Chris Fortin grew up in Cincinnati listening to Alternating Currents, a radio show that last aired on WVQC-FM before it shuttered in 2013. At the time it ended — having aired for nearly four decades, mostly on community radio station WAIF-FM — it was the second longest-running LGBTQ radio show in America.
In its absence, Greater Cincinnati has had no radio show specifically highlighting the queer community. But Fortin is changing that.
His brainchild, Out Cincinnati, seeks to fill the gap in programming by acting as an “audio vault,” as Fortin puts it, for LGBTQ stories.
Premiering May 4 on Radio Artifact — an online-based radio station that was launched by brewery/music venue Urban Artifact in 2017 — it has since rolled out a new episode every week. The shows air on Radio Artifact Saturdays at noon via radioartifact.com and also WVXU-FM’s HD2 channel. You can also find archived episodes of Out Cincinnati on YouTube; get the links at outcincinnati.com.
“I knew this radio friend of mine, Melissa, and I said, ‘What do you think?’ She said, ‘I like it,’ ” Fortin says of the Out Cincinnati concept.
The friend in question, Melissa Neeley, liked its premise so much that she joined as producer.
“We spent probably a month just gathering ideas and thinking about how we wanted to do the show and just coming up with a loose format and pitching it to Radio Artifact,” Neeley says. “Basically, we did the first show that we recorded — it wasn’t the first that aired — and they cleared us to be a part of the family of Radio Artifact shows.”
Both Fortin and Neeley have previous backgrounds in radio, so joining forces for the show came naturally. But the two have known each other, and worked on various here-and-there projects together for years.
In part, they met through the story of Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teen from King Mills, Ohio who died by suicide on Dec. 28, 2014. The story of her death received international attention, as she had posted a note on Tumblr that went viral speaking out about societal issues facing transgender individuals and asked us all to “Fix society. Please.”
Neeley was working at WLW-AM/FM the day the news broke. Later, Fortin would reach out to her about the Leelah Highway Project — a group who adopted a stretch of I-71 South in Warren County in her memory — and she wrote a story about that initiative.
At the time, she says she came to realize that there was a lack of local coverage of LGBTQ issues.
“I just felt like there's so much of this missing in the normal news coverage because it's looked at as a sort of like, ‘Well, those are those people over there,’ ” Neeley says. “And I think what Chris has been trying to express — and I'm totally on board with him — is, ‘Why is that?’ These are our neighbors, our friends, direct family members.
“It is our community. So why we can’t we talk about this? This is an issue that affects all of us.”
That’s the function, essentially, of Out Cincinnati: To talk about issues facing the spectrum of LGBTQ individuals in our greater community. So far, their show lineup rings true to that premise.
In the first episode, they talked to Cincinnati City Councilman Chris Seelbach — who is the first openly gay politician to be elected to Cincinnati City Council — and his husband, Craig Schultz, about their love story and an array of political topics.
“Cincinnati is the most inclusive LGBTQ city in the country when it comes to policy,” Seelbach says in the episode. “We were the first city in the country to make it illegal to send kids to conversion therapy (and) the third city in the country to offer transgender health benefits for all city employees. People would never think that this Midwestern conservative city would be leading the way but we are.”
On May 25’s episode, the show connected with Jonah and Laurie Yokoyama from Heartland Trans Wellness, a nonprofit housed in the basement of the Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church. The center provides accessible resources to trans, queer and other LGBTQ individuals. Alongside that, Heartland also hosts support groups and community events where trans and queer people can connect.
In yet another episode, Out Cincinnati interviewed legendary singer/songwriter Judy Collins ahead of her recent concert at Memorial Hall.
The episodes themselves feel organic, with Fortin and Neeley starting each segment with a back-and-forth discussion on the day’s guests and topics at hand.
“I like to interview people and hear their point of view, especially people who have been through it in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and so on, and talk about 2019 and their point of view on things,” Fortin says. “It’s different than it was in ’85 and ’80 and ’92; people were doing advocacy work in different ways… and they have advice for how the people of tomorrow can get involved.”
Though the show airs every Saturday, they interview guests throughout the week and edit the segments into a cohesive hour-long episode.
“It’s my baby (but) I couldn’t do it without Melissa,” Fortin says. “She takes those cuts and makes them into magic.”
Of Fortin, Neeley says that they have a great working partnership. Combined, she points out that they have over 30 years of experience in the radio world. With Out Cincinnati, they’re able to put that work into something that they wouldn’t be able to do at a commercial broadcast outlet.
“I want people to reach out to us if they have a topic or an issue they think we should cover or something that needs to be highlighted,” Neeley says. “I want people to feel free to just email us or hit us up on social media or whatever and say, ‘Hey, guys, could you talk about this?’ ”
Find more about Out Cincinnati at outcincinnati.com.
A previous version of this story stated that Melissa Neeley formerly worked at WLWT-TV. That is incorrect. Rather, she worked at WLW-AM/FM as a reporter.