CJSW’s Queer Programming: Old & New

This week saw the launch of Calgary’s newest queer radio show on the FM dial: Calgary Rainbow Radio. The Calgary Gay History Project is actively involved in the collective making the show. Our first piece is about CJSW’s own queer history.  Here is the transcript.

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CJSW 90.9 FM has been a beacon of alternative, and independent voices on Calgary airwaves since its inception. It also has a proud queer history. Over the past 25 years, you might have heard the classic “First Dyke on Dynasty,” segments on lesbian life, features on butt plugs, and the often used tagline “Just us, and not always them.”

The first queer show on CJSW was Speak Sebastian. It premiered on September 5, 1990. Niall O’Rourke, the show’s founder said then “the gay community is now confident enough to stand up and be counted.” In an interview with the Calgary Herald, he said he hoped both gays and straights would be interested in the subjects Speak Sebastian tackled during its regular Wednesday 9 – 10 p.m. time-slot.

The program was set up like many radio lifestyle shows, with regular features and panels discussing various subjects: for example, the risks faced by professionals who “come out.” Its mandate, however, was to examine the question of how the homosexual community could grow “in a so- called ‘straight’ world.” Early shows addressed controversial issues like “outing,” popular with gay activist groups then. Outing is when a person or news source publicly revealed the homosexuality of a well-known figure, who had been keeping it under wraps.

Niall said, “Though many homosexuals are private about their preferences, the people directly and regularly involved in Speak Sebastian are not able to use pseudonyms. If you’re not ready to go on the record, you’re not ready to be on the show.”

Niall came to CJSW five years earlier through hosting a classical music show called Excursions. Though he enjoyed working on Excursions, Niall said: “The more mature I get, the more I find myself bringing my background, my homosexuality, into my work.”

One of the program’s regular features was a monthly segment of AIDS information and updates produced by AIDS Calgary.

The Show proved to be popular and co-host Michele Sharp soon joined Niall as well as other segment volunteers. Giving everybody an equal voice was the goal. Niall and Michele would go through the show programs in advance and try to give equal time to male and female issues.

Michele said: “I think Niall got blown away by me at the beginning because I was like this radical feminist dyke who was going to bowl them over and make sure women got a voice. But then I realized he was on my side and I didn’t have to slap him down or make him stay in line; he tried to keep everything on an even keel between the two of us.”

Speak Sebastian expanded in 1992 to produce a live community awards show. The first Speak Sebastian Awards happened in June of that year as part of Pride Week at the University Theatre. It presented the alternative comedy of Dos Fallopia and featured singer Pegg Ward. Awards were given to community members in seven categories which were:

  • Man of the Year
  • Woman of the Year
  • Award of Distinction
  • Community Service Award
  • Humanitarian Award
  • Business of the Year
  • Sportsperson of the Year

Also In 1992, Niall and Michelle moved on, passing the show onto the queer radio collective that had formed. The new hosts that year were Stephen Lock and Cate Vail, who were both heavily involved in Calgary’s gay and lesbian support organizations, Gay Lines and Lesbian Information Lines (respectively).

The Speak Sebastian awards had three iterations, ending in 1994. Organizers ran out of steam to keep it, and the radio show, both going. This was also the period in Calgary of peak AIDS deaths in the community, another source of stress.

In the fall of 1994, two volunteers in the Speak Sebastian collective, Gene Rodman and Craig Lewington, started to experience creative differences with Stephen and Cate. Gene and Craig approached CJSW and asked if they could start another queer show, and they were granted one by the station. Calling it Freedom FM they began to alternate Wednesdays with Speak Sebastian.

Freedom FM’s concept was a high energy, fast-paced show with lots of audience participation. They tried to present a positive view of Calgary’s queer community and to focus on the community’s altruism. Gene and Craig felt they had many closeted listeners who needed an informative, non-judgemental show to coax them into the community. They had many innovative segments including the Queerstion of the day, Gay Jeopardy, and a radio soap opera called Tomorrow’s End. Freedom FM also experimented with live remote broadcasts from gay bars and coffee shops.

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CJSW Queer Community Broadcasters from left to right: Gene Rodman, Michelle Wong, and Stephen Lock.  This photo appeared on the cover of the June 12, 1997 edition of FFWD Magazine.

In 1997, a group of four enterprising lesbians launched Dykes on Mikes adding a third queer show to CJSW programming. The original collective consisted of Michelle Wong, Vicki LaLonde, Corinne Cornish and Kam Wong. Their show aired the first Tuesday of the month at 8 PM, and the four stayed together until the year 2000 when new hosts were added to the collective Morag Misselbrook and Nico Hofferd.

For many years into the 21st century, all three programs kept running. Freedom FM had a name change to Urban Sex and a new host Angus Goodkey. Dykes on Mikes had host Christine Brownell in 2003 and eventually morphed into the contemporary feminist CJSW show Yeah, What She Said.

Queer programming on CJSW has a proud history, asserting a space for us on the FM dial. The transmission was heard well outside the city limits and on multiple occasions in the Calgary Gay history Project’s work we have heard from individuals who said those CJSW programs saved their lives, by letting them know they were not alone. When these people did not have the courage to live open lives, they were consoled by knowing that queer voices existed every week in Calgary on their radio dial.

{KA}

2016 YYC Gay History Wrap

Today is our last post of 2016 as we devote our final energies of December to completing the Calgary Gay History book project.  Here is a recap of the year.

The three most popular history posts in 2016 were:

#1 Ralph Klein’s Gay Rights Tempest

#2 Klippert back in the news 50 years later

#3 2016 Hero Awards – Nancy & Richard

We recently passed the 50,000 person odometer mark on the history website and have 966 followers, hundreds of whom have signed up for our weekly email.

Calgarian Everett Klippert, who was jailed in the 1960s for being gay, was back in the news in February thanks to the journalistic efforts of the Globe and Mail’s John Ibbitson. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has subsequently promised a posthumous pardon. The Calgary Gay History Project was then invited to write a feature on Klippert for the Canadian Encyclopedia.

Over 1000 Calgarians gathered in memory of the victims of the Orlando shooting at the Jack Singer Concert Hall.

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The Calgary Police opened up their archives to the history project.

Calgary City Councillor Evan Woolley spearheaded the creation of a LGBTQ Legacy Committee to develop a plan for a history memorial that recognizes our contributions to the city.

We made historical reproductions of Pride buttons from previous decades that we gave away for free (and quickly ran out of) at Calgary’s Pride Festival.

Finally, we are looking forward to making more history in 2017.  So to all of our readers, we send you our warmest wishes for a happy New Year.

{KA}

 

 

 

 

World AIDS Day & Anger

World AIDS Day began in 1988, when an international meeting of health ministers in London, England declared December 1st a day to highlight the enormity of the AIDS pandemic. Today in Canada, men who have sex with men* still make up the majority of new HIV infections annually: 57% or about 1400 new infections/year. Men who have sex with men are 131 times more likely to get HIV than men who do not. Pause to consider that.

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The world is an angry place today. Foreign national events such as Brexit and the U.S. Election were notable in their antagonistic rhetoric. But even at the most local level, Calgarians are bellicose over reasonably low stake issues such as cycle tracks, public art, and election line-ups (issues I am personally connected to, which have given me lots of practice with wrath management technique).

Recently, I came upon a manifesto in zine form called Queers Read This. It was distributed at the June 1990 Pride March in New York City, and “published anonymously by queers.” It is a concentrated distillation of rage at a time when the stakes could not have been higher. AIDS, at the time, was a growing epidemic and for most, an almost certain death sentence.

The publication has exhortations to “bash back,” meet hatred with hatred, and give no inch to straights. It very much defended the word Queer as a militant signifier of strength which galvanized and branded the generation of activists who came of age then.

Calgary was part of this movement. 1990 was the year of the first Pride Rally in the city. It was also a time of tragic AIDS deaths, frequent gay bashings and other forms of homophobic backlash. Yet it was this anger which helped us stand our ground and ultimately win our human rights battles.

So I am reframing my relationship to anger. Anger can affect social change. Anger can be something positive – like the 1400 Canadian men who have sex with men who will get infected with HIV this year.

*{Men who have sex with men is a term that refers to behaviour rather than identity; it captures not only gay and bisexual men but also those who do not identify themselves based on their sexual practices.}

ANGER (An Essay from Queers Read This)

“The strong sisters told the brothers that there were two important things to remember about the coming revolutions, the first is that we will get our asses kicked. The second, is that we will win.”

I’m angry. I’m angry for being condemned to death by strangers saying, “You deserve to die” and “AIDS is the cure.” Fury erupts when a Republican woman wearing thousands of dollars of garments and jewelry minces by the police lines shaking her head, chuckling and wagging her finger at us like we are recalcitrant children making absurd demands and throwing a temper tantrum when they aren’t met. Angry while Joseph agonizes over $8,000 for AZT which might keep him alive a little longer and which makes him sicker than the disease he is diagnosed with. Angry as I listen to a man tell me that after changing his will five times he’s running out of people to leave things to. All of his best friends are dead. Angry when I stand in a sea of quilt panels, or go to a candlelight march or attend yet another memorial service. I will not march silently with a fucking candle and I want to take that goddamned quilt and wrap myself in it and furiously rend it and my hair and curse every god religion ever created. I refuse to accept a creation that cuts people down in the third decade of their life.

It is cruel and vile and meaningless and everything I have in me rails against the absurdity and I raise my face to the clouds and a ragged laugh that sounds more demonic than joyous erupts from my throat and tears stream down my face and if this disease doesn’t kill me, I may just die of frustration. My feet pound the streets and Peter’s hands are chained to a pharmaceutical company’s reception desk while the receptionist looks on in horror and Eric’s body lies rotting in a Brooklyn cemetery and I’ll never hear his flute resounding off the walls of the meeting house again. And I see the old people in Tompkins Square Park huddled in their long wool coats in June to keep out the cold they perceive is there and to cling to whatever little life has left to offer them. I’m reminded of the people who strip and stand before a mirror each night before they go to bed and search their bodies for any mark that might not have been there yesterday. A mark that this scourge has visited them.

And I’m angry when the newspapers call us “victims” and sound alarms that “it” might soon spread to the “general population.” And I want to scream “Who the fuck am I?” And I want to scream at New York Hospital with its yellow plastic bags marked “isolation linen”, “ropa infecciosa” and its orderlies in latex gloves and surgical masks skirting the bed as if its occupant will suddenly leap out and douse them with blood and semen giving them too the plague.

And I’m angry at straight people who sit smugly wrapped in their self-protective coat of monogamy and heterosexuality confident that this disease has nothing to do with them because “it” only happens to “them.” And the teenage boys who upon spotting my Silence=Death button begin chanting “Faggot’s gonna die” and I wonder, who taught them this? Enveloped in fury and fear, I remain silent while my button mocks me every step of the way.

And the anger I feel when a television program on the quilt gives profiles of the dead and the list begins with a baby, a teenage girl who got a blood transfusion, an elderly baptist minister and his wife and when they finally show a gay man, he’s described as someone who knowingly infected teenage male prostitutes with the virus. What else can you expect from a faggot?

I’m angry.

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Photo: Queers Read This published anonymously by queers.

{KA}