Monday, December 09, 2019

The History of LGBT Radio (Part 6)

As it often is in any story, KPFA is central to this tale. The station appears twice in Zef's quoted list for the shows Fruit Punch and Radio Free Lesbian. But at KPFA the story goes back further.
It was only in 1964 that the FCC made a ruling upholding Pacifica's argument that the public was well-served by gay-themed content. Pacifica stated that " long as the program is handled in good taste, there is no reason why subjects like homosexuality should not be discussed on the air." Commissioner Robert E. Lee, the conservative dissenter wrote "...a microphone in a bordello, during slack hours, could give us similar information.  His name already told you everything you need to know about his background. The ruling came as a response to complaints to the FCC about Pacifica stations airing the following content:
  1. A December 12, 1959, broadcast over KPFA, at 10 p.m., of certain poems by Lawrence Ferlinghetti (read by the poet himself); 
  2. "The Zoo Story," a recording of the Edward Albee play broadcast over KPFK at 11 p.m., January 13, 1963; 
  3. ''Live and Let Live," a WBAI program re-broadcast over KPFK at 10:15 p.m. on January 15, 1963, in which eight homosexuals discussed their attitudes and problems; 
  4. A program broadcast over KPFA at 7:15 p.m. on January 28, 1963, in which the poem, "Ballad of the Despairing Husband," was read by the author Robert Creeley; and 
  5. "The Kid." a program broadcast at 11 p.m. on January 8,1963, over KPFA, which consisted of readings by Edward Pomerantz from his unfinished novel of the same name.
You will notice that the first of those controversial programs was on KPFA. Not listed was an earlier more academic program. Purportedly, it was the earliest known radio recording to overtly discuss homosexuality. The program was titled "The Homosexual in Our Society" and aired November 24th, 1958. You can listen to it here [LINK]. It features three panelists: Hal Call, the editor of the Mattachine Society's newsletter, the Mattachine Review; Dr. Blanche Baker, a psychologist; and Lee Gailey, the mother of a gay man. It was led by Elsa Knight Thompson, then the Public Affairs Director of KPFA.  Two years earlier in 1956, KPFA aired Allen Ginsberg reading his iconic poem, Howl.

By 1973 there were multiple gay radio programs airing on KPFA. The November 1973 program guide lists gay-themed episodes of a Paul Lester lecture series, a re-occurring show Gay Profile, Fruit Punch, Aspects of Gay Life, and Lesbian Air. This folio came just 30 days after their strike in August. In 1973 and 1974 the programs Lesbian Air and Fruit punch alternated at 8:45 on Sunday evenings. By 1975 Fruit Punch moved to Wednesdays at 10:00 PM.
The gay mens' program Fruit Punch began in 1973 produced by Kevin Burke as a member of the Fruit Punch radio collective. It's membership varied but also included Dan Curzon, Mark Schwartz, Jon Sugar and David Lamble.  It's first host Kevin Burke left Fruit Punch, but kept producing radio programs for KPFA. In 1978 he produced a series called "Gayhem" and then programs with the People's Theatre. Lamble also produced and or hosted Just Before Dawn on KCHU, and both Traffic Jam, A Closer Look on KQED and KGO. More here. Fruit punch remained on air into the mid 1990s. Though it had a close call in 1986. In an article for the San Francisco Sentinel, John Wetzl wrote:
"Fruit Punch ran into problems when former collective member Will Shepardson hosted a show in which porn star Richard Lock used the term "ball-fucking" on air. At the time [Phillip] Maldari put the show on a six-month trial probation period with Lamble as its director."
The real end came in 1995. Over 60 individual programmers were fired by general manager Marci Lockwood under direction of Pat Scott. A new more mainstream format in an attempt to maximize prime-time listenership. But in a 2002 Community needs assessment study [SOURCE] there were still multiple requests for the return of the popular program. More here.

The Lesbian Air Collective started 
on KPFA in 1973 at more or less the same time as Fruit Punch. It was produced by Chana (Karen) Wilson who produced three lesbian radio shows on KPFA between 1973 and 1982. The other two were Radio Free Lesbian and A World Wind. Lesbian Express on Sundays' at 5:30 PM biweekly alternating with Fruit Punch. More here.  In 2012 Chana wrote the book Riding Fury Home, in it she explains the genesis of Radio Free Lesbian in 1974.
"...our Lesbian Air group was in crisis, split over ideology: the lesbian versus the socialists. I straddled both camps. In daily life, I was a separatist, having friendships exclusively with other lesbians. By inhabiting feminist, often women-only spaces—book stores, music festivals, and lesbian bars—we developed a feeling of kinship... But as an ideology separatism seemed to me to be a dead end: Since men wouldn't disappear from the earth, if they were hopeless to change, we were doomed."
One camp became Radio Free Lesbian, the other became Lesbian Express. Lesbian Air confusingly remained the name of the collective. Lesbian Express landed at 5:00 PM on Sundays, Radio Free Lesbian at 5:00 on Saturdays. From 1980 to 1983 Wilson hosted A World Wind, with co-host Maxine Dashu. They interviewed poets, musicians, writers and activists.
 Chana eventually left radio to be a psychotherapist full time. In her book Riding Fury Home She describes the decline of the divided collective vividly. Lesbian Express and Radio Free Lesbian ended by 1979.
"One by one over the next year, all my sister programmers dropped out, either too busy, losing interest or embittered by our squabbling... I was the sole survivor of both radio programs. My love of radio and my stubbornness kept me hosting the show for a community I now felt torn up by. It felt altogether too much like family. But I still believed in the power of women sharing stories, and in that basic tenet of feminism: The personal is political..."

No comments:

Post a Comment