Radio programmers are always on the lookout for unserved audiences, and this week Sirius satellite radio says it latched onto one that’s 15 million strong, and which had been served only by the occasional local program relegated to weekends.
OutQ, which on Tuesday joined Sirius’ nationwide lineup of 100 channels, features 24 hours of news, talk and entertainment aimed at gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender listeners, as well as their friends and families. Jay Clark, vice president of entertainment and information programming for Sirius, said he wants the service to touch on social issues, pop culture, love, sex and relationship advice. “When you have 100 streams of programming, you can step out a little bit,” he said, and noted that Sirius already features conservative talk and Christian music among its offerings.
“Maybe I’m naive about this,” Clark said, but “I think the time has come.”
John McMullen, the channel’s program director and host of his own show, said OutQ’s hosts are generally left of center, but added that the full spectrum of views, from liberal to conservative, will find airtime.
“Even if we don’t have hosts who represent every point of view,” the guests and callers certainly will, McMullen said. “The audience will not be censored in this. Everybody has a place at the table.”
The service offers live shows weekdays from 3 a.m. to 6 p.m. Pacific time, with repeats and best-of programming filling the evenings and weekends. It premiered at noon Tuesday with McMullen’s show, which featured his guests, playwright and actor Harvey Fierstein and Joan Garry, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
“We’re such a diverse community, it’s very hard for us to even figure out who we are,” Fierstein said. “You need a sort of town square, and we have no town square. There is no place for us to focus, there is no place for us to turn when something happens in our community, to know what’s going on. This opportunity is immense, if this could become that. We’re hoping it will.”
With the channel featuring hourly news breaks between talk programs, Fierstein said he expects, for example, to tune in and hear reports about the latest bill affecting gays that’s been passed in Congress or some state capital -- bulletins that he said would have received scant or no coverage in mainstream media.
He and Garry also look forward to hearing topics being hashed out on the talk shows, such as gay marriage, adoption, military service and the stances of candidates in the upcoming presidential election.
“I fully expect that the conversation will be provocative,” Garry said. “People are calling in. I think they’re going to stir up the pot quite a bit. I think that’s a good thing.”
OutQ starts its broadcast day at 3 a.m. with the three-hour “Wayne Besen Show,” whose host is a gay-rights leader and author of “Anything but Straight: Unmasking Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.” He’s followed at 6 a.m. by Cary Harrison, whose L.A.-based “Harrison on the Edge” features humor, news and commentary. Journalist and author Michelangelo Signorile has a namesake show at 9 a.m., with interviews and commentary covering everything from pop culture to politics. McMullen’s program is next, with guests and callers discussing current events at noon. Wrapping up the day’s live programming, from 3 to 6 p.m., is “Derek & Romaine,” which Sirius advertises as three hours of “passionate, provocative conversations about love, sex, relationships and gay culture,” with hosts Derek Hartley and Romaine Patterson. The show repeats from midnight to 3 a.m. Harrison and McMulllen also repeat, starting at 6 and 9 p.m., respectively.
OutQ is available to all Sirius subscribers but can also be blocked upon request. McMullen said, however, that even the relationship discussions won’t be any more raw than what’s already heard on many talk stations. He suggested the tone would be comparable to that found on KROQ-FM’s long-running love- and sex-advice show, “Loveline.”
“It will be frank,” he said, but “this is not pornography. This is not a service where you’d find any sort of gratuitous profanity or anything over the edge.”
Garry said she’s excited that OutQ is “about us and for us,” and will offer gays’ stories and issues of concern.
“While we’ve seen some progress, the gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender community have been painfully absent from key forms of media, and radio is one of the best examples,” she said. “This is the first time that an entertainment company has said we’re going to dedicate 24/7 to a channel that is about and for the LBGT community.”
Online sources and local radio stations have offered scattered shows covering topics of interest to the gay community, McMullen said. And Fierstein cited “In the Life,” a weekly public television program that has focused on such issues since 1992. But Fierstein asked those with him in the studio if anyone knew when “In the Life” aired, and their silence made his point: OutQ will always be on, offering easy access to news, talk and entertainment.
He also suggested that the channel, because of radio’s anonymous, personal nature, could be especially helpful to gays who have not come out.
“They will not go buy a magazine, they will not go buy a newspaper. They will not do something that would put their anonymity at risk,” Fierstein said. But with OutQ they could, “in the privacy of their own home or their own car, be able to turn us on and hear our community, and help them build their self-confidence to the point where they can come out and be themselves. What a great thing to do.”
Sirius and its rival, XM, have pioneered satellite radio service within the last 18 months, offering static-free sound beamed from space and niche programming not heard on most earthbound radio stations. They pitch themselves as the premium alternative to regular radio, like cable is to broadcast television, but also require a monthly subscription fee and specialized receivers. Sirius is available for $12.95 a month, though OutQ also streams on its Web site, www.sirius.com.
But Sirius, which entered the market 10 months after XM, lags far behind its rival in numbers of subscribers, a fact that has some industry analysts doubting its long-term viability.
Clark is confident the potential market is big enough for both players, and Larry Rebich, Sirius’ vice president of programming and market development, said OutQ alone could bring the company tens of thousands of new subscribers.