Kelly Sans Culotte


Gay Radio and Subaru Get Sirius On Satellite
Major media companies are tuning into gay media.
By Michael Wilke

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OCT. 2, 2004. Companies XM and Sirius are waging war for subscribers, awareness, and advertising revenues in the newly developing satellite radio business. Both have over 120 channels, but only Sirius offers a gay channel, OutQ, which has landed a sizeable new two-year sponsorship with Subaru of America.

Subaru is the first major, long-term advertiser for OutQ, a 24-hour channel available by subscription nationwide to gay truckers, rural gay people, and city hipsters with a special satellite radio. OutQ is mostly talk, and features openly gay personalities like Michelangelo Signorile and Frank DeCaro. Other companies have signed smaller deals with the service, including American Express, Bridgestone, HBO, and The Learning Channel.

John Nash, president of Moon City Productions, which handles Subaru's gay marketing, describes Sirius as "a perfect fit for the brand, both for our general market customers and G&L." (The OutQ deal lead to additional Subaru advertising with Sirius.)

With a rare 10-year-old presence in the gay and lesbian market, Subaru is one of the most experienced advertisers there. While others sometimes fear the unpredictability of live content, Subaru's maturity in the market emboldens it to try new ways of connecting with target consumers. "The gay magazines are sanitized, but talk radio is usually the Wild West. OutQ is like Rush Limbaugh and pushes buttons," Nash says cheerfully.

Subaru does not yet install the proprietary radios into its vehicles, but Sirius is talking to Ford Motor Co., DaimlerChrysler and BMW about including the equipment. Both Sirius and XM have home radio products, too.

Sirius Takes Lead, Viacom to Follow
Sirius is a $3 billion company. It is named after the Dog Star, the brightest in the night sky, part of the Canis Major constellation. Including OutQ two years ago in its launch distinguished it from XM, and made it the first major media player owner of a gay media outlet, but others are on the horizon. Two gay TV networks will be launched soon, LOGO from Viacom, and a U.S. version of Canada's three-year-old PrideVision from Headline Media Group.

To increase awareness, Sirius will launch its own advertising campaign in gay media, online this month, and in gay magazines next month.

One of satellite radio's challenges in winning advertisers is that there are no exact statistics about satellite listeners because the leading radio research firm, Arbitron Co., has said the market is not yet large enough to measure. Sirius projects 1 million subscribers by year end, and XM boasts 2.1 million subscribers. OutQ station manager and talk host John McMullen of Sirius' estimates "tens of thousands" may listen to OutQ.

"At first, we weren't very interested because they won't have metrics available for years to come," says Nash referring to Subaru and its director of marketing programs, Tim Bennett. Sirius "worked with us well over a year" to get the deal but finally won them over through anecdotal evidence in volumes of call-ins, emails and letters.

Subaru Deal Includes Host Endorsements
The Subaru deal is notable, not just for its size, (spending is estimated in the low-to-mid-six figures) but for its integrated approach. It will include traditional advertising, presence at live events, and frequent on-air mentions by McMullen, who has received a 2005 Subaru Outback XT. He will personally incorporate it into his experiences on-air over the next two years. On-air mentions will be logged the same way commercials are.

"People will always know I'm selling the car; it won't be subliminal," McMullen explains. "But it's not going to be hype, shuck and jive. It will be natural." Announcer endorsements are traditional in radio, with shock jock Howard Stern and Snapple in its early days as an example.

McMullen wanted to be sure he actually liked Subaru's product before agreeing to the deal. "I took the time to actually go out there and rent one so I didn't get us into a deal I didn't believe in."

"This isn't an audience that wants to hear a lot of commercials, we donąt want people to feel overly pitched," McMullen says. While Sirius' 65 music channels are commercial free, the 50 talk stations carry a small amount of advertising; OutQ runs just six minutes an hour, compared to 18-22 minutes on a traditional radio station.

Gay radio has a short and bumpy history, mostly non-commercial. Listeners seeking gay programming have few choices, mostly an hour or two at obscure times on weak public stations, or music aimed at gay listeners online. Gaydar has a streaming dance station that ties into its gay meeting site, but no gay talk programming.

The two most established efforts of the past were once LesBiGay Radio in Chicago, and GAYBC Radio online, but both folded in 2001. Sirius' John McMullen founded GAYBC, which once had $4.5 million in investment. LesBiGay has been replaced by Windy City Radio, airing just one hour late Sunday nights on WCKG.

And in another sign of gay-as-mainstream, RuPaul returns to radio with a new deal to co-host the morning show at adult-contemporary formatted WNEW 102.7 in New York. (From 1996-1998, RuPaul led morning programming for dance station WKTU.)

With major media companies like Sirius and Viacom tuning into gay media, it appears growth is on the way for what has been a modest-sized industry.

Mike Wilke's Commercial Closet column covers gay issues in advertising, marketing and media. For 85 years of gay images worldwide see

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