This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity
Wai Ho: I'm here with Prue Hyman who has stuff to do with Lesbian Radio. Did you help start it or how did you get involved in it?
Prue Hyman: I didn't really help start it, although I did the occasional programme from pretty early on. It's been going a really long time. Alison Laurie and Linda Evans were two of the founding group, and for a while they did the whole thing themselves, for quite a number of years, which is a major commitment. And then if they went off overseas or anything I used to do the odd programme to fill in for them, and occasionally I was interviewed on it, as well, myself.
And then it got to the point, very sensibly, when it was too much for them to do it on their own anymore, and they had done their time. And there have been a lot of different collectives since then, and large numbers have always been involved after that, but there's always been one major coordinator person, and there have been several of those since Alison and Linda, but I'm the last, and I've been going as coordinator – I was trying to work out; I can't remember exactly when I started – nearly 10 years, anyway, I've been coordinating it. That's probably an exaggeration. Maybe it's seven, but anyway it's quite a long time.
The person before me was Bronwen Dean, who sadly, died about three years ago. She still was an occasional broadcaster right up until her death, but she was the one that persuaded me to take over from her. I think we were partners at the time or we'd just stopped being partners and she'd just had enough of being the main coordinator, and so I took over and I seem to be landed ever since.
I've been making noises in the last year or two that, you know, I'm 67 now and I'm still very energetic and quite happy doing it, but one's aware that you're hoping to broadcast to a huge range of lesbians, and a lot younger than me, and that maybe it was time for one of the younger ones to take over, but nobody seems keen at the moment. I've got some people who do some of the tasks, which helps a lot.
Wai: When did Alison Laurie and Linda Evans start Lesbian Radio?
Prue: I knew you'd ask me that.
Wai: You can make up a date. [laughs]
Prue: I never got around to quite looking it up. Lesbian Radio started, and it wasn't just them, actually, at the very start; there was a group of several, and I think people like Robin Shave, Maxine Gunderson and Tighe Instone were all involved, too, but they weren't involved for as long, and it was Linda and Alison that did the long stint. They were involved almost from the start of Access Radio in Wellington, which is coming up for about 30 years. It's something like that.
It was very early on in the late '70s, early '80s, and when Access Radio started, and when Lesbian Radio started it was actually an offshoot of the Woman's Zone programme. There was a Woman's Zone programme which ran weekly, and it was given over to lesbians for one out of four weeks, or something like that. We had quite a struggle to get that, in the usual sort of a way that happens with lesbian organizations.
And that was okay for a while, and then this group of people thought, heck, we can manage our own program and go every week, not once every four weeks. So that was after probably about a year or so of being part of the Woman's Zone programme, we started our own. And of course Woman's Zone is long gone, and Lesbian Radio has broadcast week in, week out, without fail, usually going live, which is quite unusual in Access Radio; only a small proportion of the programmes go live rather than pre-recording, particularly weekend ones. We've gone every week ever since, and I think we've only gone dark maybe once – somebody didn't turn up – and a few times their transmitter has been down, but basically we've gone every week since then, which is a pretty big achievement, it seems to me.
And it's an hour, of course, and it's on Sundays from 10:00 until 11:00, and we go live so you have to remember all sorts of things. Like, this week I've reminded the people that are on that the clocks go forward an hour so they've got to get there an hour earlier [laughs]. It's all sorts of things you have to remember with radio. So, there we are; that's the history.
Wai: So it was kind of late '70s, early '80s, around that time.
Prue: Yeah, around that time.
Wai: What was the climate like then? Was the climate then the need or drive to set up Lesbian Radio or was it just a group of lesbians who thought, oh, it would be cool if we did a radio show?
Prue: I think the drive was very much political and awareness and activism. I think the whole climate around that time with Homosexual Law Reform and human rights and lesbian political action had been going for awhile with things like the magazine, Circle, which had been going since the earlier '70s, about 1973 I think that started, but of course there wasn't Access Radio, Community Radio then.
So it was heavily an activism thing, but also an outreach thing. People who were questioning their coming out, it was another source apart from coming out groups where before you declare yourself you can listen and see what lesbians are doing and what they're saying, and they're not particularly scary but they are activists, and a lot of lesbians then were feminists, as well. Some still are, not all. [laughs] So there was all that going on, and I think from the beginning that was the main motivation, plus, of course, just publicizing all the events that were on in Wellington. We still do that.
There's probably less need for us to do that anymore in the sense that, of course, there's the websites. Ellen runs the website; she's also a member of our collective. And there's lots and lots of email groups and so on and so forth, so there are lots of ways and social networking and Twitter and Facebook and everything; there are lots of ways you can find out what's going on.
And I tend to like to do a program, when I'm on, that's very full of real action. I give interviews and politics and some music. I haven't mentioned music yet – I'll come back to that. So I don't spend very long on the notices; I tend to do the things that are very urgent that are coming up in the next week or two, and the things that go on every week I say: go to wellington.lesbian.net.nz and you can find all those there, because it's a waste of time duplicating that.
But we have a very varied sort of content. Everybody does the notices. Either to greater or lesser extents, everybody plays some music. And apart from that it's entirely up to the individual presenters as to what sort of range of things they cover amongst lesbian stuff. And I think that's very healthy. We try and have a big range of presenters who will appeal to different bits of the community. We don't do terribly well about the range of ethnicity – we're mostly Pakeha. We've had some Asian presenters and Maori presenters and Pacific, but not very many, and they're busy with other things as well, which is very reasonable. And we try and get a range of ages and we try and get a range of interests in different lesbian activities.
And we're always open to new presenters. I'm always keen to get them. They can always contact me and there's stuff about that on the website. If there's anyone listening to this who's keen, get in touch!
We've had some quite new presenters lately. There's a lesbian, feminist, queer, book group and two of their people are now onboard as techies, because that's the other big thing. We also have to run the technical side ourselves. Now, we didn't used to do that. Access used to provide a technician, and then you could choose whether you did or didn't provide a technician yourself, and we went on having it provided because with such a range of presenters, and you only get a turn every eight weeks or something, it's quite hard to remember exactly everything on the technical side.
Wai: So many knobs.
Prue: Exactly, and it's quite hard to do both, particularly the people that go on their own. If there's two of you it's not quite so difficult. So we preferred to have a techie provided, and we paid a little bit extra in order to do that; not much, because you have to pay a fee to be on air. And then suddenly we discovered we were the only programme left with a techie provided. I didn't realize it, and they said: your time is numbered.
We were very lucky for a while; a woman called Yanyo, who was part of the volunteer techie things for Access generally, was also very lesbian-friendly. I'm not sure that she identified as lesbian, but she was happy to become our techie and used to come in every week, which was a heck of a commitment. And then she was going away and another lesbian called Marilyn, who was also a volunteer for Access was prepared to do most weeks, and she did it for awhile and also trained up some others.
Some of our own presenters trained a little bit to do it, and we started appealing for techies, as well, and now I've got a roster which has something like 11 or 12 lots of presenters, either in individuals or in pairs. A few are taking time out and may come back and so on and so forth; it's about that many. And we've got six techies now on our roster who take turns, so we're not too badly off, but we're always willing to have more.
And people come and go for good reasons. We've had a lot of babies recently. In the beginnings of Lesbian Radio that wasn't a common reason to be disappearing, but it is now. [laughs] And one or two have died, sadly. So people come and go, and others have things happen in their lives and they don't want to do it anymore or they get fed up with it, and that's fair enough. But we're very vibrant. We go every week, as I say, and we go live 10:00 to 11:00 on Sundays, even over the Christmas period when Access is shut, because we've got our gadgets to get in, and there we go. And that's basically the way it works.
Wai: You said that when Lesbian Radio got a week out of four from Woman's Zone, that was kind of difficult. Was there controversy around there being lesbian radio or was it more that they didn't want to give up one of their weeks or something like that? [laughs]
Prue: I don't think it's been that much of a problem. Alison, who was around and involved in that at the time, and Linda, would know more about it. I wasn't involved in the politics around that. I think it took a bit of getting it, as always with the lavender menace [laughs]. That's more of an American expression, but you know, fighting for your space within feminist stuff. But I think it was okay, but then when we got our confidence that we could do it every week, that was even better, and there we go. And I think feminist politics are still alive, but an awful lot of organizations have gone. I mean, a lot of lesbian organizations have gone, too.
I think the big thing about Lesbian Radio is that you get the discussion and the interviews, and that you can't get in any of the other media. Oh, you can get a bit of discussion on Facebook or whatever, but you get that live, whereas we haven't got, for example, a Wellington lesbian newsletter anymore. We've had lots of them over the years. There's one in Auckland. There aren't many around where you can get those sorts of things, so that's its main function as far as I'm concerned, is for the politics and for outreach to new lesbians and lesbians coming to Wellington for the first time and all that sort of thing.
And of course, now it's beyond because you can now listen to it on the web any time. That's only developed in the last two or three years where Access have put the podcast up on the web, and it goes up a few days after and stays up for about five or six weeks. They have five or six up at a time so you can listen to those.
And beyond that, those podcasts, in the old days we used to tape the programme, are all available. Practically the whole lot – I think there are a few missing – most of them have gone to LAGANZ, the Lesbian and Gay Archives of New Zealand, and there's a project on at the moment that I think just got funding from the Armstrong and Arthur Charitable Trust – I may say a bit more about them in a moment – where some of them are going to be put into better form. The old tapes, which don't last forever, are going to be put onto a better electronic form. So a lot of the programmes will be there for posterity and future researchers and future lesbians to listen to, which will reflect the changing mores of lesbian society and community culture, which is great!
I should pay a tribute at this point to the Armstrong and Arthur Charitable Trust for Lesbians, who fund us. They've also funded this research project to put those programmes on a better electronic form, but they fund us every week. We pay something like just under $50 a week as our Access fee, and they fund that basic fee and our small annual fee.
In the old days it was the Dude's Dances. I think when it first began there wasn't a fee, but once the fee came in it takes enough energy to do the programme and the preparation for it without having to do all the fundraising, so our group's very grateful that we don't have to fundraise the whole of that ourselves. We usually have one fundraising thing at least a year, and I think we're doing a raffle at the next Pines Dance, and sometimes we raise a little bit at the Out in the Square thing or something like that. But we don't have to do most of the fundraising ourselves, which is terrific.
Wai: What have been some of your favorite discussions or interviews?
Prue: Oh gosh, that's really difficult. I love publicizing what's about to happen, so things like the film festivals each year. We always give that a big plug – the Lesbian and Gay Film Festival – and talk to the people who have been choosing the lesbian films for that. I like it when we publicize. We're in the middle of publicizing the AsiaPacific Outgames for next March and the games, the conference, the culture, all that sort of thing. I think it's really good when you can give that a lot of air plug.
But also some of the more political stuff; we've done interviews with people overseas sometimes. We don't do an awful lot live, but we've got a new, very dynamic presenter of US origins, who's a singer/songwriter called Paula, and she's been in festivals and things in the States before she immigrated here. She's got Nicaraguan background as well. She's done one or two things with America live, and you can do it but it's a little expensive.
But when people would travel overseas they'd often do interviews, and bring them back, with all sorts of people: lesbian political figures overseas were always good, and just simply all the discussions in New Zealand when we've got stuff around the Civil Union Bill, and we tend to do the more vibrant arguments around that. I mean, everybody sort of assumes that lesbian equal rights means you want marriage first, civil unions second, but there are quite a lot of lesbian feminists who think: why do we want to join an institution which feminists have critiqued for years? So, reflecting all those bits of politics, not selling a line, but every presenter is allowed to give their own views, but also I like to interview people who have different views.
We have to be careful with national politics immediately before elections and things like that. There are Access rules, and there are also rules about defamation and things, so you've got to take care like any other broadcaster even though you're not a professional. But certainly I think the more controversy and real discussion you get going, the better. But other people will just do more social things, and that's fine too.
Esme is one of our longstanding presenters, and she often does interviews at Out in the Square with all sorts of people that are doing their own stalls there, and that's always nice. So everybody differs a bit about what they want to do. But I think people, if they listen to long ranges of programmes, they'd find some really interesting things.
I think my favorite ever programme, for me, that I did myself, was before I was ever even a coordinator. I'm Jewish by origin. I don't count myself religiously Jewish, but I'm Jewish culture and history and so on, and Tilly Lloyd, who runs Unity Shop had a bit of involvement with the programme, not a great deal, but she persuaded me to do a programme about being Jewish in the lesbian and feminist communities, and lesbian and feminist in the Jewish community, and what that was like. I had great fun doing that programme. I also did interviews with a group in Auckland who were Jewish feminists, and a large number of them were lesbians, who were involved with fighting for Maori sovereignty and talking about links between being outsider groups, if you like. And they had a big push, and all of that was very interesting stuff. There's been a lot of good memories from doing the Lesbian Programme.
Wai: Has the... I'd say readership, but I guess you don't really read radio... listenership, has that changed much over the years or is it hard to say?
Prue: Well, one of the sad things is that it's very hard to know who's listening, and sometimes you're scared that you're only talking to yourself and the other presenters, most of whom are interested and listen.
Chris Walsh is another terrific stalwart of the programme. She's not on at the moment; she's well known for her activism over breast cancer. She and her partner both have had breast cancer and she got too busy with all that to stay on the programme, but she's been on for many years. I'm not sure that it was part of her degree, but she certainly did do a degree, and she also did this research project. She did a research project on our listenership at one stage, and that was interesting and helpful for knowing what people wanted, but that's quite a long way back now. These days it's very hard to know.
One thing you can look at is the number of hits on the website. It's much easier now. I'm sure we've lost some listeners who do it on the web instead, which is absolutely fine, but we've gained. And at one point last year we were the second highest Access Radio programme for number of hits, to Wellington Community, which was the broadest sign. I thought that was absolutely terrific. And there were hits from all over the world: from Canada, Japan, Britain, the States, all over, as well as a lot of New Zealand ones. We hope that they're all genuine hits and not pervs. Certainly I think most of them are genuine, and that was exciting.
And you get informal feedback. You know, when you've been on yourself somebody will say: Oh, I heard that. This particular bit was good.
But unless we do another solid piece of research, it's very hard to know. But I think there is a real need for it, particularly given, as I say, that we don't have much else for discussing things. We have the other ways of finding out what's going on, but I hope there's still a need for it, and I hope that we'll go on finding people that want to do it, and that the Trust will go on funding it.
Bronwen, who I mentioned before was a previous coordinator, left quite a lot of money to The Armstrong and Arthur Trust, not conditional on the radio, but certainly made clear that the radio was one of her big things that was in her heart, and they earmarked that interest from that bit to do this project of putting more programmes electronically. So, hopefully, as long as the community feels a need for it we'll keep going. Of course, media changes. Maybe it'll get to the point where the electronic stuff completely beats radio, but I don't think that's in my lifetime anyway [laughs], so I hope we'll be able to keep going for a long time yet.
Wai: It's quite different when you can hear something. Yeah, I think it's a really different medium being able to hear stuff, not just see moving pictures and that kind of thing.
Prue: Yeah, that's why the interviews are all so useful. I mean, we do more hearing on the computer than we used to.
Wai: Yeah, I think that's really interesting because someone was telling me about when radio shows, or whatever, can go on the Internet they have a longer tail – I don't know what a tail is. But yeah, because they stay online you don't have to listen live and you can catch up on it later. So there's listeners from all over the world, you've said.
Prue: Yeah. Well, certainly I don't know whether they're regulars, but they visit now and then at least, which is quite exciting. And for example, TMLN, the Auckland newsletter, carries an ad for it usually with the website so as to remind people up there. And I'm always telling people to remember that they can get it on the web and try and get publicity for it that way. We had leaflets at the Out in the Square to do that; when we do the raffle at the next Pines Dance we'll have a leaflet advertising and giving the website as well. You know, just trying to get the word out amongst new and younger lesbians who may not have heard of it.
Wai: Are you aware of other lesbian radio shows around the world?
Prue: There certainly used to be lots, but I don't think there are that many. Christchurch used to have one, and I think that one's gone; I'm not sure.
Funnily enough, we had a request from the Southland Access Radio just this last week: Could they replay our show because the manager there, who I don't know whether she's even lesbian, but she tried to get a lesbian radio show going in Southland and didn't manage it. Could she use ours? I just emailed around our collective to say: I can't see any reason why not. Is anybody bothered? I'm sure they'll say yes. And I thought to myself, why is she bothering? It's on the web; they can get it. But on the other hand, if somebody is used to listening to Southland Access, they may hit it in a way they wouldn't hit it on the web.
Wai: And not everybody has Internet access. I think sometimes we can forget then we think that everyone's got Internet access.
Prue: That's true, too! But also, people use different sources for finding things, and they might find it that way when they wouldn't find it the other way, and that sort of thing.
So, I'm sure there are still other programs around the world, but I think it's interesting the way, from my experience, New Zealand sort of keeps the "L" word very prominent, whereas an awful lot of things get subsumed into queer soup or into feminist in a lot of places. Even, you think in America, the Michigan Women's Music Festival is a women's music festival. It's mainly lesbian.
Wai: Why do you think that is? Why do you think...?
Prue: Oh God, I'm not a theoretician enough to know, but I think out here we've been very staunch about lesbian politics. There are others, of course. There are a lot of younger women who don't want to use the lesbian word, who would rather use the queer word, just as they don't want to use the feminist word, but want equality [laughs]. You know? So, I think history, things change, but I think there are at least a lot of lesbians in New Zealand who want to keep lesbian politics alive, whether the younger generation will want to as well. But we've got quite a few younger women on our collective, and I think on the library collective and so on, so there are still some younger women who want to use the word lesbian and who do identify that way politically. And okay, we all have fluid changing identities and all that stuff, but nevertheless, there are some for whom that identity is an important one, and not only 67 year olds like me, some younger women.
Wai: Have you always been really vocal? Have you always done public speaking? Is that why Lesbian Radio interests you?
Prue: Well I am professionally an academic, and you know, you're used to talking in 50 minute bites anyway and like the sound of your own voice. [laughs]
Wai: So, good training.
Prue: Right. Back in my university days in England, because I spent my first 25 years in England, I was involved when I was at University in Oxford. It was while I was there that we fought.... I was a feminist back then. I was only 18 or 19, but I don't know whether I would have called myself one there because in the early '60s the second wave wasn't that much going, but I certainly believed in equality, and women couldn't get into the Oxford Union. Remember the Oxford Union? That's the thing where David Lange's famous debate about uranium nuclear....
Wai: They couldn't get in then?
Prue: They were not admitted. Women were not admitted to the Oxford Union. It was a male-only club. It wasn't like a student union. You had your student unions within your college, but this was the Oxford Union, which was a debating club and a nice gentleman's club.
Wai: But within the university?
Prue: It was within the university.
Wai: Within a coed university?
Prue: Within a coed university.
Prue: And women were not admitted, and so we fought for it and we got in while I was there. And so people said you have to put your money where your mouth is and join, and you better start speaking.
Wai: Did they make a fuss about it when you tried to join or were they kind of like, oh yeah, it is a bit old-school that we don't admit women?
Prue: Well, we had to fight for it. [laughs] But we won. So that was about 1963 or something and I was about 20 and a young undergraduate, and I started making speeches at the Oxford Union, which is one of the most frightening places you could ever do. If you can speak at the Oxford Union to that whole big crowd, when you get one of the big paper speeches, then you can speak anywhere.
Wai: Were there hecklers? Why was it scary, because it's such a big prestigious thing?
Prue: Yes, just a very big audience, very critical.
Wai: Not people throwing apple cores.
Prue: No. No, nobody would be ungentlemanly or unladylike like that. No, it was just a pretty daunting audience, and I think after that I could speak anywhere so I don't find talking on the radio too difficult. I sometimes talk a bit too fast because I've always got too much to say. I've been criticized for that in lectures, as well, and I'm aware of it. I always want to put more into the 50 minutes or the radio programme than there's time for, but I've never had any trouble with it.
It's sort of interesting; we take all comers who have got the confidence to be on-air here, we're happy to have them, but you do have some worries with some people's voices being better than others for radio. And some people, I find, and I'm certainly not mentioning names, some people are absolutely terrific, and some people have wonderful content but not that terrific voices, and some people have terrific voices but I wish they'd have a little bit more content. And many of our broadcasters are terrific at both. But one doesn't want to discourage people being on-air, and so we tend to take them.
We've had controversies over the years. That's probably an interesting thing for this, about because of lesbian culture and what is lesbian changing, there've been hard liners who say, for example, that we should absolutely only have lesbian voices and lesbian music. What is lesbian music? By, for, about? We always have those problems with how we define things. But often with women musicians you're not 100% certain whether they're lesbian or not, and then some come out as lesbians, and so we've tended to get it as culture has changed, and as I say, fluid identities and so on. What is lesbian? Not everybody even on the collective necessarily uses the lesbian word. I think we've got some people who would identify as bisexual probably on the collective and we just don't want to push these things. If they're happy being on Lesbian Community Radio, and that's what it is, that tends to be fine.
But controversy about whether we've interviewed... We do publicity about all sorts of queer events. I mean, the fact that there's a Lesbian and Gay Film Festival or Pacific Games, we'll concentrate more on the lesbian aspects, but we've had gay men's voices where they're covering gay and lesbian issues on the program being interviewed; we've had some transgender. There have always been issues in lesbian politics about male to female transgender people and whether they can be lesbians. I try and avoid that controversy if I can, but I don't think we've had a transgender member of the collective. We've certainly had transgender people interviewed.
We're not a very formal organization, either, I should say. We run a bank account and I'm very careful with the money, and we have a collective meeting usually about three or four times a year after a programme. Anybody who feels like coming, we give it publicity and we say we'll talk about the programme and meet each other because people who go in one week don't necessarily see the new members of the collective so we try and get together three or four times a year. But we're not a very formal organization. We don't have formal policies. We evolve and it's worked, although sometimes I think maybe we ought to be more formal, and then, ah, who wants to, you know? People want to go and make their programmes; that's the main thing.
Wai: Has there always been this kind of controversy around identity and labels and cis women and trans women and that kind of stuff, or has it only been in the last few years?
Prue: Well, I think it was probably worse earlier on in the sense that I remember... I mean, people talk about the lesbian feminists of the late '70s or '80s as being rigid and wearing overalls only and being really anti boy-children and so on and so forth, and I think some people really did have that experience. I think some lesbians who had boy children really did have problems. I won't run down that experience at all, but I sometimes get a bit upset about it that it gets exaggerated and that people who weren't around at the time criticize the lesbian feminists of the '70s and '80s when they were doing a really big job when it was really hard to come out. They had to be much braver to be out as a lesbian in those days than you do now.
But I think in some ways the controversies were more then, when people would come – I don't know how much it emerged on the radio – but people would come to lesbian dances and somebody would say: Oh, well she's not really a lesbian; she's still living at home with her husband, and things like that; I think that was worse then than it is now. I think they're probably a bit more tolerant and easygoing.
And some people think there are losses in that in that we aren't fighting enough of the political battles. Now we may not have quite as bad political battles as we did as lesbians, but most lesbian feminists also had an awareness on race and class issues and those are still active and important, and poverty and treatment of solo mothers and Maori and Pacific issues are as important as ever, and I think lesbian feminists should be on the barricades dealing with them all as much as ever, so I don't think we want to lose the politics.
Wai: Fantastic! And how would we listen to you? Where, what days and et cetera?
Prue: Oh, right! Sunday mornings 10:00 to 11:00. It's only on AM – 783 AM Radio Access, and that's the live one. And then if you want to listen on the web you can either go to the Wellington Lesbian website, wellington.lesbian.net.nz and there's a connection there to Access Radio and direct to the Lesbian Community Programme. Or you can go to the Access Radio site, which is dead easy to find, and they have a list of all their programmes and you just look for Lesbian Community and you find them there.
Wai: Brilliant! Thank you very much, Prue, for taking the time and talking with us.
Prue: A pleasure! I enjoyed it.
Transcript by cyberscrivener.com