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Invented in Italy in 1895 by Guglielmo Marconi, radio became a major communications medium in the United States and Western Europe in the late 1920s, when commercial radio stations began broadcasting programs of news, music, and entertainment.

Because of its ability to send long-range messages with relative anonymity, radio has also been an effective tool of propaganda and subversion. From the World War II broadcasts of "Tokyo Rose" to the cold war-inspired Radio Free Europe broadcasts to contemporary microradio and computer webcasting, radio has long been a favored instrument of subversives everywhere.

Non-commercial Broadcasting

While most radio relied on commercial support from the beginning, non-commercial broadcasting has also been a part of radio's history since educational stations, often affiliated with colleges and universities, were founded during the 1920s.

Pacifica, one of the best-known non-commercial radio networks in the United States, was founded in 1949, by a non-profit group of citizens in Berkeley, California. Since the 1970s, it has been a leader in giving voice to glbtq people.

The social revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s, which included the civil rights, anti-war, women's liberation, and gay liberation movements, had an important effect on the broadcasting industry.

In 1967, President Lyndon Johnson responded to public pressure by signing into law the Public Broadcasting Act, which granted federal funds to support non-commercial public radio. It was on these public radio stations, many still operated by colleges and universities, that radio found its first comfortable home.

Early Radio

Early radio largely excluded any mention of gay men and lesbians, but there were some exceptions. For instance, in 1933 a San Francisco station began its evening by broadcasting a local drag revue titled "Boys Will Be Girls," only to end up airing the police raid on the bar presenting the show.

A rare gay male character was included in a 1947 ABC Radio broadcast of the Moss Hart play Lady in the Dark.

Lesbians on early radio were even rarer than gay men. One of the few was heard in a 1952 broadcast of a mystery show called The Black Museum. In "The Brass Button" episode, the murder victim was a mannish woman with "no use for men" who was killed off within the first two minutes of the program.

Early radio censorship rules were stringent, and almost any mention of homosexuality was forbidden. However, in 1962, New York's public radio station WBAI presented one of the first programs actually to air self-acknowledged gay men's voices, Live and Let Live.

The Aftermath of the Stonewall Rebellion

After the Stonewall Rebellion in the summer of 1969, gay men, lesbians, and other queers gained not only greater visibility, but also a greater sense of cultural identity. The gay liberation movement of the early 1970s exploded with expressions of newly discovered gay and lesbian identity. Books, newspapers, literary and political journals, films, clubs, coffeehouses, and music festivals were products of the movement.

Gay and lesbian radio programming was another important part of celebrating queer identity and culture, as well as spreading the movement. Relatively easy to learn and much cheaper to produce than television, radio was a popular and accessible medium. A radio show could spread the word of gay liberation far beyond the urban centers where gay communities existed.

The Stonewall riots and the political work that had preceded and followed them brought gay issues into public view, but most gay men and lesbians remained closeted. For those who were afraid to join organizations or even to enter gay bookstores to buy queer literature, radio was an excellent outreach tool.

Radio was free and private. Through gay and lesbian radio programming, closeted queers could find support and information about the movement in the safety of their own homes.

Early Gay and Lesbian Radio Shows

In the flurry of post-Stonewall activity, gay radio shows sprang up all over the country. KBOO, an Oregon public radio station, hosted one of the earliest gay shows, the Half Hour, which ran from 1971 to 1973. It featured interviews with gay activists.

Another early show, created by Seattle lesbian and gay radio pioneers Shan Ottey and Paul Barwick, began broadcasting in 1971 with the humorously blatant name, Make No Mistake About It, It's a Faggot and a Dyke.

Many of the early radio programs still exist, some having updated their names or changed to cyber broadcasting. Closet Free Radio on KZSC in Santa Cruz, California, claims to be the longest running gay radio show in the country, while another KZSC show Breakfast in Bed, produced by the Women's Radio Collective, has been broadcasting lesbian and feminist content continuously since 1975.

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