Monday, November 25, 2019

The History of LGBT Radio (Part 4)

I've written a prior post about 107.7 KRAB here, and the story of the infamous Lorenzo W. Milam. Suffice it to say that Lorenzo had a vision but his legacy today is mixed. One of the stations he founded was KRAB, which lasted 21 years on a volunteerism, grants, donations and spare change found in the parking lot. It was one of the most eclectic radio stations that has ever been. Writing for History Link, John Caldbick once wrote of them:
"Throughout its 21-year history, KRAB aired a mix of programming that the word eclectic does not adequately encompass. Regular fare included esoteric music played on unfamiliar instruments; readings of poetry and literature, occasionally in Sanskrit and other tongues no longer widely spoken; free-wheeling panel discussions on practically any topic; often-brilliant commentaries on just about everything..."
It is no surprise then that one of the earliest weekly LGBT radio programs would find a home on KRAB. On a map of Gay and Lesbian geography of Seattle KRAB's former studios are the only radio station listed. The station was founded in 1962 and the first LGBT program aired no later than 1971 with a  show bearing the colorful name "Make No Mistake About It, It's a Faggot and a Dyke."  The hosts were Seattle LGBT radio pioneers Shan Ottey and Paul Barwick. There are some archived recordings at the University of Washington.

They were fired in 1973... but first some background. Shan Ottey was born in Philadelphia in 1946. Her family were proud union members and she and her brother Bob were pirate radio enthusiasts. Shan for her part actually participated in the Stonewall riots in 1969 and moved to Seattle in 1970. Shan held hands on technical training seminars at KBCS  and KRAB instructing women on audio engineering. Later she worked as an engineer at the University of Washington. She started at KRAB with a late night jazz show. Paul Barwick was a Washington native and Vietnam vet. In 1971, he had already made history by filing a lawsuit against King County after he and John Singer (later Faygele BenMiriam) were denied a marriage license. Historical note: They didn't actually want to get married, they were activists making a point. Nonetheless, it was one of the first such lawsuits in the US.
Lavender Country was an American country music band formed in 1972.  They released a self-titled album in 1973 produced in part by John Singer. Reputedly the first known gay-themed album in country music history, it also gets a historical footnote for the FCC obscenity fine. Shan Ottey played the band’s song “Cryin' These Cocksucking Tears” on the air. Unfortunately KRAB already had a history with the FCC. Commissioner Nicholas Johnson visited the station in October of 1967 and was interviewed by Lorenzo, they didn't see eye to eye on some topics. They were investigated in 1967 and 1969 for airing obscenity and profanity. This resulted in a punishment in January of 1970. Their license was renewed for only one year instead of the normal three year period. More here. So management had to react. The duo were fired... supposedly. Sources disagree. Ottey seems to have remained on board at last in a technical capacity. **update at bottom**

Ottey continued her work with KRAB for years. She went on to produce broadcasts for the Lesbian Feminist Radio Collective, which included the show WE: Women Everywhere. The show originates with a feminist bookstore named Woman to Woman which opened in 1974. It was owned by three young lesbian-feminists from Seattle, Janine Carpenter, Peg Rapp (AKA Peg Hickox), Vicki Piotter, and Kay Young.  Rapp and Piotter joined with Janine Carpenter to launch the program. Jan Denali joined later on.
In June of 1975 Peg and Vicki took Women Everywhere to 1390 KFML-AM in Denver, CO.  There the program aired at 4:00 PM on Sundays first as a 15 minute segment then 30 minutes. By July the Big Mama Rag newsletter noted that the show was being harassed by male staff. The program tape was often aired late. The board operator claimed he couldn’t find it, on another occasion it was not aired at all because it had “inadvertently” been used as a doorstop. The show was cut off early sometimes and tapes even erased. Despite addressing it with Station Manager Don Zucker the problem continued. The rift continued through at least September of 1976.

The show featured a women's music, news, and interviews. In 1975 Political disagreements and the volatile issue of lesbian separatism [LINK] divided the feminist collective into two groups. WE continued on and the new program Amazon Media produced the show "Women's Survival Kit" which offered a more political and lesbian-focused format including topics like animal rights and non-monogamy. More here, here and here. The Northwest Digital Archives [LINK] has some recordings of WE: Women Everywhere from as early as 1971 and as late as 1981. Topics include: Women in theater, matriarchies, ageism, socialism, Judaism, feminism, racism and live music performances. All of these programs ended abruptly when KRAB was closed in 1984.

It's fitting then that a woman did the final sign-off.  After station staff discussed some of the high points of the station's history, host Kathryn Taylor closed the broadcast at 1:33 AM on April 16th. She had hosted the show "Kathy's Music Box" which aired at 9:00 PM. She went on to do fill-in at KUOW into the mid-1980s. She had been with the station since 1979 and remained on the board into 1986 as they fruitlessly pursued a time-share agreement with KNHC.

Chuck Reinsch, KRAB archivist extraordinaire responded to me and filled in some details. He should be considered the canonically correct source on these matters. I quote him verbatim below, I just added a little formatting, the underline is mine.
     I just saw your most recent post about KRAB, and wanted to add a couple of things. First, while in the course of the Nick Johnson interview he and Lorenzo seemed to disagree about some topics, this was mostly due to Lorenzo being adversarial and not wanting to appear too cozy.  Nicholas Johnson was incredibly supportive of KRAB and its encounter with the over zealous local FCC representatives.
     Second, when the local FCC office got all bent out of shape, FCC commissioners attempted to punish KRAB with a one year license renewal not because of obscenity or profanity, but instead because they believed KRAB staff did not follow a procedure that required review of programs' content before airing it.
In fact, in 22 years KRAB was never cited by the FCC for airing obscenity or profanity. And there was never an "FCC obscenity fine".
     About all that can be confirmed of the 1972 Shan Ottey and Lavender Country album incident is that Shan played the record (she admitted to it).  But there was never any official action by the FCC regarding that record or it being aired.  According to Shan someone purporting to be in an official capacity confiscated her Third Class Permit.  I was never able to find someone willing to take responsibility for that.  I believe Shan, but I think the "official" was an impostor.
     Thinking that Shan's collection of radical feminist recordings made and aired on KRAB exceeded my capacity to process, I encouraged archivists at the University of Washington to take them on.  They have now digitized the lot, and are now working to identify and describe the content.  Soon the programs will be online and publicly available for listening. 

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