The Voice of a Community

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Heath Riddles is nothing if not an advocate. As the deputy director of the Texas Advocacy Project, he helps guarantee free legal services for victims of domestic abuse. He’s long been involved with AIDS Services of Austin and Equality Texas, and holds a position on the board of the Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival.

But it is Riddles’ latest venture that has many in Austin’s gay and straight communities talking. Riddles is the founder, developer and host of “Outcast,” a weekly talk-radio program dedicated to exploring issues surrounding the GLBT community. Airing every Sunday at 6 p.m. on public radio station 91.7 KOOP-FM, “Outcast” features interviews with the people who are leading and influencing Austin’s queer culture.

The goal of the show, says Riddles, includes four key mission components: to provide a community-building resource for the GLBT community, to provide diverse audiences with multiple perspectives on the issues affecting the community, to foster understanding and enhance relationships within the community, and to illuminate the richness of GLBT cultural and artistic expression in Austin.

“The show is for nonprofits, artists and people who have something to promote, but also for people in the community who want to know what’s going on. First and foremost, we are a resource for the community,” Riddles explains. “It’s sort of our queer space on the radio, and the GLBT community-building aspect is so incredibly important. If the show can be successful in that regard, I’m thrilled.”

Riddles, who launched the show in May, says he got the idea for “Outcast” from KOOP’s now-defunct “Outspoken” show, a gay-friendly radio forum for the arts, entertainment and news. Though “Outspoken” ended, KOOP’s effort to maintain a diverse programming schedule did not, and when the station sent out a call for GLBT-related content, Riddles jumped at the chance to contribute.

Riddles was a broadcast journalism student at the University of Oklahoma, and his first paying job in radio was at the Norman, Okla., NPR affiliate. He later worked as a TV news producer at an NBC affiliate and landed a job at the Fox affiliate when he first moved to Austin. But he soon shied away from journalism in order to concentrate on a career of advocacy. So when the opportunity arose to bring “Outcast” to radio listeners, it was a perfect fit.

After receiving KOOP training, volunteering for a required number of hours and working as an apprentice on another KOOP show, Riddles hit the air with “Outcast.” Every week, he spends at least six hours writing and preparing for the show, which he co-hosts with J.J. Lara. Riddles delves in to lighthearted as well as difficult-to-tackle issues affecting the GLBT community including addiction, politics, racism and homophobia. His guests have included Matt Smith of Out Youth, the Octopus Club’s Lew Aldridge, Dave Steakley of Zach Scott Theatre and Lonny Stern, the former host of “Outspoken.”

“I feel like there have been a lot of things in my life that are also big issues in the gay community. So let’s deal with those issues in the community,” Riddles says. “But beyond that, I pay attention to what the community tells me and try to listen to what listeners want.”

With the help of Chuck Smith, “Outcast” maintains a web presence and offers live streaming and pod casting, elements that have enabled the show to further grow its audience.

While Riddles says he doesn’t really hold out hope of seeing the show catapulted to a more mainstream media station, but he does have plans for “Outcast,” including extending the show from half an hour to an hour-long program. That, he says, will make it easier to discuss meatier topics in depth.

“Ultimately, I’d like to see it air at drive time during the week, as long as we’re still successful in our mission to be a resource,” he says. “I just want as many people as possible to know about it so they can tune in or access the show.”

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