Some listeners, he believed, were petrified to actually call in – fearing that someone might recognize their voice. Not all, of course, but the fear of being identified as queer was strong enough to paralyze some listeners, preventing them from calling - and for good reason. One fourteen-year-old gay listener, however, summoned the courage to call in one night.The young man told Harris that he was thinking of suicide but changed his mind after listening to the show.The first half of the weekly two-hour program involved guest interviews, and there were notable ones including, in Harris’s words, “movers, shakers and founders of the gay civil rights movement.” Among them were U. Congressman Barney Frank; gay rights activist Frank Kameny; two-time Grammy Award winning singer/songwriter Janis Ian, and four-time Tony award winning playwright Harvey Fierstein.Arbitron, the radio ratings agency, estimated that 20,000 listeners tuned in to The Gay 90s on a typical night – perhaps more on a clear night when the AM signal strength was strong enough to reach listeners as far away as Akron or Canton, maybe even the “boondocks,” Harris quips.
In 1984, Governor Richard Celeste appointed Harris as the Ohio Department of Health’s gay health consultant, the first state in the nation to create such a position in response to the growing AIDS crisis.In the show’s six-and-a-half-year run, thousands of Clevelanders of every flavor listened, learned, and participated in the nation’s first live gay talk show, bringing together gay, lesbian, transgendered, bisexual, and, importantly, straight listeners.Bringing these diverse groups together to listen and learn from each other bridged, at least some degree, a very large gap, and along with the work of many, many others, helped lay the foundation for the LGBT civil rights momentum we witness today.And the bomb threat that greeted Harris and his staff that first radio broadcast? As an outspoken and unapologetic AIDS activist, Harris was accustomed getting death threats.Escorted by police and armed with his brave “chin up” attitude, Harris and his crew aired the live broadcast as scheduled.