At long last, Twin Cities gays and their allies have something to listen to -- our very own LGBT-friendly radio station.
96.7 Pride Radio, a new iHeartMedia (formerly Clear Channel) experiment, is providing a safe space for anyone who loves their pop hits remixed into nearly un-listenable (but very danceable!) club jams. The station, which will be commercial free for its first two weeks, launched June 11 with a 24-hour block of Madonna jams.
Billed as the first LGBT station in the nation, 96.7 Pride Radio is an interesting concept that also raises a difficult question: Do gay people like a certain kind of music? So much so that we need a radio station devoted to our very particular sonic preferences and the "lifestyle" that accompanies it?
"June is Pride Month, and I can imagine no better time to launch a station this important to the Twin Cities community," Hartley Adkins, executive vice president of operations for iHeartMedia, says in a press release. "This groundbreaking station represents a place for amazing music and entertainment, but also a platform for the LGBT community. 96.7 Pride Radio is a destination to express opinions, be heard, and connect."
While it's imperative that gay voices and perspectives reach critical mass in the media, a radio station themed around the "gay experience" risks pandering to alleged or perceived gay preferences, and certainly opens the door for criticism.
For example, why is it that much of the programming on 96.7 Pride Radio so far has been bumping club music? Does all of the programming need to be evocative of a Sunday-Funday rooftop pool party? Did that Sam Smith lullaby really need to be juiced-up and sexified, so that now it works better as I pull off my shirt in front of a roomful of sweaty, twerking strangers?
While there may be some LGBT listeners who want non-stop dance-pop, the omnipresence of this music suggests that maybe it would have been better to have named the station "The Club" or something similarly innocuous, rather than try to pander to an entire "community" at the risk of putting them all in a tidy box.
LGBT-specific programming is nothing new to the media world. Logo television boasts a lineup of shows that are meant to pique gay interests--from RuPaul's Drag Race (a personal favorite) to dramas like Cucumber and Banana. Much like 96.7 Pride Radio, Logo is also owned by a mega-media company and was developed to appeal to a certain set of perceived interests -- you're gay, so there's a good chance you like RuPaul. In some cases that may be true, but not all.
iHeartMedia recently launched Hot 102.5 (102.5 FM) in the Twin Cities, a station that plays old-school R&B and hip-hop, but they didn't brand that new station by sloppily affiliating it with a demographic. Attempting to define a lifestyle or experience, especially when you're a large company hoping to sell to that audience, is dangerous territory. Using that demographic as a trendy opportunity is something much worse.
This is not to say that there isn't room for a smart, nuanced, and diverse Twin Cities radio station that services and elevates all things LGBTQA -- that could be a win. But when programming is limited to a Will-and-Grace-ified understanding of what it means to be part of this community -- no one is served except those who never leave the Saloon.
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