In late-1996, while employed at RealNetworks in Seattle, new media trailblazer John McMullen had an idea. Helping the company entice major entertainment and media companies to adopt the nascent streaming audio technology, he saw the RealAudio tool as a means for minority voices and marginalized communities to level the mass communications playing fields regardless of who had control of the broadcast airwaves.
With a nod from Real's then-Sr. VP and Counsel Andy Sharpless and the CEO Rob Glaser, McMullen launched a personal project that he created and managed on his own time and distributed in partnership with the company. A weekly two-hour live streamed talk show, Hangin' OUT, and a daily 5-minute news capsule, The Daily Dose, which focused on LGBTQ news, issues and culture.
At the end of 1996, it was announced that there would be a staffing change in the RealNetworks WebActive operation where the project was run in conjunction with other progressive content. Not wanting to stop the momentum that the shows had built, McMullen was confronted with the dilemma of walking away from the start-up that had yet to execute its IPO and start his own company, or stay and put the new LGBTQ+ content on an indefinite hold as Glaser asked him to do. When he first negotiated the arrangement with Sharpless he had secured a commitment if the company did not continue past the first 13-weeks, the content and all rights involving both shows would be relinquished to him upon his request.
In March 1997, with only 20% of his pre-IPO stock vested, McMullen took a leap of faith and formed GLOradio with his life
partner Charlie Dyer and a few others who had been part of the Hangin' OUT team at RealNetworks.
Under the GLOradio banner, the company developed nearly two dozen programs that updated weekly and today would be termed podcasts. The included programs about literature, arts and entertainment, legal issues, financial planning for LGBTQ people, travel, politics, spirituality, relationships and dating, sports, health and wellness, and commentary on a variety of topics. Live streaming shows would occur occasionally and in less than a year, GLOradio became a source for broadcasting live from many national non-profit group events, and cultural gatherings and performances from coast to coast.
In Fall of 1997, GLOradio partnered with a young and rapidly growing online LGBTQ+ community at PlanetOut and for approximately one year, relocated to San Francisco. Live shows expanded, more specialty on-demand shows were created from astrological humor to leather and kink talk. The expanded content also included live broadcasts from the HRC National Dinner featuring Bill Clinton (the first time a sitting US President had addressed an LGBTQ+ civil rights event), the NGLTF Creating Change Conference, GLAAD Media Awards, Los Angeles Women's Night, the 1998 Gay Games from Amsterdam, and many more firsts for the community.
In September 1998, McMullen and Dyer were forced by unforeseen circumstances requiring them to relocate the operation from the Bay Area back to Seattle and at that time, the brand made made one big adjustment taking on the identity, GAYBC Radio Network.
The new branding immediately drew attention and just weeks after returning to the Pacific Northwest, there was live programming around the clock, some of which drew national attention right out of the starting gate in the Fall of 1998 when McMullen challenged dictionary and thesaurus publisher Merriam-Webster on their inclusion of only derogatory synonyms for the word homosexual in their most recent collegiate thesaurus. This came to his attention when America Online (AOL) announced a partnership with and the integration of Merriam-Webster's resource books into the AOL platform.
As fast as GAYBC had called the editorial faux pas into question, AOL suspended its deal with the publisher and an editorial review happened in record time. Unfortunately, they decided to pull the word and its alternatives altogether rather than note them as derogatory and include neutral synonyms including 'gay.'
The GAYBC Radio Network would ultimately spawn siblings and attract venture capital as its audience grew. Adding a women's-focused channel and another for teenagers, the company took on a new corporate identity - Stellar Networks - with GAYBC the largest and flagship product, eventually reaching more than two million listeners in 67 countries with a robust schedule of weekday and weekend talk shows and evening and weekend music programs that featured the broadest collection of LGBTQ+ artists or bands with at least one openly LGBTQ+ member. The service also broadcast hourly LGBTQ+ news updates with stringers around the world, and hired more than 45 people at its height creating and bringing 24/7/365 award-winning content to a responsive global audience.
One of the major endeavors that kept the company growing was a partnership with XM Satellite Radio. GAYBC was to be available on one of XM's channels beginning in September 2001. Just before Labor Day that year, management learned that XM's largest auto partner and debt holder had directed senior executives at XM to not put LBGTQ+ content in their automobiles. That single action and the ensuing terrorist attacks less than two weeks later created a catastrophic situation and three of the company's largest investors pulled out and left the Board of Directors. The company was not yet cash-flow positive and despite the best efforts of the team that stayed to keep it going into November, it was the end of the road... or so it was thought,
That December, Sirius Satellite Radio fired its founder and CEO. David Margolese had previously decried that there would be no "adult" oriented content on his satellite platform. Something we learned after meeting with his staff earlier that Fall in New York City.
But, as good fortune would intervene, Walter Sabo who had consulted for GAYBC and its parent organization was hired by the new Sirius CEO to get the ship turned around. He called and said, "You will be coming to New York. Sometime in the New Year but don't call me, I will call you."
True to his word, Sabo brought John McMullen into Sirius as the satcaster's Director of Talk & Entertainment Programming with the idea that the audience success on the internet could be duplicated on satellie radio. In April of 2003, Sirius OutQ launched with much national fanfare and what started as GAYBC went on to make a substantial different in LGBTQ+ media.
How did we get here in late-2023? John McMullen and Charlie Dyer have always retained the GAYBC brand. Millions of dollars and countless amounts of blood, sweat and tears invested into this beloved queer media institution, we made the decision to bring back audio content that is both needed and meaningful at this point in our history. Marginalized communities and sexual minorities have made great headway since we originally launched in the 1990's, but since 2015, there have been many enormous setbacks as well. The time is here to bring together long-established and new and powerful voices to inspire others to keep fighting for equality and justice for all, and to make our world a better, safer and more enjoyable place no matter how destructive the evil forces that present new challenges. Our voices can unite and empower and that's what GAYBC and its parent company Mutual Broadcasting System LLC are here to achieve.
Have ideas? Want to create a show? Want to be part of our network of word-of-mouth supporters? Send us e-mail or call in to our shows! We love your feedback!
Dr. Grethe Cammermeyer, Col., US Army, Ret. addressing a crowd at an anti-hate rally outside the GAYBC Studios in downtown Seattle, WA, in 2001. A national hero, Cammermeyer was one of GAYBC's highest regarded show hosts.