Radio Days

From mimeographed newsletters in the 1940s to professionally published newsmagazines in the 1960s, gay and lesbian media grew by leaps and bounds in the early years of the movement. Queer radio programs soon joined the media mix, led on the East Coast by Sunshine Gaydreams, a weekly program that debuted in 1974 on WXPN, the public radio station at the University of Pennsylvania.

In Southern California Richard Gollance, a staffer at the Los Angeles Gay Community Services Center, began delivering a weekly commentary in June 1972 on a public affairs program called Dealing on progressive powerhouse KPFK-FM, whose 100,000-watt signal reached from Santa Barbara to San Diego. The program was produced by Barbara Cady.

Preparing to read the news in Studio D at KPFK 90.7 FM, circa 1983. Photo by Stephen Stewart
Preparing to read the news in Studio D at KPFK 90.7 FM, circa 1983. Photo: Stephen Stewart.

By late 1973 Gollance had his own show, Gay at Heart, a monthly interview program for the gay community that aired for about a year. A small team of volunteer producers took over the time slot in September 1974 with a new program targeting the LGBT community: a one-hour news and entertainment show cleverly titled IMRU (a lightly veiled version of the pickup line “I am. Are you?”).

Covering LGBT News in the Reagan Era

In 1981 I joined the program as news director, with responsibility for researching, writing and producing a weekly 15-minute newscast covering issues and events of importance to the gay and lesbian community. The coming years would be some of the most significant in the history of the movement, as we faced the emergence of the AIDS epidemic and the rise of the New Right.

Over the next four years I would cover a wide range of stories, including attempts by Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum to shut down the women’s center at Long Beach State, the gay-bashing murders of four young gay men by a serial killer, the parole and suicide of Harvey Milk’s assassin, and the growing influence of gay and lesbian political action committees—and, of course, AIDS.

Interviewing Morris Kight in June 1983 at the annual Los Angeles pride parade, which he founded in 1970.
Interviewing Morris Kight in June 1983 at the annual Los Angeles pride parade, which he founded in 1970. Photo: Daal Praderas.

Producing news and documentary programming brought me into regular contact with some of the LGBT movement’s pioneering leaders, including radical faerie Harry Hay, founder of the Mattachine Society; archivist Jim Kepner, the movement’s first historian; lesbian feminist Ivy Bottini; and Morris Kight, founder of the Gay Community Services Center and other organizations.

Journalists, Not Boosters

I was proud to be part of the first generation of openly gay radio journalists, a group that included David Lamble with the Fruit Punch collective at KPFA in Berkeley (and later KGO in San Francisco), John Zeh at WAIF in Cincinnati and David Wynyard at WBAI in New York. Like many of our young colleagues in the print media, such as Randy Shilts at the San Francisco Chronicle and Amy Hoffman at Gay Community News, we strived to achieve a high level of professionalism while covering a movement that was fighting for our rights. We were committed to the LGBT community to be sure, but we saw our role as honest and thoughtful critics, not simply boosters.

Recently, I was delighted to find an unexpected treat among dozens of cassette tapes I donated to the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives three decades ago: a 1983 panel discussion on gay and lesbian media that I participated in at the Gay Rights Chapter of the ACLU in Southern California. The tape was mislabeled, so I had no idea that a recording of the panel discussion still existed.

Although some of the audio is badly distorted, I decided to post my 10-minute presentation, in which I describe my work at IMRU and discuss the advantages of radio journalism over print.

The IMRU collective in 1983.
The IMRU collective in 1983. Photo: Overnight Productions.

In the talk, I recount my experience confronting angry members of the Moral Majority outside the Los Angeles Convention Center, where Jerry Falwell was making a fundraising appearance, and describe interviewing a Long Beach minister who ran ads in a local newspaper declaring “The lesbians want your children” and “Gays and lesbians are worthy of death.”

Other participants on the panel included Frontiers news editor Aslan Brooke and Ernie Potvin, a writer and editor with ONE magazine, the first nationally distributed LGBT magazine in the nation.

IMRU remains on the air more than 40 years after it was launched by executive producer Greg Gordon and several other volunteers. Gordon now produces This Way Out, an international LGBT radio program he founded with associate producer Lucia Chappelle in 1988.