“No One Needs to Know You’re Listening”: Bridging Suburb and City with Gay Radio in 1970s Detroit

Friday, January 2, 2015: 1:40 PM
Gramercy Suite B (New York Hilton)
Tim Retzloff, Michigan State University
In the summer of 1973, driven by the absence of accurate gay images available in mainstream straight media and eager to continue the political project of gay liberation, a half dozen gay men and lesbians in Detroit formed the Gay Radio Collective and approached public station WDET about starting a weekly gay radio show. In proposing the program, collective member Don Mager explained to a station official, “You understand that radio is a medium where no matter how secretive you are about yourself, you can always go listen, no one needs to know you’re listening, and you’ll probably start to feel some sense of community.” Intrigued by the idea that the medium itself could impact lives in a meaningful way, the station gave Gayly Speaking a green light. The spoken word eclipsed the printed word as the program spread a uniquely gay perspective as far as station wattage could reach. For the nine years it was broadcast in metropolitan Detroit, Gayly Speakingprovided an aural intimacy via the airwaves for queer people seeking community in the Motor City and its suburbs.

This paper explores the mission and impact of Gayly Speaking. The program provided not only gay news and analysis, but a sense of gay belonging to thousands of listeners. For the closeted schoolteacher who could listen while driving, the bar hopper who could listen before heading out for a night of disco, and the lonely teenager who could listen on a transistor radio in the privacy of a suburban bedroom, gay radio not only transcended municipal boundaries and pierced the urban-gay/straight-suburb divide of metropolitan Detroit, it provided a new and intimate access to a community of shared identity and mobilized action.