Monday, November 18, 2019

The History of LGBT Radio(Part 3)

In the book Lavender Culture, in a chapter by Allen Young, John Zeh is quoted and paraphrased in a section addressing LGBT radio:
"...listeners to gay radio are often those "still struggling with their sexual identities," people who find a gay radio program... a convenient and discreet way to make contact with the gay community. Just the names of some of the regularly scheduled show express the lively spirit of this new movement among gay broadcasters: Fruit Punch, and Radio Free Lesbian in Berkeley, CA; IM RU in Los Angeles,CA; Come Out Tonight in New Haven, CT; Gay Space in Sarasota, FL; Gaybreak in Amherst, MA; Closet Space in Columbia, MO; Stonewall Nation and Sappho in Buffalo, NY; Lambda in Pittsburgh, PA; Closets Are For Clothes in Ann Arbor, MI; Amazon Country and Sunshine Gaydream in Philadelphia, PA."
The radio program Sunshine Gaydream debuted in 1974 in the city of brotherly love, on the University of Pennsylvania's public radio station 88.5 WXPN. It's founder and original host was John Zeh. Some of the post-Zeh programs between 1986 and 1999, are archived at the University of Pennsylvania University Archives. [LINK] The show title is a pun based on the song title “Sunshine Daydream” by the Grateful Dead. But the pun does not belong to John Zeh. Some writers (ahem) have claimed the name may also refer to a book by Allen Ginsberg. I believe this is an error. There is a book Gay Sunshine Interviews by Winston Leyland and Genet Ginsberg but it was first published in 1978; 4 years after Zeh got started. However it collects interviews from a newspaper, Gay Sunshine which does predate the program by at least 4 years.
It's worth noting now that something else big happened in on WXPN in 1974. I already wrote a post about the infamous "Vegetable Report" incident. [LINK] But the stations shut down and subsequent FCC fine started with a report from a 1949 Penn graduate who complained that the program presented “porno stories about homosexuality and other sexual abuses.” We can all note the bigotry in that statement, but it is that very shutdown which steered the course of WXPN to it's milquetoast format today. Source: John Zeh himself. [LINK] Inexplicably, Zeh survived the purge.

Zeh survived the FCC-driven changes at WXPN and remained there through at least 1976 and also added a few shifts as a radio reporter for WMMR. It's important to know that Zeh came into WXPN as a young journalist. Zeh had been writing for years before he landed at XPN. As a teenager he covered sports for The Kentucky Post, and wrote news articles for The Kentucky Kernel, the student newspaper of the U. Kentucky. In 1966 he even wrote an article printed in a special Billboard Music on Campus publication. [LINK]  His writing later appeared in Rolling Stone, The Village Voice and The Advocate. He even reported for  All Things Considered on NPR. Zeh left WXPN in about 1979 and was succeeded by host Dan Daniels. So here we have a fork in the trail and must tell two stories.

There are some early tapes and advertisements in the Tommi Avicolli collection HERE. Zeh landed on 88.3 WAIF in Cincinnati, OH.  Things got serious in 1981 for Zeh with an incident that precipitated the case of State v. Zeh. Hamilton County prosecutor Simon Leis charged Zeh with four counts of fourth degree felonies: disseminating materials harmful to juveniles. On January 3rd 1981,  he read selections from a magazine article on the topic of sexual lubricants on-air. It was titled "A Guide for Greasy Fingers" from First Hand magazine.  So it came to pass that on February 17, 1981, defendants-appellees, John Zeh and Stepchild Radio of Cincinnati, Inc., were indicted in violation of R.C. 2907.31. Zeh being Zeh, he sent tapes of the show to local news stations including WEBN. Zeh and WAIF won when the charges were dismissed. Zeh returned to his program. More here.

Uncowed, Zeh produced a program for Gay/Lesbian day at KPFK in 1983. [LINK] But it was not the end of Zeh'slegal entanglements.  He later sued the University of Cincinnati (UC) for canceling his six-week course, "Being Gay in Cincinnati." Zeh won that case too. A federal judge ruled U.C. had violated Zeh's First Amendment rights. Then in 1985 Zeh was convicted of sexual battery for having sex with a mentally impaired 17-year-old. Zeh did not win. He was sentenced to two years in prison. After his release he moved to Washington D.C. where he stayed for a decade. Tired of that scene, he returned to Cincinnati in about 1998.  More here.

Back in Philadelphia, Gaydreams had prospered on WXPN, continuing under host Dan Daniels. (No connection to the other Dan Daniels on WMCA) But Daniels got into trouble with station management in July of 1984. There had been some kind of incident regarding the closing of the GCCP community center and the sale of a pedophile pamphlet at a book store called Giovanni's room. This also somehow included criticism of Roberta Hacker, then host of Amazon Country also on WXPN. Hacker had co-hosting that lesbian radio program, since 1975. More on Roberts here. Station manager Peter Cuozzo censored Daniel's  commentary suspended him for a month. Displeased with the penalty he refused to sign a letter confirming the station didn't censor him. Daniel went on a one-man strike and sent out a written press-release of his comments on WXPN letterhead. (I want to read it so bad) More here.
Cuozzo and Daniels could not reconcile and Alan Ross became the new host of Gaydreams. Alan Ross was a very different host than Daniels. But he also enjoyed crank calling Rush Limbaugh, which culminated on a beautiful live-radio moment in which he was able to broadcast “We had a meeting of Gay Fathers last night, and we decided that we would declare you an ‘Honorary Gay Man.’”

Alan Ross continued to host until 1990 when Bert Wylen took over. Wylen too had some legal entanglements. In 1994 he filed a discrimination complaint against WXPN when he discovered that the WXPN simulcast on WKHS in Maryland excluded his program. Wylen alleged, the University radio station discriminated against him because he is gay. "WXPN is morally and ethically required to make a statement in support of my programs." The Kent County School Board, which controls WKHS's programming, decided not to air Gaydreams because they were bigots. They also refused to air the lesbian-issues program, Amazon Country. WXPN essentially argued that under their deal memo they had no right to remonstrate the bigots. More here and here.

The incident precipitated the end of Bert Wylen's involvement in the program and in 1995 Robert Drake took over.  Drake had been a volunteer at WXPN since 1981 and producing since January of 1988. He started out with Kids Corner, a kids program hosted by Kathy O'Connell. He and Keith Brandt renamed the program Q'zine and transitioned the show into a more produced news magazine format. Alan Ross and others mourn the loss of the programs political activism. Drake remains popular, in he was voted  Best Radio Personality in the Philly A-List’s annual poll.

Back on Gaydreams on 88.3 WAIF continued without Zef.  The show was moved to Mondays at 5:00 PM and being hosted by Mike Lloyd and Mike Chanak. Chanak was well aware of the longevity of the program in the Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper he was quoted as saying that it's "the second-longest-running gay/lesbian radio show in the U.S., possibly the world,"In about 1984 they changed the name from Gaydreams to Alternating Currents. There were problems. In the May 1991 issue of Cross-Port InnerView Belinda made an open posting for help producing Alternating Currents. [SOURCE]
"Alternating Currents is in crisis because Mike LLoyd is resigning as the producing force behind it. If you have spare Saturday hours and want to support one of the oldest radio programs of its kind in the country, Mike Lloyd and Mike Chanak will arrange to get you the training you need to help out with the details of radio production. Talk to me at the meeting if you are interested."
But things stabilized. In 2000 show staff included Cheryl Eagleson, Henry Michaels, news coordinator Carl Eichelman, and producer Ken Colegrove. Staff rotated, things changed. By 2003 the show was just co-produced by Cheryl Eagleson and Don Wetterer. Bruce Preston and Sam Clemons joined the show in 2004. In this period 2000 - 2005 the program was airing on Saturdays from 3:00 to 5:00 PM.   But in the Fall of 2004 their website alternatingcurrents.org was taken down. In 2010 the program, feeling less welcome at WAIF, moved to 95.7 WVQC-LP. More here and here. Hosts rotate weekly and as of 2019 include Bruce Preston, Tracy Walker, Ron Clemons, Christopher and Paul Spencer, and Cheryl Eagleson.

I am sorry to report that John Zeh died in 2006 at the age of 59 More here. He is outlived by both of the radio programs he founded. One would hope that he was very proud indeed.

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