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.

Monday, November 11, 2019

The History of LGBT Radio (Part 2)

Out-FM on WBAI in New York city is one of the longest running LGBT radio programs in America. But like everything else long-running in community radio it has some even deeper roots. 99.5 WBAI has a long history in identity politics and cutting edge social issues, in particular LGBT programming.

According to R. Paul Martin in July 1962, WBAI aired an interview with homosexual activist Randy Wicker. This 90-minute show is widely believed to have been the first such program in the United States.  It was well received by most news outlets, but the Journal-American was condemned the segment and others called for WBAI's FCC license to be revoked. A complaint was filed, but rejected by the FCC. WBAI was particularly typically contrarian about it and withing months Mr. Randy Wicker began to produce gay programming on WBAI. In some regard, he was succeeded by Charles Pitts who was a tad more controversial. In a 1972 programming folio his show was described "Free form stuff with a homosexual cast to it; from the sintered brain of Charles Pitts."

In 1968 Pitts was airing discussions on S&M, bondage, cruisy locations, and more. More here. Pitts did not play well with others and was fired somewhat contentiously and then later re-hired. Pitts developed  a two-hour, Saturday afternoon program called Out Of The Slough starting in 1970. He moved the program to the Saturday Midnight time slot in 1972 and after 3 months lost the slot. After an outcry in local press, notably the Village Voice, Pitts was back. But in May 1973 he was fired again. It was a theme that continued for years. There is a 1978 WBAI tape of Pitts recounting a beating he took on a Greenwich Village street in the NY Public Library [SOURCE] For more on the very colorful Mr. Pitts I do recommend reading the book Playing in the FM Band by Steve Post.

Rudy Grillo and R. Paul Martin were two of the several producers of Gay Rap, which aired on WBAI from the mid 1970s  until in 1985. The successor that program was Gay New York which was produced by Mr. Martin. In that same era, WBAI began holding full day "Gay Day" Specials and held a WBAI AIDS Special in 1985. AIDs is just another part of the background noise of daily news today. But in the early 1980s this was very progressive. More here.

Gay New York aired weekly from 4:00 PM to 5:00 PM on Thursday afternoons. Later  it moved to 7:30 Thursday nights and eventually alternating Sunday nights. Concurrently another program The Gay Show began airing on Wednesday nights. In the mid 1990s. In 1991 This Way Out was on air alternating weeks at 1:30 PM it was a more international news format for and about the lesbian and gay community. An Afternoon Outing, started at 2:00 on Thursdays a news magazine for and about the gay and lesbian community hosted by Gonzalo Aburto. Another LGBT program, Outlooks began airing shortly thereafter. Contributors included Nicholas Cimorelli, Larry Gutenberg, Marie Becker, Lidell Jackson, Allen Ross, Bob Storm, Rick X, Tony Glover, Nancy Kirton and others. WBAI management decided to merge Outlooks and The Gay Show which created a new program OutFM in 1992. At different times it aired on Mondays from 11:00 AM to Noon, which was about 2009 thru 2012. [SOURCE] and in 2015 it moved to Tuesday nights 9:00 PM to 10:00 PM [SOURCE]
From the very beginning OutFM was a pastiche of a program. Marle Becker said the following about it's dynamic "OutFM is a collective of about seven to eight people and obviously when you get that many different people with different agendas in a collective, there's always a problem."  The differences between the two programs were sharp. The Gay Show was very news oriented. Outlooks was more focused on grassroots political organizing. The union of the two grew into a more well-rounded but progressive LGBTQ public affairs and culture talk radio show that remains on  air today.

But it's also important to mention that many of the radio hosts, and producers named above are now deceased, many of AIDS. Bob Storm died in November of 1997, Larry Gutenberg died in June of 1995. Marle Becker died in 2015 of cancer.

Monday, November 04, 2019

The History of LGBT Radio (Part 1)

The program The Gay '90s aired on 1420 WHK-AM in Cleveland, OH starting in 1993 and lasting over 6 years. Clevelandhistorical.org goes as far as to call it "The nation’s first gay and lesbian talk radio show."  It was certainly one of the earliest, but probably not the very first. But some of the nuance here may be ontological.

One of the most famous homosexual authors of all time is William Burroughs, who famously said “I have never been gay a day in my life." But host Buck Harris opened the program with the following words “Good evening Cleveland… Welcome to The Gay 90s, the voice of Northeast Ohio’s gay and lesbian community. It is the intent of this show to provide programming that represents the diversity of our gay and lesbian community..." This was a LGBT focused radio program. There was no ambiguity.

The name was a pun. The Gay Nineties is an nostalgic term which refers to the decade of the 1890s, though popularized only retroactively in the 1920s. (The modern usage of the word gay shows up around the same time in a work by Gertrude Stein.) The book Queer Airwaves: The Story of Gay and Lesbian Broadcasting by Phylis W. Johnson and Michael C. Keith had only a little to say about the The Gay '90s.
"In March 1993 another commercial outlet began to experiment with gay talk. Cleveland's talk radio WHK-FM initially aired The Gay '90s on Friday nights, 9:00 PM to 11:00 PM, but soon moved it to Monday nights to reach more young people. Despite the shows success with listeners and advertisers, Program Director Paul Cox believed that syndication was not in it's near future. Cox didn't think America was ready for a gay talk show, adding that "it would take a lot of GMs and PDs with a hell of a lot of courage" to syndicate a gay talk show in the United States."
Mr. Keith also mentioned the program in his book Radio Cultures: The Sound Medium in American Life but sadly the call sign is typoed in the one line reference of my 2008 printing as WHF. The program aired on Friday nights, starting at 9:00 PM. The two-hour show later moved to Mondays. Buck Harris had a background in public health policy, not broadcasting. In 1984 he was appointed by Cleveland Governor Dick Celeste as a Gay Health Consultant to the Department of Health. As he set up AIDS programs in the state, he did radio and TV interviews which elevated his public profile, and also gave him the experience he would later need for his own show. He certainly had the voice for it. More here and here.

Harris did some fill in at WHK-AM and liked it so much that he offered to buy airtime and get his own advertisers. When the show debuted on March 26th, 1993 the radio station was greeted with a bomb threat. The threat was taken seriously, after the broadcast, police escorted Harris and station staff to their vehicles. There was no bomb, though Harris continued to get death threats. The radio program continued uninterrupted for another 6 years. Except for in 1995, when the show was pre-empted twice when the Cleveland Indians made the World Series. Subsequently Harris moved the show to 1300 WERE-AM. More here.

The final program was on July 11th, 1999. The program had hosted Congressmen, Grammy Award winners, singers, songwriters, artists, civil rights activists, and radio call in talk like no program ever before. I think what distinguishes the show the most is what a commercial success it was. Buck said in a 1996 interview that he didn't make money on the program. But The Gay 90s proved that the potential was there. The show was one bold syndication away from national success. Buck Harris died in September of 2018 from complications of lung cancer. He was 70 years old.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Denmark's Oldest Radio Station


If you google VYL eventually you will find the 1973 United States Hydrographic Office publication Radio Navigational Aids (Atlantic and Mediterranean Area) ... it lists off: VYL Lightship, Denmark 55° 24' 25" N. 7° 33' 38" E. continuous and it's range is listed at 50 miles, It's frequency 289.6 kc/s , A2
Characteristic Minutes
(Interrupted by a long dash)     1
Silent      1
2 repetitions above signal _  4__
Period     6

The List of Lights, Radio Aids, and Fog Signals from 1963 gives somewhat more color with the additional notation: "Red hull, white cross on sides, "VYL" in horizontal stroke of cross, 2 masts." But then a 1915 copy of List of Radio Stations of the World lists OXC as the call letters and Vyl, Denmark as the location. Also a 1935 copy of the Shortwave Listener specifically lists the call letters as OUY on both 1.818 and 1.622 Mc. But they do list an OXC on 1.819 Mc in Ringsted, Denmark. This long history and change of call signs poses a problem, compounded by the fact that I cannot read Danish.
With some luck I found both the old and new URL of a museum dedicated to this radio station www.oxa.forsvaret.dk and www.oza.dk. (The former is offline but thanks to the Wayback Machine, we have a copy from 2013.) So lets get back to the United States Hydrographic Office. IN 1935 they list all the radio navigation beacons in Denmark: OUX, OUZ, OUY, OUB, OUT, OUK, OUR, OUE and OUU. I think it's safe from this format to assume the call sign is not VYL. Sources refer to Vyl Station which is the lightship, not the radio station.

The first marine navigational radio in Denmark was installed on the lightship station Vyl in 1899 and also at the same time on the lighthouse at Blavandshuk, so that observations from Vyl could be received ashore. (Vyl is not the ship but the location.) Various ships held that position including Motorfyrskibet Nr. I. This was ship-to-shore radio, not exactly a broadcast but radio nonetheless. The 1939 Edition of US Hydrographic Office publication Radio Navigational Aids makes clear that this is OUY, thus disentangling the two call signs.

On September 1st 1908, the War Department signed on OXA, Denmark's first real coastal radio station.  It was based in a wooden house at Frederiksholm at the Holmen Naval Station. Later came OXB Blavand Radio in 1914, OXZ Lyngby Radio in 1917, OXP Skagen Radio in 1945 and OYE Ronne Radio in the 1950s. The book The Bow and the Spark (Buen og gnisten) by Lise Bock describes that early scene [Roughly translated from Danish]:
"The Danish Navy had been broadcasting since the first attempt with spark transmitters back in 1898. One of the first permanent installations was installed in the BlÄvandshuk lighthouse and on the Vyl lighthouse ship on the west coast of Jutland in 1901. Equipment came from the German AEG developed by Arco and Slaby. Afterward, the Navy destroyed a some warships, and in 1905 they set up a radio station on the islet in Kolmenhavn where the Danish fleet was based... The station was then referred to as Denmark's first coastal radio station..."
On that website is a picture of one of their early crystal sets: Wireless Specialty Apparatus Co. type IP-76. In 1910-1914 the most widely used type in the US Navy. It was used at OXA during World War I and up to the mid 1920s. It's labeled Amerikansk Krystalmodtager which means American Crystal Receiver. They also used equipment from Marconi, Slaby Arco, Skovmand & Pedersen, and Telefunken. OXP was decommissioned in 1993, and OXB in 1996 both to be controlled remotely by Lyngby Radio OXZ. Likewise, OXA served the Royal Danish Navy and the merchant fleet until the late 1940s and then it's building sat disused for half a century. Today, all remaining maritime emergency radio stations in Denmark are controlled by Lyngby Radio.

In 1991 the Danish Navy decided to relocation operations away from Holmen and to close the naval station. The modest wooden building now seemed doomed to demolition to make room for new development. In 2000, a small group of people interested in radio history decided to restore and relocate the station. With the permission and support of the Defense Department, OXA moved from Frederiksholm to Nyholm. The project was completed in October 2003. The station then reopened as a museum of Denmark's oldest coastal radio station Kobenhavn Radio OXA. [LINK]

Monday, October 21, 2019

The Daytime Broadcasters Association

Looking at that advertisement above, you might assume this was a short-lived project. It wasn't. James R. Livesay founded the Daytime Broadcasters Association in 1955 and served as its president until 1982.  He was succeeded by Jim Wychor of KWOA, who led for another 3 years. Today NAB speaks as the single lobbying voice of broadcasting. In the U.S. broadcasting industry they are all-powerful, and criticized for being intransigent, monolithic and myopic. But not all that long ago, there was a more diverse selection of trade associations for broadcasters.

A 1979 white paper: Institutional Analysis of Daytime Radio by Ellen Hendrickson and Thomas E. Nutt-Powell noted "In recent years, the increasing number and diversity of organizations represented by the NAB has led to the development of smaller, more specialized trade associations." But in 1979 already 1,000 members of DBA were also members of NAB. Now decades later, the trend has fully reversed. Today while there are many small regional groups, they most often act as regional franchisees of NAB. There is but one NAB to rule them all. More here.
One of the last large trade groups NAB ate was the Daytime Broadcasters Association (DBA). It's a shame because the DBA had such a clear and narrow mission. I'll spell out their "Principal Objectives" if you cant' read the fine print in the ad above:
1. To seek fixed hours daily year-round for Daytime stations: 5:00 AM to 7:00 PM daily. 
2. To limit interference free primary contour protection for ALL stations to 0.5 millivolt per meter daytime. 
3. To represent the interests of Daytime and Limited  stations so that broadcast services of "Daytimers" can more adequately serve in the public interest. 

Back in 1957, in it's heyday,  the The Daytime Broadcasters Association's esteemed members included:
Ben Letson, WCNH Quincy FL;  Jack P. Hankins, WELS Kinston, NC;  Michael Cuneen, WDLA Walton, NY; J. C. Willis, KVOM Morrillton, AR; Hecht S. Lackey, WSON Henderson, KY; J. P. Scherer, WHFB Benton Harbor, MI; R. W. Olson, KWOA Worthington, MN; Ralph Weir Jr., KJCK Junction City, KS; Frank Quinn, KDEF Albuquerque, NM; Frank Burke Jr., KPOP Los Angeles, CA; Dean Nichols, KOMW Omak, WA;  Richard E. Adams,  WKOX, Framingham, MA; Alf M. Landon, KSCB Topeka, KS; Jack Younts, WEEB, Southern Pines, N.C; Ray Livesay WLBH/WHOW, Mattoon, IL; R. Karl Baker, WLDS, Jacksonville, IL; and Joe M. Leonard Jr., KGAF, Gainesville, TX.

There are more than 2,000 AM daytimers on the air today. They sign on at sun up, and must sign off at sunset. In the depths of Winter, that can be 4:00 PM. They effectively abandoning the radio dial to larger and more powerful stations in distant cities. The DBA argued for 30 years for more broadcast hours.  Today their point is even more prescient. With the cresting noise noise on the AM band, those powerful stations in distant cities are inaudible anyway. Those daytimers sign off and surrender their frequencies not to other stations but to waves of static.

In December of 1955 they made their first push to increase their hours of operations and filed a petition with the FCC (Docket 12274).  They requested that "all standard daytime broadcast stations be authorized to operate from 5 a.m. or local sunrise (whichever is earlier) to 7 p.m. or local sunset (whichever is later) , in lieu of the sunrise to sunset hours provided for in the present rules." The FCC described the petition as "a departure from the long established standard (AM) broadcast allocations. They further stated that it wasn't in the public interest, concerned that the secondary service for all clear channel stations would be "destroyed" and service to rural areas would be lost, and worse yet, it would cause severe interference to foreign stations. The petition was denied, and the proceeding terminated.

In 1983 the DBA made their last push, asking for 4 more hours of broadcast hours (Docket 1842). NAB stayed out of the fight. NAB media relations director Rory Wilcox stated "Daytimers have influential support for their cause... The National Association of Broadcasters favors extended hours as long as this doesn't interfere with existing service." Against all odds this time the DBA won. The FCC decided that it was possible to permit post-sunset operation for some types of stations at reduced power, for up to an two additional hours. It was a partial victory and the only real one they were ever going to get. In 1985 NAB absorbed the Daytime Broadcasters Association.

In 1989, NAB presented the National Radio Award to Ray Livesay citing his "lifelong contributions to the industry." Ray Livesay died in May of 1995. Livesay's son, Jim Livesay II, took over operation of WHOW AM and FM after his death.