When likable radio voice and perpetually busy GayDays.com entrepreneur Chris Alexander-Manley signed off for the last time from his weekly radio show, Gay Orlando Talk (aka The Homo Happy Hour) on Feb. 29, he capped off a 15-year run that handily mirrored the ups and downs of the Orlando GLBT community: the coping years of HIV/AIDS, the election of gay commissioner Patty Sheehan, the enactment of Chapter 57, the birth of Amendment 2. But come February it was time to let go.
“As throughout my life – I’m 50 this year, I turned 50 in September – every 10 years I do a midlife refocus,” says Alexander-Manley. “I don’t think I’d be happy getting that 30-year watch.”
Alexander-Manley and his partner, Tommy Manley, decided to unload the queer staple that aired Friday afternoons on WPRK (91.5 FM) – along with their five-year-old Gay Orlando Film Festival – in favor of the cooler pastures of Aspen Gay Ski Week and spending more time with their rescued dogs. Plus, they still have their ever-growing Gay Days to contend with.
For the past four months, the media efforts they left behind have been struggling to find a direction. Micheal Vance, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Community Center, has stepped in to fill Alexander-Manley’s radio shoes, launching his first show on March 7. Vance says the show now features a more political focus.
The future of the Gay Orlando Film Festival remains up in the air. Its October dates are still locked in at the Enzian Theater; however, with little or no planning in the works, it could fall flat. All of which raises a question: In these heady days of queers on TV and seemingly everywhere else, are outlets like the radio show and film festival still relevant?
According to Alexander-Manley, as long as there are gays still in closets, they certainly are.
Gay Orlando Talk’s genesis was a combined effort between the Manleys and fellow gay activists Judy Shaw and Kim Johnson. They hastily threw together a short-lived show called Out Loud for an AM station in Ocoee in 1992 after the success of their efforts to organize a local convention for a gay and lesbian parenting group. The Manleys opted out a few months later to launch their own effort on WPRK, the cheekily named Family Values, a title they came up with in the car on the way to their first station meeting.
“At that time I thought it was so important,” says Alexander-Manley. “There had just not been a lot of visibility through media outlets for our community. On the airwaves, it’s kind of like the Internet now. You can be anywhere in your car listening to it.”
Manley changed the name to Gay Orlando Talk five years later, citing some confusion engendered by the former title. Some people, he says, thought it was a religious show and stayed away.
Over the years, Alexander-Manley stood by his premise of trying to entertain, educate and motivate his listeners, typically focusing on nonprofit outreach groups – gay and straight – with whom listeners could volunteer. He booked national and local guests, largely steering clear of controversy.
“For me, when I was coming out, I just didn’t realize that I could be exactly who I am and be gay,” he says. “I guess that’s what I always tried to do with the guests of the show.”
One man, he says, even divorced his wife and came out because of the show.
But with Alexander-Manley now divorced from the show, Vance is hoping to take it in a slightly different direction: Listeners will get “a little more political advocacy, just because that’s one of my passions,” he says. “And we’re putting some music in it as well.”
Vance’s job at the Center gives him a unique vantage point as to what he thinks the community needs.
“I think being here every day gives me the ability to see what people are coming in and asking for. People are coming in asking, ‘What is HIV?,’ something that’s been around so long and affected our community so much. People don’t know what it is,” he says.
“Things like that, getting that information back out there, things that people should already know … the younger generation just kind of has a blasé attitude towards it.”
As for the Gay Orlando Film Festival, local producer Margaret Nolan has been name-checked as a likely successor, but is cautious about its potential this year.
“The first time around it may be filler,
festival-light,” she says, suggesting that they could just keep the same format as previous years initially.
She hopes, however, to turn the relatively low-key event into something that deserves the “festival” designation, meaning multi-venue parties, talkback sessions with actors and directors and a lot of volunteer involvement.
“I know what it’s going to take, and I know how to do it,” she says.
Both ventures may take time to find their footing, but according to Alexander-Manley, that doesn’t lessen their necessity.
“It’s funny listening to people say, ‘I don’t think it’s needed anymore,’” he says. “Now that they’re totally out, they just don’t see; they think everybody else is out now.
“They don’t realize that there’s that 18-year-old or the 48-year-old, that there will always be that need.”[email protected]