Even as the format explodes, marketers targeting women are still left with few choices other than music. While many radio shows appeal to females, few syndicated programs single them out.
"It's very hard to reach wom-men," said Sam Michaelson, VP-senior associate buying director of network radio at Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, New York.
But women are starting to talk.
Three programs, "The Working Mom on the Run With Debbie Nigro," "The Dr. Laura Schlessinger Show" and "The Mike Walker Show" are starting to provide females in greater numbers, and advertisers are biting.
Four months ago Westwood One Entertainment launched "The Mike Walker Show," a program targeting women hosted by the National Enquirer's gossip editor. The show runs on 31 stations, from 10 a.m. to noon ET weekdays.
Avon Products got behind Ms. Nigro's 2-year-old show when it had just three stations and continues as the program nears the 100 mark. "Avon was never a major radio advertiser," said Delia de Lisser, director of advertising at the cosmetics company. "It's not a logical medium for us, since it's missing the visual element. Yet we felt that [Ms. Nigro] figured out something nobody else had-catching the complexity of women's lives today."
Sears, Roebuck & Co. and Procter & Gamble Co.'s Folgers coffee have since joined the show, now carried in three top 10 markets.
Ms. Nigro, who is based in New York and was previously a morning drive host on the former WPIX-FM, now self-syndicates and produces the show with her fiance, Jeff Troncone. The 2-hour show is live weekly on Saturday mornings from a leased ABC Radio studio. National ad rates are $1,250 for a 30-second spot.
A daily 2-minute vignette featuring items from Working Mother, which made its debut March 20 sponsored by Avon, boosts her total stations to 225. The weekly show will expand to 3 hours in coming months.
Women's programming used to be called "housewife time," and consisted of cooking and sewing shows, said Michael Harrison, editor of Talkers Magazine. "The main way to get to women today is through relationships."
While there have been a number of female radio therapist shows over the years, Ms. Schlessinger has watched her psychotherapy program explode since she began syndicating the daily live program nine months ago. The 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. ET show is now carried on 110 stations, including six of the top 10 markets. Since being launched three years ago, the show has attracted such advertisers as AT&T and Kmart Corp.
Multiverse Networks, New York, handles ad sales for the show. National rates are $1,500 for a 30-second spot.
"Our initial obstacle was that there are not a lot of female talk show hosts," said Geoff Rich, president of Radio Today Entertainment, the show's affiliate manager. "But radio stations want to bring women 25-54 to their dials."
Indeed, growth of Ms. Schles-singer's female listeners is higher than in other demographics; and in cities like Los Angeles and San Diego, women listen more than men.
Still, buyers caution radio shows are still only part of a media plan.
"These shows are extremely, extremely targeted," said Leslie Sturm, VP-associate director of network radio at the Media Edge, a division of N.W. Ayer & Partners, New York.
But for some, that's exactly what is wanted. "We know that many women's lives are more about childcare than skincare," said Avon's Ms. de Lisser. "The great challenge of marketing is finding a way to reach your audience."