Kate Smith had already achieved Broadway fame when she began her first radio show in 1931. From 1937 to 1945, she had the most popular radio variety hour, The Kate Smith Hour. During that same time she had the #1 daytime radio show, Kate Smith Speaks, a news and commentary program. Smith was well-known during the 30’s and 40’s when she began singing “God Bless America” on the airways. According to the Radio Hall of Fame, Smith’s on-air appeals for war bonds topped $600 million. Her final radio show aired in 1958.
Known as the “First Lady of Radio Chatter,” Pegeen Fitzgerald, first began broadcasting a radio show with her husband, Edward, from their apartment in New York City in 1937. The Fitzgeralds covered a number of topics including book reviews, current events, and they even broadcast their squabbles. During the 1940s, the Fitzgeralds were the highest paid radio duo, earning roughly $160,000 a year.
Another pioneer, Susan Stamberg was the first woman to ever anchor a national nightly news program. She served as the host of NPR’s All Things Considered from 1972 to 1986. Stamberg was known for her conversational style and her ability to find a great story. Her notable interviews include Nancy Reagan, Annie Liebowitz, and Rosa Parks. In 1996, Stamberg was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame.
In terms of women radio owners, Dorothy Brunson was the first African-American woman to own her own radio station. Brunson bought Baltimore’s WEBB-AM in 1979 and later added station in Atlanta and Wilmington to her lineup. Brunson sold her stations in 1990 so she could start in television. She established WGTW-TV in Burlington, New Jersey and became the first African-American woman to start a television station. Brunson was a pioneer in African-American women’s broadcasting, paving the way for future generations.
Thanks to the leadership of these female pioneers, women are now heard on the air across the airwaves. But women working in radio still have a way to go. According to NOW, women make up 20% of radio directors and 25% of general managers.