By Ray Downs
By Lindsay Toler
By Danny Wicentowski
By Lindsay Toler
By RFT Staff
By Lindsay Toler
By Allison Babka
By Lindsay Toler
"It all basically boils down to hiring Sara [Finke]," Gist says of the station's lead engineer, whom Renner and others insinuate would struggle to point out the differences between a sound mixer and the flight panel on a single-engine Cessna. "You have to bear in mind, though, that we, as an organization, have always pulled from our ranks. Sara was a volunteer. Bev was a volunteer. Some of our best employees started as volunteers."
Finke's competency isn't the only issue. The other is that Finke, a transsexual, once was Hacker's husband. There are amicable breakups, and then there's Bev and Sara. A large, framed black-and-white photograph of a cow taken by Finke hangs proudly in Hacker's KDHX office. Furthermore, in addition to being Finke's employer, Hacker is her landlord; the two reside in separate units of the same south-side dwelling owned by Hacker.
Gist, generally regarded as one of the organization's most knowledgeable and diplomatic board members, acknowledges that there are allegations of nepotism and cronyism swirling around Finke's employment. He hopes that's where the bitterness ends.
"You'd like to think that's all it is," says Gist. "I hope it's not homophobia."
"She could have hired anybody," says Finke, dismissing the matter.
But she didn't. Instead Hacker promoted her ex-husband/tenant/father of her children/friend under the auspices of "exigent circumstances." And the issue doesn't appear to be going away any time soon.
"I don't see the door of KDHX open to women and minorities," charged Bob Putnam's wife, Way Out Club co-owner and KDHX associate member Sherri Lucas, who is African-American, at the October 26 meeting. "Sara, your ex-husband, shares a house with you, and you pay her salary. I'm a mechanical engineer, and I didn't hear about [the position]. I think there's some nepotism going on here."
"If there was an issue, why wasn't it brought up then?" responded Hacker, again noting the timing of the attacks on her promotion of Finke.
Putnam speculates that Hacker's refusal to disclose employee information has to do with the executive director's touchiness about the issue of Finke's suitability for her post. "I don't think there are any qualifications there," Putnam says of Finke. "Sara is incompetent."
Finding someone associated with KDHX to verbally undress ex-station golden boy Tony Renner is about as easy as finding a nuclear warhead in Iraq. But the love fest between the station and Renner is hardly reciprocal.
The 43-year-old Renner was Hacker's second in command at radio before he quit working for the station seven months ago, citing irreconcilable differences with Hacker and a desire to complete his undergraduate coursework at Washington University.
"He wants to tell people how to do their show," says Hacker, teetering on the brink of harsh criticism. "To me, that goes against artists really doing art."
Hacker stops short of taking the gloves off, describing the split with Renner as amiable and saying she'd welcome him back at any time. But Renner's not so warm and fuzzy.
"When in doubt, remodel," Renner quips, summarizing what he feels is the extent of Hacker's vision for the station. "She's a micromanager. People who rise to executive director have to learn to delegate. I think the station could bring St. Louis together, convince white people that it's okay to go north of Delmar. She has a totally different vision, and she's the boss. What could I do?"
One way to accomplish his objective, Renner says, would be through sharp, focused public-affairs programming. Much of KDHX's current lineup of talkies doesn't cut the mustard, he argues. "Because of the lack of standards [at the station], they don't have the credibility they could. I hate rules, but if you do simple things, it's really easy on the listener. You educate them."
Doug Morgan's Thursday-afternoon Underworld and Al Becker's Sunday-night Voices in the Darkare the only two current KDHX shows that pass Renner's professionality litmus test. Of Fred Friction's twang-infested Fishin' With Dynamite, a Thursday-morning music show with a cult following that represents itself well come pledge-drive time, Renner says, "The response would be, 'But it works.' But it'd work a lot better if it was professional."
Renner gives Hacker credit for bringing a certain level of sophistication to the station's fundraising operation, but he qualifies his praise by saying that Hacker's accomplishments have "calcified," with the station perennially hampered by a board that refuses to focus even minimal energy on fundraising, save for seasonal pledge drives.
Hacker agrees that this is an issue and has pushed for the board to add more movers and shakers from outside its inner sanctum. The recent addition of Kim Love, who works for the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, to the KDHX board is evidence that Hacker is making progress on this front. But there's only so much she can do with a board whose members consider hands-on solicitation of funds to be anyone's problem but their own.
"That's not 'community media,'" personnel chair Dever complains of the move to bring in high-powered outsiders.
"That's what we'd hoped to accomplish by reinvigorating the community advisory panel," adds Bob Gist, citing a plan to establish an auxiliary board of local notables to focus on procuring major gifts. "But the community should have a fair amount of control," he cautions. "Our funding sources right now keep us that way."