By Drew Ailes
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Hacker and Renner agree that KDHX's renewed vigor comes from a return to the station's original mission, which they sum up similarly.
"I think our role is, first and foremost, to present things you won't get anywhere else," Hacker says.
"Education and exposure," Renner says, "particularly with new stuff. That's the one thing we can do better than anyone else. You should be able to pick up a magazine and read about something and say, "Wow, I want to hear that. I can hear that on KDHX.'
"We have the music, and if we don't, we can get it."
Some of KDHX's most interesting shows were born under Renner and Hacker's watch. Along with the aforementioned Fishin' with Dynamite, the last two years have brought the excellent rockabilly/ swing show Greaser's Lunchbox and the punk archaeology of Scene of the Crime. Indeed, many stripes of fringe rock have found a home alongside the station's venerable blues-and-folk lineup, in a town where the airwaves have rarely been receptive to anything fast and loud.
Another intriguingly conceived new show is René Spencer Saller's Suffragette City, which focuses on female vocalists regardless of genre, era or stance (though she's recently started mixing in music made by the other gender, too). "I'm really proud of her show," Renner says. "She really loves music, and she conveys it. She does an excellent job."
"One of the unique things about us is that our programmers really know their music," Hacker says. She cites the station's ethnic-music shows, particularly John Uhlemann's Music from the Hills, as a good example of what the station does best.
As someone who takes both words in "community radio" seriously, Hacker has been particularly focused on increasing the involvement of KDHX in the St. Louis community. "We had a program where we contacted local not-for-profits and told them we wanted to present their (public-service announcements)," she says. Now, all of the station's PSAs are locally produced and deal with local issues.
Renner and Hacker agree that the station is fulfilling its mission -- turning people on to great music -- better now than it did two years ago. "We're making progress," Renner says. "We're putting a new system in place where every show will have a promo spot that will run at random. You'll be listening to a blues show and then hear the promo for Scene of the Crime. You know, time has passed. People who are in their 40s now were in their 20s during the punk-rock years."
In a profit-driven society, it isn't easy for a community-based radio station to survive, let alone excel. Somehow KDHX is pulling it off, without kowtowing to corporate sponsors the way National Public Radio has. "There's always been sort of an undercurrent that we ought to be able to pull in corporate dollars," Hacker says. "But we are a station for the listeners." Both Hacker and Renner say that sponsorship issues never affect programming decisions.
It's a miracle that a radio station in a small building on Magnolia Avenue on the city's South Side has assumed such capable guardianship of a vast musical heritage and also stayed on top of what's new and fresh. "We're the country station that still has twang," Hacker says. "And we're the only blues station. Even if you look at the stations that are supposed to be new rock, they still don't do what we do."
"I went through the '80s, when there was no good radio," Renner says. "I know how important radio is to people."