You gotta know that Larry Weir, Bob Reuter and long time volunteer Sandy Ellberbach would be--and are--very, very proud!
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Beverly Hacker gestures toward the open space that is the third floor administrative "offices" inside KDHX's (88.1 FM) new headquarters. To her right is a small conference room, and straight ahead are several desks aligned about ten feet apart from one another.
"When this was originally designed it was going to all be offices," explains Hacker, the station's executive director, who arrived to work this day in a leather motorcycle jacket and jeans. "When they did the demolition I brought my whole staff down here and said, 'All right guys, here's the deal: You can either all have private offices and cut this up, or we can do modular, or cubicles, or just open office space.' And to their credit, they all said, 'Don't put those walls up.' I can't even imagine any place I've ever worked where people say, 'No thanks, I don't need my own office'!"
But, then, such is the nature of St. Louis' "community" radio station, where music and media aficionados have always put their passion ahead of their egos. And now, after 26 years of operating out of what could be generously described as a "rustic" storefront building in south St. Louis, there's this: the stunning new Larry J. Weir Center for Independent Media in St. Louis' Grand Center. The difference between the old location and the new is perhaps most apparent in the building's two on-air rooms. The soundproof doors into these state-of-the-art studios are bank-vault thick and cost $2,000 apiece, and the sleek and gleaming audio gear within conjures thoughts of space travel.
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Region: St. Louis - Grand Center
"All of the broadcast equipment as a whole was pretty expensive," confesses Hacker, "but really, almost all of the money went into the renovation."
The ground floor of the Larry J. Weir Center, which takes its name from station's late operations manager, is unrecognizable from its former life as the sweat-soaked punk and metal club the Creepy Crawl. Gone is the drop ceiling that shed particles onto the people below. Gone, too, is the grit and grime and graffiti. In its place is an impressive venue space that seats 140 people at its tables, with a bamboo stage and audio enhancements like bass traps and sound diffusers.
"When you do an old building, you never know what you're going to run into," says Hacker. "We didn't even know what we had until we pulled out that nasty tile ceiling."
What they had was twenty feet of space from top to bottom, opening up the area dramatically. Another surprise was the fact that the ceiling is suspended, an architectural necessity that leaves the venue free from obtrusive support beams.
At 13,000 square feet, the Larry J. Weir building as a whole is triple the size of the station's old home on Magnolia Avenue, a former bakery where the station's seventeen staff members worked nearly atop each other. Still, KDHX couldn't get everything on its wish list for the new building, such as the solar panels that an engineer determined would be too much weight for the roof to support.
"I'm really disappointed about those," laments Hacker, "but we did as much green building as we could afford."
For a listener-supported station that's accustomed to operating on a shoestring, it's difficult to overstate just how bold it was for KDHX to embark on fundraising for the Larry J. Weir Center. At $3.5 million, the renovated building is far and away KDHX's costliest endeavor.
"The fundraising efforts were ambitious, because the organization has never done a capital campaign before," confirms board president Andrew Scavotto. "KDHX usually just does two pledge drives each year. The campaign was designed to finance the building and the increased costs that come with it." The station isn't finished yet. Its board and volunteer DJs have raised $2 million to date — just over half of the total amount necessary. "The organization really made a commitment to going out and seeking new and different sources of support, including higher dollar amounts," says Scavotto.
"We actually got a mortgage on part of it, so we are still fundraising," Hacker says. "It originally was going to be less than that, and then we changed some things — that includes the equipment and the building and everything, so yeah, that's what it ended up being."
This past summer KDHX launched a Kickstarter campaign for the ground-floor concert venue that raked in $58,000. It was the largest successful nongaming Kickstarter to occur within St. Louis. Prior to this renovation KDHX didn't have any kind of major donor program set in place; instead, it essentially relied on $88 listener donations to trickle in one at a time. Hacker describes the early stages of the move as a "learning curve."
"We had a lot of folks that really took a chance, because we have zero track record. As you can imagine, not everyone can walk into a place that is sort of trashed out and say, 'Of course, this is going to be a beautiful building.' So a lot of people took it on faith that we were gonna be able to pull this off."
The single largest donation for the new headquarters came from the Kresge Foundation, a Detroit-based philanthropic organization established by Sebastian Kresge — the "K" in "Kmart." (The foundation is not otherwise tied to the retail store in any way.)