Rattle and Humbug

Cronyism! Nepotism! Backstabbing! Secrecy! So that's why they call it "community radio"!

Knock, knock; eleven o'clock.

It takes Bob Putnam five minutes to pick himself up, dust himself off and answer the front door of his Virginia Avenue home -- standard operating procedure the day after Veterans Day for a rockabilly soldier who weathered a star-spangled bender the night before. Puffy-eyed, he cracks the plastic top off a bottle of water and brews a pot of Folger's, explaining how he was up till five partying with Head of Femur, a Chicago band that headlined at the Way Out Club, the south-side live music venue he runs with his wife, KDHX-FM DJ Sherri "Danger" Lucas.

Sucking on a Camel Turkish Royal, the embers of which he taps into an oft-utilized ashtray on his dining room table, the 58-year-old Putnam, who goes by the moniker Barroom Bob, settles his stocky frame into a tiny chair, his goatee, tattoos, muttonchops, spiked hair and tight black T-shirt creating an aura of latent intimidation.

Kelly K. from Thee Raspberry Company, photographed
Ire and nice: To some, Double Helix executive director Beverly Hacker is a visionary genius; to others, she's a reckless megalomaniac
Jennifer Silverberg
Ire and nice: To some, Double Helix executive director Beverly Hacker is a visionary genius; to others, she's a reckless megalomaniac

In this setting, as in most any other, Putnam is rock & fucking roll.

Since March, Barroom Bob has served as president of the board of directors of Double Helix Corporation, a prominent local nonprofit organization that takes in about $900,000 in revenue annually in the form of public and private support. Founded in 1972 as an offshoot of the now-defunct radio station KDNA, Double Helix is responsible for operating the community radio station KDHX (88.1 on your FM dial) and its lesser-known sibling, Double Helix Television (dhTV, Channels 21 and 22 on Charter Cable). A seasoned board member and titan of local rock and radio, in the late 1960s Putnam was a founding member of KDNA, a freewheeling, radically liberal station that made an indelible, if short-lived, imprint on St. Louis' broadcasting landscape before its 1973 sale and transformation into what is now easy, breezy KEZK (102.5 FM).

These days the typically teddy bear-like Putnam is full of piss and vinegar, embroiled in what he sees as a bitter battle for the soul of sixteen-year-old KDHX with the station's dynamic and, some would argue, diabolical executive director, Beverly Hacker. Strong-willed and savvy, Hacker, who eighteen months ago was promoted from KDHX station manager to executive director of the entire corporation -- TV and radio -- has ideas for the station's future and has wasted no time setting them into motion, protocol be damned. Here, Putnam claims, Hacker's desires stand diametrically opposed to the mission of an organization rooted in a power structure designed to empower its volunteer board, programmers and membership.

"There's no compromise with Bev on issues," groused Putnam, nursing the second of three bloody marys over lunch at Blueberry Hill a few weeks before Veterans Day. "A lot of it has to do with the spirit of KDNA and KDHX. I see that changing. When I went on the board, I was led to believe this was a working board -- like elected officials. More and more, there's talk of the board's primary duty being fundraising, and you have to ask why.

"This is about, 'What does the staff want?'" he went on. "It shouldn't be that way. What I can't seem to make people understand is that Bev works for the board. The board don't work for Bev. When the station was first set up, the concept of 'staff' was to serve as facilitators, a conduit -- to do paperwork."

But Hacker isn't the type to push paper for a living. An accountant by trade who broke into the station a decade ago as a volunteer before ascending to board and staff levels, in that order, Hacker gets credit from even her detractors for righting Double Helix's financial ship after years of fiscal tomfoolery marked by negative bank balances and delinquent utility payments. And the station's talented, eclectic flock of volunteer programmers is generally ecstatic about KDHX's new state-of-the-art Magnolia Avenue studios, a long-desired upgrade seen through from start to finish by Hacker.

To admirers, Hacker is brilliant, decisive and visionary, a leader who swooped in just in time to kick-start a community asset stuck in second gear. But to Putnam and other detractors, the 52-year-old KDHX honcho, while undeniably talented, has devolved into a reckless megalomaniac given to exploitation of the many loopholes in the corporation's personnel manual, not to mention cronyism, nepotism, backstabbing, legalese and secrecy -- the substance of which spilled into discussion at a heated meeting of the station's board and associate members (the latter being a sort of parliamentary body of members, two dozen strong, who are charged with electing several board members each year) on October 26. With the once-close pair not currently on speaking terms, the Putnam-Hacker feud simmers still -- casting a pall of division and uncertainty over an organization accustomed to democratic resolution of even the most vitriolic melées.

"It's sad that our president and executive director are at loggerheads," says longtime board member Bob Gist. "They used to be pretty good friends."

Indeed, Hacker used to be a regular at Putnam's Way Out Club. No more -- the executive director now takes the bulk of her sips at Frederick's Music Lounge, a Chippewa Street honky-tonk co-owned by board member and on-air talent Paul Stark.

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