At This California Radio Station, the Call Letters Say It All

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Fog clouded the San Jacinto Mountains recently as Brad Fuhr approached the headquarters of KGAY, a radio station in an undistinguished Palm Springs, California, strip mall. Fuhr, the station’s chief executive, was tuned to KGAY in his all-electric Volvo, and the morning’s soundtrack included “Bad of the Heart,” George Lamond’s 1990 freestyle cri de coeur about getting dumped, and “Lucky Star,” Madonna’s 1983 dance hit of bouncy adoration.

KGAY’s call letters aren’t a fluke but a savvy marketing tool. While there are streaming stations devoted to gay audiences (like iHeart’s Pride Radio and Gaydio out of Britain) and gay-themed talk shows and dance formats have thrived on commercial and nonprofit radio for decades, KGAY is still one of a kind. It’s the only terrestrial radio station in America geared toward L.G.B.T.Q. listeners and their allies, where gay personalities broadcast in person, “WKRP in Cincinnati”-style, at least part time. (There’s WGAY, a “party station” in the Florida Keys, but it doesn’t market itself as gay.)

KGAY covers the Coachella Valley with its FM signal at 106.5 and is simulcast with KGAY AM 1270; it can be streamed globally at KGAYPalmSprings.com. Its two full-time D.J.s are Chris Shebel, the old-school, no-nonsense program director and weekday afternoon personality, and the wisecracking John Taylor, who covers mornings. Three other D.J.s — Eric Ornelas, Galaxy and ModGirl — provide the station with homemade mix shows that play around the clock.

Born on Dec. 25, 2018, KGAY replaced KVGH, an oldies station, with a playlist that rotates over 900 pop songs, disco anthems and dance remixes from the ’70s through the latest releases.

“It’s an entertaining, mass-appeal radio station first,” said Fuhr, 65.

Shebel at work as a D.J. at KGAY.Credit…Michelle Groskopf for The New York Times

KGAY serves primarily the clubby slice of the queer music pie. There’s no Barbra or Bikini Kill, no American songbook showstoppers or lesbian breakup ballads. There’s no rap or country, although it does play Lil Nas X and dance versions of songs by Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette and other country divas.

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