“We are the Giorgio Armani of FM radio stations,” said Rob Basile, program director and operations manager for the Toronto, Ontario-based 103.9 PROUD-FM, which hit the airwaves in April 2007. “Fifteen years ago, the most conservative males were wearing Armani suits and very proud to show them off — suits that had been designed and tailored by a gay man.”
In the same fashion, PROUD-FM, the first and only commercial LGBT radio station in the world, hopes to reach beyond its core audience to anyone with an open mind and willing to experience something no other radio station has done in the history of the medium.
“By being the first and doing it successfully in the mainstream, we can prove to the world that this is a viable format that needs to exist,” Basile said. “In order to advocate it successfully, it needs to be done in a way that is informative and educational, not aggressive and militant.”
When it comes to the music format, don’t cling to stereotypes and assume PROUD-FM is playing show tunes around the clock. According to its website, Proudfm.com, the sound is “an eclectic mix … from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s” with “a splash of classical and dance music.”
“What we do is we play fun, happy, and upbeat music,” said Basile, who names the Pet Shop Boys, Erasure, Boy George, and Madonna as regulars in the station’s rotation. “If we come across an artist that is LGBT and they fit the sound of the station, then we play them. We won’t play artists simply because they are gay … but we will still celebrate them.”
Deb Pearce, PROUD-FM mid-day host, proud lesbian, and self-proclaimed “gender illusionist,” says her station provides a forum for rarely discussed topics that are often mocked on other commercial radio stations.
PROUD-FM’s ability to inspire social change was evident during the month of September as they protested on-air against reggae star Elephant Man performing at Toronto’s Kool Haus. With anti-LGBT songs like “We Nuh Like Gay,” the station felt it was a slap in the face for Elephant Man to come to a venue located in the Garden District, a destination heavily visited by members of the LGBT community. By the end of the month, the concert was cancelled.
“On the ground level, our community has been fighting against things like this for so long,” Pearce said. “Now, we can amplify the voice through the power of radio and can get our message out there ten-fold.” •