Queer Airwaves: From the Radio Station to You

‘Queer Ear’ and ‘Closet Free Radio’ create safe spaces

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From UC Santa Cruz’s on-campus radio station to your ears, here are a couple of queer-centered programs available throughout Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, courtesy of KZSC.

“Queer Ear”

Dani Lopez and Parker Kim prepare for their broadcast, “Queer Ear.” Photo by Lluvia Moreno

This quarter, two best friends created a project that transcends distance, thanks to the hosts’ high-energy commentary and pop music.

What began as a class activity flourished into what is now “Queer Ear.” Alongside the music of queer artists, listeners also hear friendly and personal conversations between the two hosts, third-years Parker Kim and Dani Lopez. 

“Queer Ear” is Kim and Lopez’s way of reclaiming their space in pop culture. As members of the queer community, Kim and Lopez bring a relatable perspective about the queer experience. 

“There are so many artists in our generation that are queer that you don’t even realize are queer, and we listen to them every day, we just don’t think about it that much,” Kim said. “So to be able to bring that to light without making it something where you have to be queer to understand it or to enjoy, shows that we’ve been here. We’ve been around for a while, we just haven’t been open about it until recently.”

In handing the microphone to an underrepresented community, they recognize that queer folks have been a part of pop culture all along. It isn’t a “spectacle” or something “other,” Kim said. 

“It’s our goal to help people realize that the queers have fun. We make great music,” Kim said.  “It’s just recognizing that within the spaces we already enjoy, queer people are everywhere and they’re making music and they’re representing.” 

Some popular queer artists include Kehlani, Frank Ocean and Lady Gaga.

In addition to raising awareness of the queer artists in our everyday lives, “Queer Ear” creates a safe space for its DJs. 

“[‘Queer Ear’] gives me a chance to truly be myself on air,” Lopez said. 

This casual and inviting ambience allows listeners to feel connected with the hosts. Kim describes the recording process as similar to playing music in Lopez’s living room, as they often do. With “Queer Ear,” they get to share the experience. This intimate relationship between the hosts and listeners extends beyond the local community. 

A listener all the way from Wisconsin told Lopez and Kim how glad they are to know a queer radio show exists and to hear other queer people on the air being themselves. If the midwest wasn’t far enough, the hosts even had a listener from South Korea reach out to them.

“‘Queer Ear’ is a community thing, it’s not just Dani and I,” Kim said. “It’s important to make [queerness] normal, not something that’s distinct and should be treated differently. It’s just a part of our regular life and that’s what’s important to remember.”

Folks can tune in to “Queer Ear” every Sunday night from 10 p.m. to 12 a.m. at 88.1 FM or by going to streaming.kzsc.org to listen to both live and past recordings. 

“Closet Free Radio”

Kai Azada and Richard Baldwin, the hosts of “Closet Free Radio,” start out the podcast with introductions before heading into the first song. Photo by Josephine Joliff

A microphone. A studio. Airwaves. 

Richard Baldwin, a full-time employee of the UCSC anthropology department since the mid-90’s, and Kai Azada have both been part of the KZSC staff since 2001. Together, they’ve taken the reins of “Closet Free Radio (CFR)” as its hosts since 2000.

“CFR” began in 1975 as a student and community collaboration focusing on queer public affairs. Forty-four years later, it’s the second longest continuously running show at KZSC, after “Breakfast in Bed.” 

“The name Closet Free Radio was intended to be a powerfully symbolic claiming of queer space. Back in the mid-70s when CFR was created, the Gay Liberation movement was making an impact on how possible it was to be public and safe as an LGBTQ+ person without the limitations of the closet,” Baldwin said in an email. “We’re currently in a climate where entertainment and information is easier to get than ever and being queer isn’t as stigmatized, but there’s still violence and discrimination happening all the time.”

“CFR” is much more than just a radio broadcast. It’s a symbol of resistance representing the strength and willpower of the queer community.

During the program, Azada and Baldwin cover LGBTQIA+ news, host interviews and play music by queer and allied artists. To close each show, they present listeners with a community calendar of queer-centered events and announcements.

“As a PA (public affairs) program, we focus on holding space for participation by members of the public,” Baldwin said in an email. “We’re proud to have a legacy of providing education and diversity at the radio station.”

With “CFR” spanning several decades, some listeners have grown alongside the show. On numerous occasions, long-time listeners of the program expressed their gratitude toward the show, saying they felt comforted while listening. 

A heartfelt story that stuck with Azada through the years was of a listener who hadn’t come out before listening to the show. 

“When he was young, closeted, still living with his parents and just figuring out who he was, he listened to CFR on a transistor radio hidden under his pillow so no one would know. CFR was a touchstone for him. He’s all grown up now, but his story is certainly not unique,” Azada said in an email. “We program for people like him, as well as for anyone tuning in that wants to know more about the LGBT+ world at large and locally. Not everyone has the time or bandwidth to seek out and read queer news, so we bring it to the airwaves.”

During the show, Azada and Baldwin discuss queer issues in a human rights and social justice context. Their aim is to educate and inform listeners outside of the queer community. 

“[‘Closet Free Radio’] can reach people in public and private ways — it can penetrate the boundaries of the closet,” Baldwin said in an email. “One could stay informed about queer issues and still maintain privacy about their sexuality or gender expression in a way that reading a newsletter or showing up for an event might not.”

The intimacy of “CFR” is a big reason why the show has been on air for so long. It’s also an alternative for those who don’t have an accessible internet connection. 

“CFR to me is all about holding space and making connections,” Baldwin said in an email. “It’s a big responsibility and I’m glad to have the opportunity to do this work for my community.” 

Folks can tune in to listen to “Closet Free Radio” every Monday night from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at 88.1 FM or by going to streaming.kzsc.org to listen to both live and past recordings.