Print edition : November 01, 2013

Hosts John Jacob and Sandy (left) on the live show "Let's Get Beyond Ties", in Bangalore on October 4. Photo: K. Gopinathan

Vishali Chandra, channel manager, QRadio. Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy

Anil Srivatsa, CEO and co-founder, Radiowalla network. Photo: Akhilesh Kumar

An Internet-based channel launched in Bangalore recently gives the gay community a much-needed discussion space.

INDIA’S first radio station targeted at members of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) community was launched in Bangalore in September. The Internet-based radio platform has been on air for more than a month now and has been gaining many fans across the country. Called QRadio, the channel is one among a bouquet of 38 niche radio channels offered by the Bangalore-based Radiowalla network. Qradio hopes to provide a single platform for all LGBT groups with specific agendas, and its diverse shows aim to bring in the friends and families of LGBT people.

On an afternoon show called “Let’s Get Beyond Ties”—its acronym is a clever play on LGBT—the two hosts, John Jacob and Sandy (Sandya Kuttappa), bantered cheerfully about the preferences of gays and lesbians. John is vivacious, slightly built and openly gay. His energy is infectious and charges the whole recording studio. Sandy is his perfect foil as she is an ally (a heterosexual person who supports the LGBT community) bringing a mischievous straight perspective to the issues that are discussed.

On that particular day, the hosts were discussing a few stereotype preferences of gays and lesbians.

“According to a survey by Ok Cupid [a dating website], lesbians like The L Word [a TV show], piercings, purple, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer [a TV show],” John says. “Well, then I must be a lesbian since I like most of those things as well,” Sandy responds, as her booming laugh fills the recording studio.

Towards the end of the two-hour-long show that is on air thrice a week, the duo inform their listeners that Surat will have its first gay pride parade over the weekend while Bangalore will have its parade on November 24. They then switch over to a song by LGBT pop icon Lady Gaga, before signing off.

“We have varied content on our show,” said John. He added: “What you heard was our fun segment. We also have people calling us and discussing issues that they have with coming out. While queers find it easier to reveal their identities among friends, they find it extremely difficult to do so with family. Once, I got a call from a guy who was in a relationship with a married man.” John is originally from Bangalore but had moved to the United States after his schooling; he returned to India after more than two decades abroad.

On another show later in the day, host Vaishalli Chandra, who is also the channel manager of QRadio, discusses the problems of coming out with a 29-year-old lesbian in a one-hour show called HqO. In a frank and candid discussion, the young woman narrated how a psychiatrist advised her to undergo shock treatment to deal with her sexual identity.

Like any other radio channel, discussions and talk shows are interspersed with music. In their choice of music, the channel plays music that is LGBT-friendly. “We like to listen to music that celebrates life. We do not listen to anything that is homophobic,” said Romal Singh, a gay radio host who is responsible for a five-days-a-week, two-hour radio show called “Querilicious” where a guest is usually invited to discuss issues pertaining to the LGBT community. Explaining the nuanced choice of music further, he added: “It is not easy to describe the music that queers like but we do not listen to extremely hard rock like Black Sabbath or homophobic bands like Rolling Stones. We like listening to singers like Lady Gaga, Cher, Lily Allen and Steve Grand while boy bands are huge for us. In Bollywood, Sridevi is a huge icon for us as we like strong divas.” Romal Singh’s show also plays regional music.

Other shows on the channel include “Heart to Heart with Innersight” where counsellors respond to callers’ queries. There is also “Lavender Life with Mari”, a show exclusively for queer women.

On being asked the rationale behind the formation of a station exclusively for LGBT people, Anil Srivatsa, CEO, responded: “Radiowalla’s main philosophy is to create a platform for the special interest groups in society by programming content with diverse interests, thoughts, music and opinions. LGBT is a large special interest group left out of mainstream media and social representation, and this is a natural idea to the vision of Radiowalla.”

In May 2012, the Supreme Court had asked details about how many gay men India had while hearing a challenge to the 2009 Delhi High Court judgment ( Naz Foundation vs. Government of NCT of Delhi) that decriminalised consensual homosexual sex. In its response, the Union Ministry of Health stated—relying on data furnished by the National Aids Control Organisation—that there were 2.5 million gay men in India. LGBT activists disagree with this number, and if international surveys are taken into account, between 5 and 10 per cent of any population is homosexual. While it is difficult to estimate the exact number of homosexual people in a country like India where there is prejudice and hostility with regard to same-sex relationships, it clear that it is a significant number. It is evident that the LGBT community needs a discussion space and this is where the channel is trying to fill the gap. This is the vast market that Radiowalla is trying to tap into. As Srivatsa says, “At the end of the day, the channel has to make money and since there are no advertisements we need subscription support. We are also looking for grants from NGOs.” So far, the channel’s content is available mainly in English and to some extent in Hindi but the founders recognise that the LGBT community is spread across economic and social classes and that it is necessary to start operations in other languages as well.

John Jacob is the only host from among the radio hosts of QRadio who has prior radio experience. While in New York, he hosted a show called “Gay Gandhi” where he invited someone who was anti-gay and debated issues out with him. This is also a plan that QRadio has in the future: to invite people who are homophobic to share their views with listeners of the channel. As the popularity of the channel increases, there is a chance that it might encounter some hostility from provocateurs but the channel is ready for that.

[To listen to Qradio, log on to the

website of Radiowalla (www.radiowalla.in). QRadio is available worldwide via the Internet. The streaming channel is available within India and the on-demand content is available worldwide.]

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