose study Australian Women War Reporters: Boer War to Vietnam (2015) already showed her interest in extraordinary brave and adventurous women[4], entitled her talk “London Calling: Australian women broadcasters at the BBC, 1930s–1950s”. One of the intriguing women Baker has been working on lately, and whom she presented to us, is Muriel Grace Howlett (1906 – 1994). Born in Gunnedah in New South Wales, Howlett went in 1935 all on her own to London and started to work right away for the BBC, were she quickly made a career. For example already in 1938 she was chosen to travel on the inaugural flying boat service from Southampton to Sydney and to report as the only woman in this „Gentlemen’s club in the clouds“, as she called it, for the BBC about the nine-day-journey from Calcutta to Singapore and about the arrival in Sydney. In her next book project Baker will portray several Australian women who went to London on their own, which even in the 1920s and 1930s was no problem as back in Australia Great Britain was not regarded as far away but rather as the “safe home” so to speak.   

To look for such outstanding female broadcast employees, producers and journalists in the early history of German radio, is an endeavour in vain, as Kate Lacey already has shown in her study Feminine Frequencies: Gender, German Radio and the Public Sphere, 1923 – 1945 (1996). The basic principle of an apolitical radio program in the Weimar Republic wasted the chance to give German women a broader access to the debates of their times via the new medium radio and to encourage them to actively participate in it. Instead the radio producers only addressed them as housewives and mothers, a tendency, which during the 1930s of course was even enforced by the Nazis and their patriarchal ideology. However, Dr Vike Plock (Exeter, UK) spoke in her lecture about “Erika Mann and the BBC German Service in the Second World War”: In 1940/41 the oldest daughter of Thomas Mann, the German Nobel Laureate for Literature, worked as a journalist for the BBC, even during the Blitz on air addressing listeners in Germany to end this war and later also reporting from the front about the defeat of Nazi Germany.  

A highlight of the workshop was the visit of Emily Buchanan (*1958), former BBC’s World Affairs Correspondent (radio and television). In their interview Murphy and Buchanan discussed the question “Why do we need women in the news?” By telling about her own career experiences and showing clips to us, Buchanan answered this question with arguing that “women do see sort of different things than the male correspondents” and therefore also tell different stories, stories about the “everyday awfulness women experience”, as she called it. For example she once noticed at the world’s largest refugee camp in Dadaab in Kenya, next to the boarder of Somalia, dead babies in the latrines and thus reported about the gruesome situation of children refugees.[5] And in 2001 Buchanan received the Radio Documentary Award at the One World Broadcasting Trust for her Radio 4 programme Seeds of Hate about the impact of wartime rape on Muslim women in Bosnia. About such a topic, Buchanan argued, the victims probably would not have spoken about to male journalists.[6] During the vivid discussion after the presentation Buchanan was asked if she regards herself a feminist. This question obviously surprised her and she admitted that she never had thought about it if her approach could be regarded as a feminist approach.  

On day two at Session 5 with the topic “Local and global” I presented my talk “From Futuristic Technophilia to ‘Crashing Aeroplanes’. Case Scenarios of Transnational Radio Art from a Male & Masculinities Studies Perspective.” Coming from a background of literary studies and media aesthetics I was particularly interested in better understanding the misogyny and technophilia in electronic media and art. I would like to further scrutinize these “male fantasies” about technology by engaging even more with the research of masculinity studies pioneers like Klaus Theweleit and Raewyn Connell. Although my topic might seem to be bewildering at first glance in the context of the workshop, I understand it as a helpful supplement to the studies in feminist media history with the aim to remind the researchers about the blueprint of communications media in war technology, as Friedrich Kittler (1999) has taught us. Thus, the talks of Session 5 fit very well, as after my presentation Sejal Sutaria spoke about Venu Chitale (1912 – 1995), the Indian talks broadcaster and assistant to George Orwell at the BBC’s Indian Section of the Eastern Service. Chitale joined the BBC in 1940 and quickly became part of the series of talks called  ‘The Hand That Rocks The Cradle’, which focused on the role of women during the war. And third speaker Dr Nazan Haydari (Istanbul, TK) eventually discussed the challenges of feminist politics and community radio in Turkey today, reminding us, that the democratic, peaceful and emancipated usage of communications media is not a matter of course; it never was, and it never will be. 

In the final wrap-up discussion all of the participants thanked the organizers for such a dense and inspiring workshop. The organizers are now trying to publish some of the presentations as a special issue in an academic journal. At the end the wish was expressed to try to develop the workshop in the direction of a transnational network. Dr Kirstin Skoog (Bournemouth, UK) and Dr Alec Badenoch (Utrecht, NL) even offered to hand over their website WREN – Women’s Radio in Europe Network[7] as a platform. This weblog was established in 2012 but hasn’t really come to life so far. Maybe this could be the perfect tool to establish a transcontinental network on gender and media, only the E for Europe in the acronym would have to be replaced. But why not simply call it WREN – Women’s Radio EntanglementNetwork? (cf. footnote 2)  


Badenoch, Alec. “The radio conference: Transnational radio encounters.” Radio Journal. International Studies in Broadcast & Audio Media 14.2 (2016): 243-245. Print.

Baker, Jeannine: Australian Women War Reporters: Boer War to Vietnam. Sydney: NewSouth, 2015. Kindle.

Briggs, Asa: The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom London (5 vols.). London: Oxford University Press, 1961-1995. Print.

Connell, Rawaeny: Masculinites. Berkley: University of California Press, 2005 [1995]. Print.

Cronqvist, Marie and Christoph Hilgert. “Entangled Media Histories.” Media History 23.1 (2017): 130 – 141. Print.

Hilmes, Michele. “Entangled Media Histories: A Response.” Media History 23.1 (2017): 142 – 144. Print.

Kittler, Friedrich: Gramophone, Film, Typewriter. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999 [1986]. Print.

Lacey, Kate: Feminine Frequencies: Gender, German Radio and the Public Sphere, 1923 – 1945. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1996. Print.

Murphy, Kate: Behind the Wireless: A History of Women at the Early BBC. London: Palgrave Mcmillan, 2016. Kindle.

Theweleit, Klaus: Male Fantasies, vol. 1 & 2. Minneapolis: Theory & History of Literature, 1987/1989 [1977/78]. Print.

[1] “Transnational Media Histories” (2015 – 2018) is a collaboration of the Research Centre Media History at Hans-Bredow-Institut for Media Research at the University of Hamburg (GER) and the Centre for Media History at Macquarie University Sydney (AUS), funded by the DAAD [German Academic Exchange Service] (; August 8, 2017)

[2] Especially three transnational collaborations have to be named here: The “Entangled Media Histories Research Network” (EMHIS), a collaboration of the Hans-Bredow-Institut for Media Research at the University Hamburg with the Centre of Media History of the University of Bournemouth and the Swedish Lund University, lasting from 2013 to 2017 (; August 8, 20017), the European HERA-project “Transnational Radio Encounters” (2014 – 2016) (; August 8, 2017) and the “Transnational Media Histories” collaboration (cf. footnote 1).

[3] This was reported by Alec Badenoch, the only male participant oft he workshop, from the conference “Tracing Entanglements in Media History“, which took place May 18 – 19 2017 at Lund University (; August 8 2017).

[4] For example, Baker writes: „Anne Matheson was one of the first women to land in Normandy after D-Day; Lorraine Stumm reported on Hiroshima just six weeks after it had been destroyed by an atom bomb; Dorothy Cranstone flew into Burma in 1945 with the Royal New Zealand Air Force; Kate Webb was one of the first reporters on the scene after the American embassy was attacked by the Viet Cong during the Tet Offensive. Even in World War II, when Australian women reporters were supposedly quarantined from combat, they witnessed the horrific human consequences of war.”  (Baker 2015, pos. 171 Kindle Reader)

[5] (August 8, 2017)

[6] (August 8, 2017)

[7] (August 8, 2017)

Cross-currents: Gender and Transnational Broadcasting Workshop

Bournemouth University, 6-7 July 2017

9.30- 10.45Registration Tea, coffee & pastries available
11.00-12.30Session 1 – Crossing national boundaries Chair: Jeannine Baker Anne Rees – Making waves across the Pacific: Women, radio broadcasting and Australian-US connections Mita Lad – Watching television from mother India Helen Wood & Jilly Kay – ‘I am against Americanizing England. Ordinary TV does not seem to have an elevating influence’: Class, public anxiety, and women’s responses to the arrival of commercial television
1.15 2.15Guest speaker: Emily Buchanan, BBC World Affairs Correspondent, 2001–15 (In conversation with Kate Murphy)
2.15-3.45Session 2 – Overseas radio broadcasting Chair: Kylie Andrews Kate Murphy – Relay Women: Isa Benzie, Janet Quigley and the BBC’s Foreign Department, 1930–38 Leonie Thomas – ‘Girl About Town’: Una Marson’s transnational message parties Anya Luscombe – Women of United Nations radio: Eleanor Roosevelt and Dorothy Lewis
3.45-4.00Afternoon tea
4.00-5.30Session 3 – Researching participation Chair: Justine Lloyd Gloria Khamkar – Ethnic community radio and women’s participation: A case study of Southampton’s Asian and ethnic community radio Unity 101 Caroline Mitchell – Researching women’s transnational community radio cultures–reflections on participatory action research Alec Badenoch & Kristin Skoog – Lessons from Lilian: is transnational (media) history a gendered issue?
Workshop Dinner – at ‘Dosa World’  – 7.00pm
9.30-9.45Welcome Tea, coffee & pastries available
9.45-11.15Session 4 – Intimacy and Identity Chair: Kristin Skoog Kate Lacey – The intricate intimacies of women’s radio Justine Lloyd – ‘A girdle of thought thrown around the world’: International aspirations in women’s programming in Australia, Canada and the UK Janet McCabe – Disconnected heroines, global femininities: Bron/Broen (The Bridge) and some notes for a transnational feminist TV studies
11.15-11.30Morning tea
11.30-1.00Session 5 – Local and global Chair: Alec Badenoch Ania Mauruschat – From futuristic technophilia to ‘Crashing Aeroplanes’: Case scenarios of transnational radio art from a male and masculinities studies perspective Nazan Haydari – Trajectories of feminist politics and radio in Turkey Sejal Sutaria – Women’s bodies, women’s voices: Venu Chitale and transnational mediations on the BBC Home and Eastern Service
2.00–3.30Session 6 – Transnational careers Chair: Kate Lacey Jeannine Baker – London calling: Australian women broadcasters at the BBC, 1930s–1950s Vike Plock – Erika Mann and the BBC German Service in the Second World War Kylie Andrews – Transnationalism, gender and the postwar ABC: Australia’s female public affairs producers and the beneficial nature of their transborder exchanges
3.30 -4.30Afternoon tea/Wrap up discussion/Next steps