The Old College Try

Washington University's KWUR-FM seeks to upgrade its signal but is getting opposition from an unlikely source

Assuming you have a decent antenna that's also within a stone's throw of Washington University's main campus, you already know what a great radio station St. Louis has in KWUR (90.3 FM). Although its programming isn't quite as varied as that of our city's other radio treasure, KDHX (88.1 FM), KWUR does an excellent job representing for the college set. Chances are, you're not gonna hear much in the way of banjos or harmonicas, but, hey, KDHX has that covered already. What you will hear on KWUR, assuming you're among the lucky few who can actually pick up its signal, is a consistently entertaining, sometimes inspired mix of indie-rock, electro and underground hip-hop -- you know, the kinda stuff they used to call "college rock" back when the kids still loved the rock and nothing but the rock.

KWUR has a kick-ass product, and, naturally, its volunteer staff wants to get said product to as many people off-campus as possible. To this noble end, station engineer Ben West and his fellow KWUR staffers are requesting an experimental license from the FCC so they can upgrade KWUR's signal from its current, ridiculously dinky allowance of 10 watts to a full 100. For the next few weeks, West and his compadres will collect signatures to demonstrate that the community supports the upgrade. When and if the FCC approves KWUR's application, people in the Central West End, Maplewood and maybe even the near South Side will enjoy a smidgen more diversity.

So who'd have a problem with that? Even if KWUR's programming isn't your bag, everyone benefits from a less consolidated marketplace, one that isn't completely at the mercy of profit-hungry conglomerates. Every little station helps drives a stake through the heart of the Clear Channel vampire, right?

Well, maybe. Good ol' NPR affiliate KWMU (90.7 FM) put the kibosh on KWUR's past attempts to increase its wattage, most recently in 1995. KWMU may be a public-radio station, but it sure isn't very generous when it comes to sharing the public airwaves. "The point of the experimental license is to show other radio stations, like KWMU, that our signal wouldn't interfere with theirs," West explains. "The worry shouldn't be so great. All we're shooting for is 100 watts. Any other stations that could possibly be concerned are at least 100 times more powerful."

Not all of KWUR's left-of-the-dial peers are so territorial, thank goodness. Though KDHX has a mere 43,000 watts -- less than half the juice of KWMU -- Beverly Hacker, KDHX's station manager, supports KWUR's application. "I think it's great," she says. "Anything that brings more people into radio and media, the more they learn about it, the more appreciation they have for its power."

Patricia Wente, KWMU's station manager, did not return our calls.

If you'd like to add your support to this worthy cause, see

On August 9 and 10, the Ameristar Casino in St. Charles breaks in its brand-spankin'-new 300-seat club, the Bottleneck Blues Bar, with several performances by the Kentucky Headhunters. What's not entirely clear to us is the venue's self-designation as a "blues" club: Although Double Trouble, which graces the Bottleneck the next weekend, arguably represents a step in that direction, other upcoming acts include Spyro Gyra, Herman's Hermits and the Fixx, none of which corresponds to any sane person's idea of the blues. Melissa Barreca, the casino's public-relations manager, assures us that the name makes sense once you see the actual space: "It reminds me of every great club on Bourbon Street, and it floors me that it is so new, because the room has a definite sense of history, if you know what I mean." We don't, but then again we're sentimental suckers who consider the blues a music genre, not an interior-design element.

So many shows, so little space. Herewith, a few fleeting recommendations: If you like your honky-tonk pure and biting and broken-hearted, don't miss Mike Ireland and Holler, who bring their virtuosic country-soul to Off Broadway on August 8. If your tastes run more toward dreamy, swooshy electro-pop, head to the Rocket Bar on August 14 to check out Denali, a four-piece from Virginia whose stately self-titled debut was produced by members of Sparklehorse. If you dig the dirt, the Black Keys will almost certainly rock your ass with their sloshy, sleazy garage-blues. The duo hits Lemmons Basement Bar on August 9.

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