Monday, December 23, 2019

The History of LGBT Radio (Part 7)

As we explore early gay radio programs you have surely noticed the year 1973 repeating. It's important to note the relevance of that year. 1973 was the year that American Psychiatric Association reclassified  homosexuality in the DSM-III. Pursuant to that change, homosexuality was no longer clinically considered a mental disorder. (It wasn't removed entirely until 1987.) The World Health Organization (WHO) didn't catch up util 1990. For young people today, it's hard to even conceptualize what that era was like.
Most of the early LGBT radio programs pop up in population-dense, major metropolitan areas. But there are some exceptions. Inexplicably, western New York state was a hot spot for gay radio with at least 5 programs on three different stations airing concurrently in the early 1970s.
  • GREEN THURSDAYS. Wednesday midnight. WCMF-FM, 96.5 Mhz. 
  • LESBIAN NATION. Wednesday midnight. WCMF-FM, 96.5 Mhz. 
  • GAY WAVES. Thursday 5:30 – 6 p.m. WRUR-FM, 88.5 Mhz. 
  • SISTERS OF SAPPHO. Thursday, 9:30 – 10 p.m., WBFO-FM 88.7 Mhz. 
  • STONEWALL NATION. Thursday, 9 – 9:30 p.m. WBFO-FM 88.7 Mhz.
The first of these programs was almost certainly Stonewall Nation on WBFO. The radio show Stonewall Nation was created and hosted by SUNY Buffalo students and covered topics “informative to anyone ‘happy, sad, gay, or interested.’” It aired through at least 1979. In 1974 it started at 9:30 and by the late 70s been pushed back to 10:30 PM, still on Wednesday nights.  It was run by a collective, and in the late era it was primarily produced by Heddie Swanson and Jim Neil. In 1978 they even interviewed poet Allen Ginsberg. A tape of that interview is possibly the only audio we have of the program.

The first reference I've found was from 1972. The September issue of The Empty Closet reads "WBFO Buffalo broadcasts a gay radio program "Stonewall Nation" Wednesdays at 8:45pm. WBFO is at 88.7 on the FM dial." The July issue also mentions it, but only as "A new weekly radio program  centering on gay news and events on Buffalo FM station WBFO 88.7 Wednesday nights." I believe this is the earliest print reference and the debut of the program.

The name is a reference to the Stonewall Riots also known as the Stonewall Uprising, which began on June 28, 1969. But it also originates in an early gay rights anthem by Madeline Davis. She taught at the University of Buffalo and participated in her first gay rights march in 1971 in Albany, NY. At that time she had already been a performing musician for 20 years, having sung in University and church Choruses, and performed as a folk singer in coffee houses in the 1950s. She wrote the song "Stonewall Nation" in her notebook on the return drive from the protest, and first recorded it in 1973. More here. Despite the fact that the song hadn't even been recorded yet, the radio program was named for the already notable local gay anthem.
Sisters of Sappho came slightly later. In a March, 1973 issue of the 5th Freedom it pops up following Stonewall Nation on WBFO at 11:00 PM. It's still listed in June of 1974. Host Marge Maloney later hosted Women Power on WBFO. But in 1975 the program ran into trouble. The format had always been varied including discussions, call-in segments, comedy, poetry, prose, music, and drama. On November 3rd of 1975 they featured a "porno spoof show, complete with "bleeps", romantic music and other satirical devices." Station Manager Marvin Granger was not amused and they received a polite but tersely worded letter, threatening to cancel the show. The ladies published it, along with a thoughtful rebuttal letter in an issue of The 5th Freedom... with Marvin's mailing address.  The show seems to have ended between then and January 1976. Still, that's some impressive chutzpah. More on 1970s  WBFO here.

Green Thursdays debuted shortly after. That program first broadcast on February 14th 1973. The name of the program came from a now obscure historical reference to color symbolism.  The show was hosted by Bruce Jewell, Geralyn.  The 1972 Broadcasting Yearbook lists the station as "Progressive Rock" still owned by Community Music Service Inc. who founded the station in 1960. Mr. A. George Malmgren was president, James Trayhern, GM; Richard Warner, coml mgr; Tom Teuber, prog dir; Jacob Z. Schanker, chief engr. I do wonder how they felt about these specialty programs. Teuber for his part was very political and wrote some left-leaning journalism. Jewell  said in an interview that WCMF management had merely hoped to create some controversy which might be good for ratings. Instead they made history. But even in a 2013 interview, Jewell said they had been very supportive. He did news segments, interviews, and played music.

Robert Crystal succeeded Bruce Jewell as producer of the program in 1974. It's unfortunate but most of these early programs are lost forever. WXXI producer Kevin Indovino [LINK] spoke highly of the program 40 years later in hopes some history might be found:
"...Back in the ‘70s WCMF hosted a radio show, Green Thursdays, which was produced by early activists like Patti Evans and Bob Crystal. All of those shows have been lost – probably were never even recorded. There’s a huge chunk of history that is gone. We have no idea what those shows might have contained."
That said we do have back issues of the Empty Closet. The University of Rochester's Gay Liberation Front (GLF) launched the Empty Closet in 1971, it embraced the program early and it's schedule is listed in many of the issues archived at their Department of Rare Books and Special Collections and digitized online here. In the February 1973 issue it merely lists "GAY RADIO SHOW WCMF-FM 96.5  MHz. MIDNITE." But in the January issue it listed a new program, "GLF ON THE AIR. Planning our weekly radio program. Music Lounge 7:30 PM."  This was the preamble to the radio program Gay Waves which debuted later on WRUR.

Each Thursday night from 5:30 to 6:00 PM the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) produced a half-hour program called Gay Waves.  The format included gay music, straight music, news, announcements, interviews and talk segments. By 1976 it moved to Monday nights. If you find the flyer (above) that Gay Waves is on 2SER an unrelated station in Australia.  Our WRUR Gay Waves staff included Jay Stratton and others.
Alternating with Green Thursdays was Lesbian Nation, a radio program hosted by Patty (Patti) Evans and Bruce Jewel on WCMF in the 1970’s. It aired Midnight to 1:00 AM. The programs plugged each other and shared production staff. In February 1975 the closeout of Green Thursday segued as follows:
" This has been Green Thursday for February 6, 1975. Any comments or questions about the preceding interviews, please direct them to Green Thursday, WCMF, 129 Leighton Avenue, Rochester, 14609. Views and opinions expressed on Green Thursday. Views and opinions expressed on Green Thursday don't necessarily represent those of WCMF, its staff or management. Green Thursday is an hour long program produced by WCMF and by men from Rochester's gay community and will be on the air again two weeks from tonight at 12 o'clock on Thursday morning, next Thursday morning Patty Evans will be in with Lesbian Nation, a program produced by CMF and women from Rochester's lesbian community."
In the June 1974 issue of the Empty Closet there is a good short article on Patti. A native of Brooklyn, Evans was 17 years old when the Stonewall riots began. She attended the candlelight protest on the 2nd day. She attended the university of Rocherster in 1969 and became friends with student activists Bob Osborn and Larry Fine who launched the Rochester Gay Liberation Front which she joined. A later transfer to the S.U.N.Y. at Brockport brought her in touch with the Gay Freedom League there. She returned to Rochester in 1973. It was then that she started up the radio program Lesbian Nation on WCMF. " She and Kathy Thurston worked on the program with Bruce Jewel. Thurston died in July of 1975.  The show continued into 1976. At it's peak the program ran from Midnight to 3:00 AM. 

No comments:

Post a Comment