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KDHX-FM searches for new morning voices and targets a wider audience

She could have been a plant hired to portray a listener who had shown up during an interview, someone in the neighborhood just swinging by to check out KDHX (88.1 FM) and say hi, but she wasn't. She was a real-life human listener and had indeed stopped by for the hell of it to compliment the staff on the varied programming she had heard of late on the morning show. Within moments, she was chatting with both station manager Beverly Hacker and program director Tony Renner. No appointment was necessary. Compare this with the treatment you receive these days if, for some mysterious reason, you decide to swing by any of the sanitized megamarket corporate stations clogging the airwaves; there, chances are, a receptionist will either shoo you away or call security.

Radar Station plugs KDHX every once in a while because, of all this city's various musical offerings, the radio station is the pearl at the center, a gathering of enthusiasts who control a small portion of the publicly owned airwaves and generate life in it. It's an oasis, we've said more than once, in an industry known these days more for consolidation and corporatization than for freethinking musical passion. For all the efforts we make to prop the local music scene, KDHX does it more effectively, simply because they actually play the music rather than simply write about it. And what's more, the station provides a forum for voices excluded from the mainstream -- a lot of different voices. Despite what many in the community think about KDHX (mainly that the station is aimed specifically at the granola crowd), the station has improved 10-fold in the past few years and has begun targeting not just fans of folk and Irish music but fans of electronic music, stoner rock, jungle, hip-hop and pop. (Radar Station acknowledges that at least one member of its staff has a show on KDHX, but this person has been gagged and shoved into a closet during the penning of this puff piece.)

"I think this organization spent a tremendous amount of time being very insular, thinking, 'Oh, those people know us, we'll go there, and we'll support them,'" says Hacker. "We're really branching out and being at places that have not typically been our audience, because we feel like we can be if they knew about us. But they just don't know about us." Hacker cites recent associations with the Center for Contemporary Art, Gash/Voigt Dance Theater and Dance St. Louis as examples of this newfound openness. This in addition to a deliberate attempt to break the perception of the station as a haven for folk music alone.

"The changes we've made were a conscious decision to go after a younger audience," she says, "not to alienate the older audience, and I hope we've succeeded. But by nature, a community station starts with younger people who have a lot of time and not so much money, and as they get older they have less time and more money, and our volunteer base dries up. The best of both worlds is to be able to cater to both, and I think we're doing that."

These days the highest priority at the station is finding a replacement for morning-show host Roy St. John, who abruptly resigned late last month after serving as drive-time host for more than a decade. The hole left by his absence is noticeable, and since his departure the station has been filling the slot with some of the heavy hitters on the station's schedule. But, says Hacker, the station is searching for new voices in the morning: "We are actually looking for five different hosts, or five teams of hosts. We're listening very carefully to people who can put together a combination of old and new, can cut across genres -- we're looking for a show that is representative of everything else we do. And that takes a pretty extraordinary person. [But] it's been a really good opportunity for us for the past three weeks to have guest hosts in, because it's brought a tremendous diversity of people in to present the morning show."

The station has also locked itself tightly into a "strip programming" schedule, one that ensures that, for the most part, shows with similar aesthetics are presented at consistent times throughout the week. Mornings are devoted to new and alternative country (including the stellar Fishin' with Dynamite, Fred Friction's 10 a.m.-noon show on Thursdays); afternoons are for rock -- a shout-out to Darren Snow's Rocket 88 is long overdue; afternoon-drive time is devoted to blues; the early evening to talk; and evenings and late nights to rock, dance and more eclectic offerings.

If there's a hole in the programming, it's in the station's need of a few more electronica shows. Aside from the pathetic drivel offered on Sovereign Glory -- lose the computer voice already -- the world is awash in house, techno and jungle these days, but these genres are barely represented on the station. That a show as so-so as Sovereign Glory can be successful is a testament to the interest out there. That's a mere quibble, though, and shouldn't reflect the overall excellence being heard daily on the city's most interesting radio station.

 
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