Jason Wiest was announced on June 23rd as the new host of KABF 88.3’s “Big Gay Radio Show,” the state’s only LBGT issue-oriented programming. Weist is a man of many hats: his nine to five hustle is as Governor Beebe’s speechwriter, but on Friday nights you can find him at Sway, the downtown gay club he owns and operates (perhaps you recall his cameo in our recent feature on the House of Avalon). He is also passionate about community involvement, with activities running the gamut from a seat on the Board of Directors for Ballet Arkansas to Stonewall Democrats and his local neighborhood association. Wiest took a few minutes from his breakneck schedule to weigh in on this latest endeavor and “the serious work that needs to be done”:
Congratulations on being named the new host! Can you talk about the history of the show a little bit and also what you’re up to now that you’re on board?
Well the show started in August last year and the host was Joseph Birdsong, who is or was a Youtube sensation. He’s got more than 100,000 followers on Youtube and he was hosting it with H.L. Moody, who’s active in Pulaski County Democratic Party, really politically minded and active. And I went on the show a couple times with them. [When Birdsong left] they wanted to choose someone who would be more part of the community and that’s when they asked me to do it. Since I came on, H.L. and I have made politics more of a focus of the show, which is easier for us to do with our backgrounds, though he is much more of a political junkie than I am even though I have been a political reporter and the governor’s speechwriter for almost three years now. It was easier to go in that direction because all that stuff was happening with gay marriage and Piazza’s ruling. It was easy to find guests who were in that mix to talk with every week.
But still, I’m into art and I’ve got the fortune of knowing so many gay men and women in this city … There’s so many people who are great at what they do: photographers, designers, musicians, and all these really great gay characters. I think I want the show to have that be the focus, too. It’s a local show — and not just politics, but arts and culture.
What I’m so excited about with the show is it’s going to be able to give a different message. It’s the only LBGT focused media programming in the state and I think it’s critical if the culture is really to change here, that the positives, the reality is put out there for people to listen to.
There are some exciting things happening — Piazza’s ruling, of course, progress being made. Do you have a sense of this being a historic time for the LBGT community?
Yeah. I think you can’t really argue that it isn’t for that ruling to be made. Who knows what the Supreme Court will do, hopefully the right thing, but it will be historical either way. I think it’s too soon to tell what the effects have been. I hope that the marriage ruling will change how people feel about the gay community more than the show ever could.
You mention politics, the arts, entertainment … Does the show have a driving purpose, generally and for you?
Yeah, I think for me my purpose is to help facilitate change here and try to right all these wrongs that have been done through [negative] messages spread by the media and I think that politics is the natural way. Even if H.L. and I weren’t so deep in that world, I think it would be the natural way, in my mind, to fairly report politics.
Also, when it comes to things outside politics, for instance, John Willis is performing at the relaunch party and we’re going to have him on the show the following week — and he’s gay, and he’s a really good musician. Very talented. To hear him sing and hear the things he’s writing about, I think he’ll be a big deal and he’s gay and he’s out. I think if we’re smart as a gay community, we’re holding up these great examples of who we are.
We can be politically focused and serious and taken seriously, but I also want to be fun. Like, this is what I do from nine to five: I put on a suit and tie and work for Governor Beebe. And John Willis is this amazing, talented musician who you should check out. There’s so many individuals I know, and if we just highlight them … I think there’s a place for it, an important place. Especially in Arkansas, especially right now, if things are going to change.
Are there any key issues or defining challenges for the local gay community? Any pet causes?
Some of the biggest challenges the gay community here faces — there are not a lot of things to do or organizations or ways to get involved that are not nightlife related. I know that Tulsa or Oklahoma City, I know this through friends, they don’t just have a gay team on the softball league, but they have a gay softball league. Or they’ll have book clubs. Little Rock doesn’t have anything like that so hopefully the show will help to facilitate that and bring people together even if they’re just listeners at first. And that will hopefully lead to the creation or establishment of other things.
And I think that’s sort of the problem here with the community at large, with most of the gay community’s activities being nightlife related. That’s under the radar. So I think that’s the biggest challenge that the gay community faces — and that Little Rock, Central Arkansas and Arkansas faces to progress and grow and to join the ranks of states that lead on equality issues. It’s easy to stick your head in the sand and not get to know the gay community here.
I’m excited about [the show] because I’ve been involved with the media industry for so long, and I hope that I have a lot to offer it. These goals that I’ve talked about that are really lofty, about changing the culture here, I hope those are accomplishable, or that I can make an impact in some way but I know that’s going to be difficult to do if the show doesn’t get any backing. I feel if the show is going to succeed, if it’s going to do things, its going to have to be supported by the community.
So it is totally non-profit and listener supported. How can we donate?
Go to kabf.org and you can donate on the website. You will probably have to note it’s for the show specifically or you can just call.
I think for the show to flourish, before we start getting all those positive messages out there on the radio waves and online, we have to get the message out there to those key individuals in the gay community that can really help make the difference.
We were talking about all the progress earlier, and it seems like a lot. I think it was 2011 [when] Governor Beebe was the first sitting governor to openly address an LBGT group, at one of Stonewall’s events. And, Piazza’s rulings and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) opening up an office in the state: I think all these pieces are in place, I think there’s an opportunity for the show to become so well known that people turn to it. Or that people turn to H.L. and I for comments on some things.
I remember when I was a reporter, I had a lot of reporter friend s— it was when Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was shut down — I had a TV reporter friend call and ask: Do you know any openly gay military members that would be willing to go on camera? Well I don’t, but I made some calls and we tracked some people down but people didn’t feel comfortable speaking on camera. We couldn’t get anybody for her to interview, but she got to interview the other side. Part of it was that people were too closeted; part of it was that the gay community wasn’t organized enough. So, I see a huge need for the show, for the community, for our progress. But it’s a nonprofit radio station, so its going to have to be supported by people who believe in what we’re trying to accomplish, or we’re not going to be able to accomplish it.
So, in some ways, this is very much a labor of love for you?
I see how important it is. When I was growing up and I came out to my parents, one of my mom’s biggest concerns was that being out, things would be harder: I wouldn’t be able to get jobs as easily or be promoted. So I hope by being somebody that’s like, the governor’s speechwriter, that’s on a radio show, and owns a business, I’m putting out an example that you can live openly as who you are and accomplish your goals. Hopefully just knowledge of this show existing is encouraging to people.
I feel this sort of calling as a person who has been in communications for so long and had this opportunity fall in my lap. This is serious work that needs to be done, and can be life-changing for people, so I think about that even though the show may be politically focused and other people may not make that tie, that’s what motivates me.
“The Big Gay Radio Show” airs every Friday from noon to 2:00 p.m. on 88.3 FM. The station’s official relaunch of the show will be celebrated Friday July 18 from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at Sway, with Wiest and Moody as hosts.
Parties interested in underwriting the show or the station can contact Bryan Frazier or Carly Garner at 501.372.6119.