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.

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