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Radio active.

Call letters across the country seem to be spelling out K-GAY, And Chicago's LesBiGay Radio show is leading the waves

Like more and more funds-starved nonprofit radio programs and stations across the country, LesBiGay Radio has begun to plug underwriters such as Miller Brewing Co. on the air. Even if you ignore the pitches that help keep the weekday Chicago show going, it's still about as mainstream as gay and lesbian radio gets.

How mainstream? In between all the trendsetting show's gay-related breaking news and sports updates, its chats with political leaders and celebrity guests from George Will to Gloria Gaynor, and its remote reports from the likes of the 1996 Democratic convention, LesBiGay listeners get their dose of, yes, traffic reports.

All said, the 5-7 P.M. show--the country's only drive-time radio program directed at gays, lesbians, and bisexuals--keeps its audience in the fast lane. "I see myself as a teacher and a best friend," says founder Alan Amberg, who hosts the simulcast potpourri every weekday on Chicago's WSBC-AM and WCFJ-AM. "I'm also a cheerleader."

Amberg isn't the only one shaking pom-poms up and down the dial. There are currently almost 80 gay-targeted radio programs around the country. Some standouts: Philadelphia's WXPN-FM, celebrating 25 years of producing gay-related programming, currently airs Q'zine, a queer arts and culture magazine program; This Way Out, an international lesbian and gay magazine program produced in Los Angeles, is carried by more than 80 stations in eight countries; and Room for a View: A Qeer Radio Magazine is a weekly program on Pittsburgh's WRCT-FM. But wait--there's more. Amazon Radio, aired twice a month on WPKN-FM in Bridgeport, Conn., offers a lesbian-feminist perspective. GenderTalk, a weekly program on gender and sexuality issues, hails from Cambridge, Mass., on WMBR-FM. And on and on.

Most of these broadcasts are either on college or National Public Radio-affiliated stations. Gay programming has had a harder time getting--and staying--on commercial radio. Hibernia Beach, which airs Sundays at midnight on the San Francisco rock station Live 105 (KITS-FM), began ten years ago as a gay and lesbian public affairs program but eventually was tweaked to embrace a wider audience. Now the two-hour call-in show is cohosted by a straight woman and takes on all topics. For now, the few high-profile openly gay talk-radio hosts on commercial stations, like Karel and Andrew on Los Angeles's KFI-AM, appeal to a general audience.

But LesBiGay Radio is thriving. The diehard's beginnings were as inauspicious as Hibernia Beach's; it debuted in 1995 as an experimental early-morning Sunday show. As interest and content grew, so did its budget, and soon enough the show began dipping into the red. Amberg scrambled to form Diversity Communications, the show's parent noncommercial entity last year, so that he could continue to cover less than advertiser-friendly stories. "I tried this for profit, but I was being driven away from the audiences I loved serving," he says.

He admits LesBiGay, which claims more than 30,000 listeners a week, isn't posing a threat to Howard Stem. Amberg, who started the show with money left him by his lover who died of AIDS-related complications, is pushing hard to raise its $500,000 annual operating budget, which includes pay for four full-time and four part-time staff.

Still, thanks in part to Amberg's chutzpah, the show has managed to attract big guns like Miller. "They've been a presenting sponsor for the past three years," Amberg says. "That's far more dramatic than that one ad Budweiser ran." Restaurants, real estate brokers, law offices, and even a Ford dealership have also ponied up.

Meanwhile, he and his cohorts have come up with more creative ways of generating funds: for example, producing educational cassette tapes for professionals and laypeople, often with information culled from the show's investigative reports. The project focuses on health-related issues, and this fall LesBiGay Radio will release a cassette series on domestic violence among lesbians and gays. "We don't want to just give people the news and entertainment," says Amberg, who also spearheaded a report and subsequent cassette series on hepatitis C in July. "We want to be a toolbox."

Amberg's drive-time drive? "I love when we get to be right on top of something," says the dulcet-toned host, who shares the show with a variety of cohosts ranging from bantering lesbian Amy Matheny to celebrity guests like author Rita Mae Brown. "I want the show to be hands-on, in the trenches." A typically eclectic episode in August featured a talk with openly gay, HIV-positive Illinois state representative Larry McKeon; a performance by a touring cabaret act; and breaking reports on the proposed expansion of Illinois's existing hate-crimes law and United Airlines' announcement of its plan to offer domestic-partner benefits to its employees. "It's a kaleidoscope every day," says Amberg, who over the years has shared the microphone with both Sean Maloney, openly gay assistant to President Clinton, and Ryan Idol, embattled porn star and a guest host of LesBiGay in August. "We're a diverse group of people, and we want to show that."

For Amberg, it's a personal quest. He says his impetus to go nonprofit--and stay tree to his audience--came in 1996, when a gay couple were being harassed by juveniles at their home in a Chicago suburb. Amberg took a week off from his show duties to help them. "One had AIDS, and these neighbors were screaming at them and smearing excrement all over their house," he says. "The couple was really scared. They didn't know who else to call, so they called me. I asked them if they were willing to fight, and I walked the stow into the local Fox station and the Chicago Tribune. I also called the gay press. Before the kids knew it, a judge put a protective injunction around the house and fined the kids' parents."

Amberg sighs. "When others are in a tough situation, the couple calls in now and says, `Tell them to fight.' I love this stuff. That's why I got into it."

Find out more about gay and lesbian radio across the country at
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Title Annotation:there are some 80 gay-oriented radio shows, such as LesBiGay, in the US
Author:Savage, Todd
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Sep 14, 1999
Previous Article:Wild and Woolly.
Next Article:Winds of change.

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