Queering the Spectrum from Radio to Local TV
Gay and lesbian voices existed on a small sliver of the American airwaves in the 1970s during the same time CB radio reached its peak popularity among white Americans. In the same Los Angeles area ranked by the Federal Communications Commissions as having the highest numbers of CB radio users, and in the same time period, listeners identifying as gay or lesbian could hear similarly identified presenters speaking to them about their community. Unlike straight, mostly white voices on CB radio, however, queer voices on a small-scale volunteer-run public radio network enjoyed no representation in popular culture or in advertising. If you wanted to hear openly gay or lesbian people on the radio in 1970s America, you would have had a hard time finding them outside a show such as “IMRU.” However, if you knew how to listen and what to listen for, the audibility of queerness and of queer voices had existed for decades. In a manner similar to how black men sought out and heard each other as they tuned their CB radios to listen across long distances, gay men throughout the twentieth century tuned into a communication system “off the spectrum,” a terrestrial embodied “technology” of intonation and shared vocabulary comprising a type of insider language resonant with the connection their heterosexual contemporaries later found through CB radio. The chapter concludes with a discussion of other forms of electronic media that have offered access to public communications to marginalized communities such as public access cable television and, more recently, online social media.