In the United States, lesbian radio programs (produced and hosted by lesbians) came on the air in the early 1970s during a period referred to as the second wave of feminism. This was also the time when there was an increased number of women who identified as lesbians being interviewed on the radio. The focus of the programs were lesbian issues and women's issues in general. Weekly programs were produced for community radio in cities and rural communities. *Amazon Country (WXPN-FM, Philadelphia, PA) came on the air in 1974 [and is still on the air] and was one of the first lesbian radio programs in the U.S. Another program was The Lesbian Radio Spectacular with a Cast of Millions (WBAI-FM, New York City, NY) which came on the air in 1976. Unfortunately, the rise of lesbian radio didn't last but a few short years in the U.S., and the reasons were many, including funding, support, and audience/reach. With the 1980s came the wave of media censorship from the religious right, coupled with the FCC (Federal Communication Commission) policies and penalties for "indecency." In response, there was the fight to keep queer radio alive. Things were changing and artists such as k. d. lange and Melissa Etheridge could be heard on mainstream radio stations. Next came a wave of "gay and lesbian" radio programing in the 1990s, and this included the fight to inform radio audiences about AIDS, what was it and why wasn't there support and funding to find a cure? This was not the first time that "gays and lesbians" had been a combined effort in radio history. Earlier radio programs in the late 1950s and early 1960s were also described as targeted to the "gay and lesbian" market, but the programs were usually predominately centered around gay male related topics. In 1992, the K-Gay Radio Network in Denver, CO, provided the first 24 hour, daily broadcast via satellite dishes to the gay and lesbian communities in North America, Canada, and the Caribbean. It seemed like a solid investment, but the financial side of K-Gay Radio proved to be too costly and the effort only lasted about a year. But, with the new and ever growing media technologies, such as satellites, this meant that audio broadcasts no longer required a radio in the traditional sense, and another door was opened for messages and music and other artists to be heard. The artists were also being recognized; in 1996, the first Gay/Lesbian American Music Awards (GLAMA) was held in New York. Soon there was something called "podcasts," digital audio files made available on the Internet for downloading to a computer or portable media player. With access to podcasts and the ease of designing podcast programs, there is once again an emerging lesbian radio (podcast) movement taking place in the U.S.
There has been very limited research published about lesbian-centered radio in the U.S. Some facts will be found in the literature that is presented as "gay and lesbian" radio history. The problem with merging the two together is that the names of lesbian pioneers and movers and shakers are so often omitted. There is a similar challenge with general radio histories and women radio histories with women being named, but little is said about the lesbian side of the story. There is still work to be done to document the past and the present. The published research on lesbian podcasts hasn't happened quite yet.
*Amazon County is still on the air and has been since 1974
Browne, R. B. and P. Browne editors. (2001). The Guide to United States Popular Culture. Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press.
Mitchell, C. (2000). Women and Radio: airing differences. New York and London: Routledge.
Sterling, C. et. al. editors. (2010). The Concise Encyclopedia of American Radio. New York and London: Routledge.
Zimmerman, B. (2000). Encyclopedia of Lesbian Histories and Cultures. New York and London: Garland Publishing, Inc.
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