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Straight talk vs. Gloria Gaynor

Sirius' OutQ and Clear Channel's Pride Radio are taking different approaches to attract gay listeners.

June 15, 2007|Marc Fisher | Washington Post

WASHINGTON — A caller rings up the "Derek and Romaine" show for some frank advice. The man says he'd had a random sexual encounter with a stranger and they got to talking and it turned out that the partners were cousins.

The question: "Can I marry him?"

"Honestly, I think you can," says Derek Hartley, co-host of the frisky, freewheeling talk show that airs on Sirius Satellite Radio's OutQ, the first among several new radio outlets dedicated to programming for a gay audience.

Hartley -- a former movie reviewer from Fredericksburg, Va., who came to radio from a gay website -- and Romaine Patterson -- an activist who started working with gay political groups after her close friend Matthew Shepard was killed in an anti-gay attack in 1998 -- offer a distinctly different brand of radio.

Their nightly show features segments such as "Shocking Confessions," in which callers tell stories absolutely none of which can be related in a family newspaper, or "What's Your Gay Problem?," in which the hosts dispense relationship advice that would result in an instant loss of license on old-fashioned broadcast radio.

But OutQ is not just about pushing the boundaries of what can be said on the radio. The channel, which launched in 2003 as radio's first all-gay programming stream, includes hourly reports of news for and about gays, Broadway show tunes, dance club music, a talk show with Michelangelo Signorile and a celebrity-oriented morning show.

"The biggest benefit I hear people say they get from OutQ is that if you're a gay person, here is a place you can go to hear people who speak honestly and passionately about what it's like to be gay," says Jeremy Coleman, Sirius' vice president for talk and entertainment. "So whether the topic is depression or gay porn, there's a tremendous relief we have in being able to speak very openly."

While Sirius' paying audience may value explicit language and extremely frank discussion of sexual topics, different standards apply on broadcast radio, and a campaign by Clear Channel Radio to expand the kinds of programming heard on free, over-the-air radio has produced a new format called Pride Radio.

Heard on a dozen HD stations -- the new second channel of programming available free on AM and FM to owners of digital radios -- and on the websites of nearly two dozen Clear Channel stations around the country (including KBIG-FM [104.3] in Los Angeles), Pride Radio is also programming aimed at a gay audience, but the approach is vastly different from OutQ's.

"As a member of the community, I set out to reach myself," says Jared Cohen, 24, who created Pride Radio as part of the radio giant's Format Lab project.

"I thought about the music my friends and I listen to and what we hear in the clubs. It's music that's always a little bit ahead of the mainstream."

Pride Radio is mostly music, delivered without DJs -- like almost all HD stations in this early phase of the new technology, Pride Radio airs without ads. The tunes are not the hard-edged dance numbers often heard on OutQ, but rather a more rhythmic version of the upbeat pop that might be heard on an FM pop station.

"There's only so much bumping and thumping at 180 beats per minute you can take," says Cohen, who adds that the playlist of Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Prince, Gloria Gaynor and other dance standards is supplemented with tunes from gay artists as well as bands that draw large gay followings, such as Scissor Sisters and the Gossip.

If OutQ is primarily a talk channel, Pride Radio is "a musically driven channel that you can shake to," Cohen says. But Clear Channel is moving to add personalities to its gay programming, starting with "Ryan & Caroline," a mix of music, celebrity gossip and entertainment news that airs both on Pride Radio and as a two-hour Sunday night show on half a dozen Clear Channel FM stations.

In cities where Pride Radio has been available for a while, the response has been better than expected, says Jen Austin, a DJ at Clear Channel's KDMX in Dallas who does a pop music show on FM and a gay-oriented show on the local version of Pride Radio. (The L.A. station, 104.3-HD2, began airing only on June 4.)

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