Gay radio show hosts plan comeback
by Matthew S. Bajko
Fernando Ventura and Greg "the gay sportscaster" Sherrell, the out morning show hosts of the now defunct Energy 92.7 FM radio station, may be off the air but the duo hopes their absence will be short-lived.
They are at work launching a Web site at http://www.FernandoandGreg.com where they intend to post podcasts several times a week. They are also seeking out opportunities at other local radio stations so they can remain in the Bay Area.
"I think our main focus is to stay connected to the listeners and supporters of Fernando and Greg via social networking sites for now," said Ventura, who lives in Daly City. "I would say we are very serious about our main goal to stay in the Bay Area. I think we created a nice base here. There are a lot of people who support us and love us."
Having worked together for five years at KNGY during the morning drive-time hours, the pair developed a close friendship and professional bond and grew into sought after celebrities to host countless LGBT nonprofits' galas, fundraisers, and events. Last fall the pair received a Fall Honors award from the northern California chapter of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association for their work.
"Obviously, Fernando and I are both sad to see five years end of Energy 92.7. It was a difficult thing. We built such a bond with the community, and not just the gay community but all of San Francisco and the Bay Area," said Sherrell, a San Francisco resident who at one time was also the station's marketing director. "Fernando and I had been talking about this since the station got sold because we knew it was a real possibility we may not be retained. That is radio; it happens."
Along with the rest of the station's staff, the hosts learned last Thursday, September 10 that Energy's dance music format and LGBT community focus would end after the sale of the radio station was finalized. Former owner Joe Bayliss, a straight radio executive behind Flying Bear Media, sold the station to Golden State Broadcasting, which has stations in Palm Springs and Las Vegas and is beaming in the new format from its Coachella Valley station.
The staff had been notified of the sale several months ago, sources said, so the switchover did not come as a total surprise last week. The reasons for the sale remain unknown, and Bayliss was unavailable for comment this week.
Sources told the Bay Area Reporter that the sale was prompted when Bayliss was unable to renegotiate the terms of a $6 million loan held by Foothill, a subsidiary of Wells Fargo based in Santa Monica.
Wells spokesman Chris Hammond said the company, out of respect for its client's confidentiality, could not discuss any details about the sale. He did say that the change over in formats at the station came as a shock to the bank's local employees.
"Energy has been a part of the fabric for our community more than a few years now. We were very appreciative of how Energy participated in gay Pride with Wells Fargo," said Hammond. "We certainly were proud to participate on the Energy airwaves as supporters from time to time."
Listeners have been outraged and saddened by the new owners' decision to switch formats. A Facebook page to save the station launched last week now has 6,640 members, and at Tuesday's supervisors meeting, openly gay Supervisor Bevan Dufty will introduce a resolution asking the new owners to revive Energy's format.
"I am heartbroken. Energy did so much for the community in our city; it is a big loss," said Dufty, a frequent guest on the morning show and avid listener of the station. "It was the first station I listened to in the morning. Now I have stopped listening."
As a student at the University of California, Berkeley, Alex Randolph listened to Energy constantly and credits the station with helping his coming out process.
"It didnŐt matter if you were gay or straight, everybody was listening to it," said Randolph. "It was always the first thing you listened to when you would come back to San Francisco."
After being hired by Mayor Gavin Newsom as his liaison to the LGBT community, Randolph attended countless events co-sponsored by the radio station. At the NLGJA event last October he presented Ventura and Sherrell with a certificate of recognition on behalf of the mayor.
"I think the closing of Energy 92.7 is a great loss not only to the LGBT community in San Francisco, but Bay area wide, if not nationally," said Randolph, stressing he was speaking on his own behalf and not as a City Hall staffer. "Fernando and Greg were the first commercially broadcast gay morning show in the country and enjoyed a huge following. The mere fact that Fernando and Greg were listed in Out magazine's Top 100 most influential people in gay culture speaks volume to their impact and constant community service."
Honored by the Bay Guardian this year as best radio station, Energy's loss is also seen as a huge blow to local nonprofits. The station offered countless hours of free advertising to numerous groups to plug their events and fundraisers.
"I would be surprised to find another radio station willing to work with our communities as much as Energy did," said Stop AIDS Project deputy director Jason Riggs, whose agency teamed up with the KNGY for its annual Dining Out For Life fundraisers and its mobile HIV testing efforts. "This was not only a radio station to entertain the community but also a station that was part of the community."
Roger Doughty, executive director of the Horizons Foundation, an LGBT grant-making organization, said he turned to KNGY not only for promotion of events but also to provide its talent and DJs, as did many local, smaller nonprofit groups.
"There is something about having what is a connector in terms of information and in terms of community fabric that is really important. Though 92.7 didnŐt appeal to everyone in the community, for a significant part of the community it was one of those connectors and it is a loss," said Doughty.
Castro-based merchants are also lamenting the loss of a key advertising medium. Not only did the station provide discounted airtime to the merchants, it broadcast the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony the last three years in a row.
"The majority of ads on 92.7 where from Castro businesses such as bars and retail stores. What worries me is it was an outlet for those businesses to advertise. It did bring people into the neighborhood to shop, eat, and drink," said Steve Adams, president of the Merchants of Upper Market and Castro.