Venus 102.5 pondered banning gay business ads

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FM radio station Venus 102.5, formerly known as “102.5 The Party,” has been a longstanding supporter of Nashville’s gay community. Not only has the station sponsored GLBT events such as Nashville Pride and the annual Aids Walk, the station has also aired paid commercials for the popular GLBT establishments Red Restaurant, Play, and Lipstick Lounge.

Questions of the station’s willingness to accept advertisements from the gay community arose in September when Red Restaurant owner David Taylor said a station employee notified him that advertisements from gay establishments would no longer be accepted. That was followed by the radio station telling managers of the Church Street Café they could not use the word “gay” in their ad copy.

A Venus 102.5 employee, who asked their identity be protected, confirmed the station’s market manager Beth Murphy rescinded the verbal directions to not accept advertising from gay businesses after the media raised questions. The employee said that as a result of what was described to them by Murphy as “marginally bad publicity.” She recanted the policy, apologizing for terming it “a policy,” and informed the employees involved that gay business ads would be accepted, subject to copy approval. 

It appears that advertising copy can’t have the words “gay” or “drag queen” in it. It also cannot target a specific demographic of the population, according to the marketing director of the Church Street Café, who has been trying to place ads with the station.

Daniel H. Lee, marketing director of the Church Street Café, said he met with Albert J. Gedge, marketing consultant for Venus on the afternoon of Sept. 28.

“Gedge told me that the copy submitted by the café was not approved and that references to drag queens or any language that identifies the café as ‘gay’ will be declined,” Lee said. “We were told the Café could not gear their ad copy toward any specific clientèle.”  

While Murphy wasn’t available for comment, Cromwell Radio Group and station owner Bayard Walters, said there wasn’t and never had been such a policy and that it may have been a misunderstanding over ad copy approval.

Walters said he contacted Murphy and confirmed that no such policy of exclusion is in place at Venus. Walters said his company did not exclude any segment of the community from advertising.

“The only thing that we do is maintain copy approval, because we are responsible for the copy that gets on our air,” Walters said. “That is for any advertiser. I am not quite sure how this came about. Maybe there was one client, or some clients or maybe some salesperson said something to some client and there was a misunderstanding. What I can tell you is as the owner of this station our policy is to work with all clients as best we can unless the copy is something that is inappropriate, and we have that right.”

Though Red Restaurant is not currently running regular commercials with Venus 102.5, they recently sponsored a summer entertainment segment on the station.

Taylor initially expressed disappointment and reacted to the news by stating, “Discrimination is wrong. This is another example of a person imposing (her) beliefs on the entire Nashville community.”

When informed about Venus’ actions to once again allow gay advertisers, Taylor said he was pleased.

“I was very pleased to hear that this was not a corporate policy of 102.5,” he said. “They’ve always been an inclusive station, and we appreciate that at the highest levels they continue to say that they are. We hope this action by a rogue employee is not typical and will be watched diligently to ensure they are inclusive of the Nashville community, including the gay and lesbian community.”

In addition to Red Restaurant, other GLBT businesses that have supported the station with advertising include The Lipstick Lounge. The Lipstick Lounge recently sponsored a summer Tomato Festival segment on Venus.

Lipstick Lounge spokesperson Christa Suppan said, “They (Venus) approached us to place a series of radio ads a couple of years ago. We have received a better response rate from Lightning 100, and currently advertise with them.”

A former sales representative from the station, Carrie Rollins, spoke with “Out & About Newspaper” about the situation. Rollins said she served as a sales representative for two years and left on good terms approximately one year ago.  She told O&AN that she maintains close connections with advertisers and former coworkers and had received word of the new “policy” both from current employees and clients.

Rollins expressed concern that Venus would turn down gay advertisers due to a potential change in policy.

“In the past, these two radio stations have always supported the gay, lesbian, and transsexual communities by promoting Pride week and by being involved in anything they were asked to do,” she said.

When Rollins heard about the station reverting back to their former inclusive policy, she said she was proud of the stand that Cromwell Radio Group had taken.

“I am proud and not at all surprised that the owner, Mr. Walters, and sales staff of Cromwell Radio wouldn’t stand for such a ‘policy’ to remain in place,” she said. “These two radio stations and their employees are some of the best in the business and should not be held accountable for the out of place actions of a single person.”