Monday, June 01, 2020

The History of LGBT Radio (Part 9)

Washington D.C. was home to 99.5 WGAY from 1960 to 1999. It was not an LGBT station but what a lost opportunity. The earliest LGBT radio program in Washington D.C. was probably Friends. There seem to have been several incarnations of a gay-friendly piano bar of the same name; it may have been connected. But it was not alone, though it's difficult to determine which collective came first. It appears that Friends brought Sophie's Parlor to it's first radio home 90.1 WGTB. Sophie's Parlor was a coffee house located at the Women's Center at 1736 R Street NW. It hosted many lesbian performers in the early 1970s.

Friends was run by the Stonewall Nation Media Collective. According to the David Aiken papers, (a member of Stonewall nation) [LINK] the group broadcast the Friends radio show on WGTB and 89.3 WPFW radio for nine years. So if that began in 1973 that would put the end of the program in 1982. This is corroborated by an obituary of Bruce Pennington, a host of Friends from 1973 to 1982. [LINK] According to the Rainbow History Project [LINK] "Sophies moved to radio on WGBT when Friends was on the air and moved with Friends to WPFW when the archdiocese closed down the radio station. [You can read about Jen Waits visit to the modern webcasting WGTB here]

Looking at issues of the Gay Blade from August, 1973 and May, 1974: the shows Friends, Sophie's Parlor, and Radio Free Women are all mentioned. the sceduel clearly indicates all three programs existing concurrently in early 1973. But in reviewing 1972 issues, there are only be references to the physical venue, Sophie's Parlor. But in the December 1972 issue there is also a short article about WGBT. The timing and tone intimates that this may be describing the first LGBT programming on the station, on a 30 minute program called Interface. It reads:
"The broadcasting station of Georgetown University has begun a series of four programs dealing with various aspects of gay life.  The first on gay activism featured Gay Activist Alliance president Bill Bricker, Mattachine Society president Franklin Kameny, the Rev. Paul Breton of Metropolitan Community Church, and ACLU lawyer Glen Graves, who frequently works on gay rights cases. A second program, on gays and employment, had as speakers activists Rachel Parker and Chuck Hall,  embattled gay teacher Joe Acanfora, and Nancy Tucker, editor of the Gay Blade. Interface host Bob Roehr, says a special series for gays may begin after the first of the year."
Sophie's Parlor was run by Sophie's Parlor Media Collective. The group also operated Radio Free Women at radio station WGTB. The show was on Tuesday nights 6:30 - 9:00. The station was founded as an AM station in 1946 and reborn as an FM station on 90.1 in 1960. The University went to war against the liberal-minded student-run station in the 1970s finally selling it to the University of the District of Columbia in 1979 for one dollar. In 1997 UDC sold it to CSPAN for 25 million. But that's another story.

Anyway, back to Radio Free Women (RFW). That group was founded in 1972. They trained other women the engineering skills needed to work in radio, and in the process built a collective. It's membership was fluid like most collectives. But it included Moira Rankin who continued on with Sophie's Parlor at WPFW, even producing a retrospective on radical feminism [LINK] with Deborah George for Pacifica in 1980. The collective also included Lynn Chadwick, who later became Pacifica's executive director in the 1990s.  

Sophie's Parlor collective moved to WPFW in 1977. So whether you start counting in 1972 or 1977, it remains the oldest continuously running women’s radio collective in the United States. It remains on air to this day. Radio Free Women also spawned the Feminist Radio Network but different sources but that in 1974 or 1976. Radio Free Women were booted off WGTB because of an episode about contraception. The Jesuit Institution didn't care for that. They moved to WPFW wherre it seems to have merges with Sophie's Parlor.

Also on WPFW these days is Inside Out, sporting a bevy of hosts: Maria Leonard Olsen, Michael Sharp, Kathryn Boxill, Matt Thorn, Denisha Davenport, Samuel Parks, Jade Salazar, Bianca Humady Rey, and Mike Knaapen. The program airs every Tuesday from 2:00-3:00 pm. While not as long-running as Sophie's Parlor, they remain a cornerstone of the LGBT community. 

But I want to dig into one more recent but relevant LGBT program in the DC market. In the book Radio Cultures: The Sound Medium in American Life by Michael C. Keith is a single curious reference to an important, but very short-lived gay radio program:
In Washington D.C., WWRC-AM cancelled a short-lived program called “Ten Percent Radio” that same year. The three-hour show aired Sunday nights, beginning at 7 p.m., and included a mix of straight and gay-oriented businesses (Bloomquist, 1994).
The source for the first LBGT program on 980 WWRC-AM starts with a single article in Radio and Records, titled "Format Feverishly Springs Forward" by a R. Bloomquist. Much like the similarly named "One In Ten" on WFNX, I think the program name comes from the infamous Kinsey Report in which Alfred Kinsey's claims that 10% of males in the U.S. are gay. (Note that some articles incorrectly use the call sign WRC which had been on 980 from 1924 - 1983)

Ten Percent Radio debuted on Sunday June 13th at 7:00 PM. The program actually replaced "Tom George's Power SportsTalk," which had just left to begin syndicating nationally and was changing DC affiliates. The first print mention for Ten Percent Radio was in the Washington Post. Even the Post felt the need to mention that the show was being renewed on a week-to-week basis. The host Scott Peck was a fresh graduate of University of Maryland. He was witty and quotable. After the first show, he quipped that his father is "really pleased that I found work."

Fred Peck's father is Col. Fred Peck. Only a month before the show debut, the elder Peck surprised a packed Senate hearing room when he testified against lifting the ban on homosexuals in the military. His opinion wasn't surprising as he had been asked to testify for that very reason, the surprise was when he outed his son as gay during a congressional hearing. Over the next 30 days both Pecks became minor celebrities.  Even in that first month, different articles at the Post describe the program as 2 hours long, others as 3 hours. The father and son found ways to reconcile the issue even while congress ensconced the Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) policy into law. More here.
Scott says he and his father have agreed to disagree on the gays in the military issue -- son is pro, dad is con -- but he thinks the whole subject is overblown. "I have quite a few gay and lesbian friends in the military," he explains. "They have no plans to organize a gay and lesbian social in the officers club the next day" after the ban is lifted.
Scott would later write a book about his relationship with his father All American Boy: A Gay Son's Search for His Father. It was published in March of 1995. Most likely the show ran from June of 1993 through possibly August of that year, more-or-less following the rise and fall of the news cycle.

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