Is there gender equity on satellite radio? Let’s take a look!

by Jada E. Watson

Over the last year SongData has been focused on evaluating gender representation on terrestrial radio. Recently, we were asked about representation on satellite radio, specifically on Sirius XM’s The Highway. It’s common to see messages on social media about the prominence of songs by female artists in their daily rotation – including humorous quips about hearing songs by women played back-to-back on The Highway without causing injury or major catastrophe.

From the volume of comments, it’s clear that audiences are noticing that Sirius XM’s The Highway is playing more female artists – but what does this look like? How many songs by women are included in their weekly playlists? How often are they played? And how does this compare to terrestrial radio?

Let’s dive in to see what 2019 looked like on Sirius XM’s The Highway!

Sirius XM’s The Highway does not have gender parity on its playlists. But they play nearly double the percentage of songs by women throughout the day, averaging 19.1% throughout the year. They also program more women throughout the each of the 5 dayparts, with 10.3% of the spins between 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. (in comparison to just 4.2% on terrestrial radio). While terrestrial radio had an 8.7 to 1 ratio of spins for songs by men to those by women in 2019, Sirius XM’s The Highway had a 4 to 1 ratio.

Most surprisingly, 6 songs by women had enough spins to rank in the top of The Highway’s weekly reports. With the exception of Kelsea Ballerini’s “Miss Me More”, the other top songs by women did not hit the top of the terrestrial radio charts in 2019 (Maren Morris’s “The Bones” had the most spins in February 2020 and Carly Pearce’s “I Hope You’re Happy Now” is within the Top 10 this week). More critically, one of the top songs (The Highwomen’s “Redesigning Women”) received minimal airplay on terrestrial radio. The Highway is ahead of terrestrial radio in their response-time to new songs (in general) and those by female artists (specifically).

While there is room for improvement on their path to gender equity, The Highway has offered greater support to female artists to bring new songs to listener’s ears. After being told that her ballad “Every Little Thing” wouldn’t work on country radio, Carly Pearce relayed to Emily Yahr of The Washington Post that The Highway “put that song out one day as a ‘Highway Find,’ and it changed [her] life overnight. SiriusXM is a straight indicator of what fans actually love, and they react so quickly.” The song, as Yahr reports, shot up to the Top 10 on iTunes, consistently selling 6,000 copies a week. “Shortly after, she was signed to Big Machine Label Group, and later, “Every Little Thing” went to the top of the charts.”

In July 2019 when The Highwomen were launching their collaborative supergroup, The Highway was one of the few stations to bring the group in for an extended interview and live performance of tracks of their self-titled debut album. In August, “Redesigning Women” had one week of receiving the most airplay in the following month.

As Leslie Fram highlighted recently, it’s not just that they are playing more songs by women, but they are including songs that are not radio singles in their playlist. The Highway stands apart in this regard, showing a dedication to seeking out new songs by women, to build audience familiarity for these artists, and to work towards developing a more diverse sound.

The full Brief of infographics is available here.