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.
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 1991 to produce a live community awards show. The first Speak Sebastian Awards happened in June of that year as part of Pride Week. 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
In 1992, Niall and Michelle moved on, passing the show on to 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 1993. 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.
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.