KDHX Community Media and Campfire, an organization focused on the stories and discussions about life and how we live it, are forming a new partnership. Over the last year, Campfire has expanded their podcast and educational opportunities to further build their popular monthly event. After a successful Season at The Stage at KDHX, the two organizations realized the alignment in mission and work that could be grown.
Starting with Campfire’s Season 5, all live events for the next year will be held at The Stage at KDHX and all Campfire at Home podcast episodes will be co-branded with and hosted by KDHX (made available wherever KDHX Podcasts are, including iTunes).
Campfire’s mission is to invite people into meaningful, sincere discussions about life and how we live it using a distinct format and important life questions. Through an innovative storytelling model based on the Hero’s Journey and group facilitation techniques, Campfire makes our storytellers story about everyone in the room.
Campfire put together this video that dives deeper into the Campfire at Home podcast and it’s move to KDHX.
Steve Pick has been involved with KDHX since its inception. Already active in the St. Louis music community, his dreams of becoming a DJ were given a platform in the late ‘80’s when KDHX was broadcasting from a small shack at our tower site in Arnold, MO. Since then, KDHX has grown to new heights and become a hub for St. Louis artists and musicians. Pick sat down with Chris Sanley, host of KDHX’s The Future Is Now to discuss his journey with the station from days of yore.
Chris Sanley: I am here with Steve Pick host of Sound Salvation, which airs Friday mornings, 7-10. We are celebrating 30 years as listener-supported radio station this Fall, and as a newbie I am thrilled to be sitting with an OG who has been with KDHX since pretty much the very beginning. Hi Steve.
Steve Pick: Howdy.
CS: I feel like a part of my soul has been with KDHX for a very long time. I became aware of it around 2004 — so not quite as long as you've been involved. I've heard some of the stories of the glory days, but I'm really excited to hear it first hand. Tell us what you experienced and all that, but first let's start from the very beginning. Music seems to really be in your blood, a part of the fiber of your being. Can you maybe describe that turning point, that moment of music discovery when you were like "yes, this is me, I need this!"
SP: Well, I'm very different from most people in that regard in that up until I was 7 I loved records and then when I was 12 and 13 I loved records — but other than that, not until I was maybe 19 or 20 I was really into comic books. That was what all my money went into. I had to pick up a lot of stuff after the fact. It was the whole punk rock/new wave revolution that grabbed me. When I heard the Sex Pistols, when I heard Elvis Costello, when I heard the Ramones, I realized that something was happening and I needed to know what it was. So I read everything I could get my hands on about it. Back in those days, there were all kinds of magazines you could buy. But there was no radio station that told me about it, except KWUR, which was a tiny 10-watt station on the campus of Washington University. I lived in North County and we could barely pick it up. I would have to hold the antenna as the shows went on —
CS: Get like tin foil and creative with it — that's amazing!
SP: So, yeah, that was basically the "big bang moment" for Sound Salvation, if I could borrow Dr. Jeff's phrase.
CS: I mean, the time is right for that right now!
SP: So that was in 1978, like I said I was 19 and that's when I really got into music. There was a brief moment, maybe about a week, when I would play the Sex Pistols and Barry Manilow both, because I had really bad taste for a while.
CS: Everyone's gotta start somewhere, and then you evolve from that point in your life.
SP: I had good taste when I was 6, I had good taste when I was 12 and 13. But, in those other years I only bought a handful of records and most them were not …
CS: Comic books were clouding your judgement. It happens.
SP: Yes, they were.
CS: That's so interesting. So you got a little bit of KWUR, and that was kind of your introduction to exciting radio.
SP: Exactly. In 1980, I started a fanzine called "Jet Lag," which lasted 11 years. I co-started it with John the Mailman, and John actually managed to get a radio show on KWUR. He wasn't a student — in fact, he was like 30 at the time — but, we knew the KWUR people because, with Jet Lag, we would meet up with a lot of the same people and were getting interviews with the same artists. So, they told me that I could be a DJ, and then they pulled that back.
CS: Oh no! Like, the dream was there and then …
SP: The dream was and then they took it away, for whatever reason — probably because of a personnel change.
CS: They wanted to keep it student-focused, probably.
SP: Yeah, and every semester they had different people running the station, you know.
CS: Oh the turnover rate is crazy at college radio stations.
SP: So, there I was was, wanting to be a DJ and having no way of doing it. And about that time I heard that Double Helix existed and that their dream was to put on a radio station that would allow independent DJ's to play music. I actually got involved with Double Helix first through a TV show, because Double Helix had a radio side and a TV side, and they got the local origination public access contracts from the City of St. Louis on, I guess, probably charter cable of whatever it was back then. So, "Jet Lag" again, we put on a TV series called the video show —
CS: Oh, cool! And you tied it in with the fanzine?
SP: Exactly, and what's fun about that is that my wife [Cat Pick, host of Emotional Rescue] was the co-host. But at the time, she was married to another guy who was involved with the magazine. And we were just friends, and did this TV show together, and then years later they got divorced and then a couple years after that we got married.
CS: That's so great — music brings everyone together.
SP: Right. And she's on the radio, too!
CS: Exactly — you guys are like the husband and wife dynamic duo here at KDHX. She's my fellow female drive-time companion, which I love. Gotta love those female broadcasters — putting the broad in broadcasters, you know? It's important to do! So, did she get involved in the radio station at the same time you did?
SP: She was a little bit after that. So, we did the TV show for about a year, and I don't know exactly why we stopped. But that brings us probably up to late 86/early 87, at which point the radio station was getting closer to actually existing. My interest was more in the radio than the TV, because with TV you were limited only to what the record companies would send you videos of, or you could shoot videos of bands that played in town. Which, actually, we were involved with Double Helix doing that. So, I started going to all these meetings and it was late 87 — October — when the station finally went on the air. I was hoping at that point that I would get this radio show that was my dream for all those years, right. But for whatever reason, that didn't happen for 6 months.
CS: And you never found out why it took the 6 months?
SP: I can tell you the story I was told which was that they didn't know I wanted to. Which is kind of weird, but, you know. Who knows! But we had all these meetings then, probably in April of 88 they said that — in those days there were all these DJ's who had multiple shows. And there'd be like 2 or 3 4-hour shifts of the same DJ's, as there were actually so few DJ's actually on the air. And someone in the meeting said, well why aren't you getting more people. And they said that they've gotten everyone who expressed interest, and I stood up and said "well, what about me?" And there were several other people who said "what about me?" And these were all these people who had been going to these meetings.
CS: Expressing interest in ideas — and enthusiasm for the station. And you're a tall man! When you stand up and say you want to do something, it's pretty hard to look over that.
SP: Right, so at the end of that meeting, one of the people on the program committee — Michael Donahoe — said, can you meet me at the Tower at noon tomorrow. And I did, and in 5 minutes, he taught me how to use the board. He said this is turntable 1, this is turntable 2, this is the telephone, you do this for the microphone, you do this to the turntables. And we didn't have anything else back then. There were no other inputs. And then he said, "Ok, I'll see you later — "
CS: Like, "Congratulations, you have a radio show!"
SP: And I was on the air for 4 hours, in a little shack, by myself, in Arnold.
CS: That's awesome — kind of a hazing experience, but you're gonna learn and you're gonna figure it out when you're just thrown into it like that. Oh man. Do you remember that 4 hours very vividly — did you have any moments of panic?
SP: Honestly, no — I think it was all enthusiasm, and also just a blur. I'd spent all morning pulling records to bring, and the next thing I knew I had that same 4-hour shift for a long time.
CS: And what was that 4-hour block on Wednesdays?
SP: Well, originally I did 2 shows within the 4 hours. I did the Pop Quiz and Driving Jazz. And the Driving Jazz was because it was drive time. I guess it was probably more like 1-5 PM. So the Pop Quiz was more like a pop show, and the jazz show was jazz, because those were the two things I was most interested in. I was so young, I was like 29, I guess, and I thought I knew everything there was to know. I was a music critic in the Post-Dispatch, I had "Jet Lag," I worked at Vintage Vinyl, which was the coolest record store in town.
CS: Oh, of course!
SP: And here I am on the radio. And I was in bands, at the same time.
CS: So you were just a gatekeeper of all things cool happening in St. Louis, basically.
SP: I don't know, I felt like things cool kept coming to me. So, yeah, that's what I did for a long time. After about a year or so, I got involved in the Program Committee and helped bring along all those people who had said they wanted to be on, and found more people. And we completely revamped a lot of what was going on. At first, in the earliest days, there was very little rock music on the station. And there were all these young people who were really enthusiastic about it, and I thought we need to mix that in. There wasn't any hip-hop, there wasn't any reggae, you know it was jazz, blues, folk, which were the primary focus. And all of which are good things, but we wanted to mix it up.
CS: Right, and look at us now. We have all of those things plus all of the things that you mentioned you didn't have at that point. Perfect storm happening. A little bit of something for everyone, which is what makes the station so awesome and special.
SP: So the other thing I wanted to say is that we decided to cut the shifts off of being 4 hours, because we had more people than we could fit. So I went into a 3-hour shift and I didn't want to do 2 shows in that, so I dropped the jazz show. So the Pop Quiz is what I did for 5 and a half years, at which time I left the station for, like 7 years.
CS: And then you came back, and it became "Sound Salvation"
SP: Yes. Originally it was the morning drive shows were, when I came back on, the idea was that the station had had 1 morning drive host, Roy St. John, for 10 years at that point, and there was kind of bad blood between management and him.
CS: That's hard.
SP: So that ended, and they decided they were going to have co-hosts every morning except that I told them I didn't want to co-host.
CS: You were like, "I got this."
SP: Because, you know, life's too short to play songs you don't like just because someone else is there. So, they let me on anyway and it was called "The Morning Show" for a couple years. Then they decided that we would have individual show titles. And actually Cat came up with "Sound Salvation" which is a phrase from "Radio Radio" by Elvis Costello.
CS: Who is one of your favorites.
SP: Who is the single greatest songwriter of all time. As, of course, every school child knows.
CS: That's what they teach the kids these days, right?
SP: There are certainly other candidates who are quite legitimate, but he is quite awfully darn good.
CS: Elvis Costello has your heart. And mine. We agree on that. So, going back a little bit — when you were on the program committee and helping to bring some new, exciting voices on air, where there any particular DJ's you remember really fondly and that you remember getting them in there. And maybe they're still around today?
SP: Oh, wow, there undoubtedly are, but how do I remember them. Well, for one thing, we got Gabriel in, which is really funny as he was this legend, and no one expected that he'd be still doing that for us 25 years later. We got a hip-hop show on, which was originally run by a fellow who was my roommate at the time, Russ, and he brought in Ron Butts [DJ G Wiz]— who now does the Musical Edutainment series. So that was something I was really proud of. Lots of the people, but I'm trying to remember which ones are still around …
CS: I know, I'm making you dig deep here …
SP: We did the World Beat Dance Party that used to be really great.
CS: So fun!
SP: We brought Harriet [Shanas] in, that was one, who does the Folks of the World show, still.
CS: She let me sub for her once — that show is so wonderful.
SP: Yeah, she just plays the most exciting stuff. And she doesn't have to put it together in any fashion other than just —
CS: She just takes you on a little journey, and you never know where you're gonna end up, but that's what's so great.
SP: John [Uhlemann, host of Music from the Hills] is another one of the one's we brought in.
SP: Interestingly enough, some of the folk people are the ones that lasted the longest.
CS: That's great. I mean, just getting those new voices, getting those new DJ's — that's what helps build a station like this. And just opening those doors to different genres and all that is just so awesome. Thank you for helping with that process!
SP: It was fun, and it was nerve-wracking. Because back then, there were all kinds of meetings, and so many people showed up and there were arguments. It was a really heavily involved —
CS: Art gets people heated, man!
SP: But there was much more of that than there is now — when I first got on the air, there weren't any actual employees at the station. It was all volunteers. There was a station manager, who was from Double Helix. And then Larry Weir was the first actual employee at the station, and he was Operations Manager. So, they didn't have a real station manager who was just here until, I think, 89 — whenever Dave Taylor came in.
CS: That's two years into the fold already — yeah, that's crazy. Obviously at the beginning of anything — like, a radio station — built from the ground-up there are going to be challenges. Are there any specific things you remember facing that you remember as particularly trying for yourself or KDHX as a whole?
SP: Well, there's funny stuff —
CS: Those are always welcome anecdotes.
SP: The young Irish guy we found to do an Irish folk music show, which was very important to some people at the station, except that they didn't know anybody who could do it. So they found this Irish guy who was literally from Ireland, he was probably 22 or something —
CS: Seems like an ideal candidate —
SP: Seems like an ideal candidate — he had the accent, it was gorgeous — but he didn't really like Irish folk music a whole lot, so he played, like, U2, which was very disappointing. But, even better in a way, was the fact that on his second show, he was going on and on about this car dealership that was so good. And it turns out that this dealership had given him a car to drive to the station in in exchange for on-air promotion —
CS: Which is of course against the rules —
SP: Yes, so he didn't last long. And the fact that when I first started we were still broadcasting from the tower up in Arnold, and they were building the station from the ground-up at the bakery on Magnolia, and they did an incredible job and it lasted 20-some years before we moved into this nice building. So that was a big challenge. There were always fundraising challenges. They were always arguing about different things — why do you want to put hip-hop on our radio station! That was an actual sentence uttered.
CS: Oh my goodness.
SP: All in all it was such a blur of fun and fighting and music and events and great times. We formed the KDHX softball team in 89, and that year it was all KDHX volunteers, and none of us were any good at all, and so we lost tons of games. We had one woman on the team who literally looked up and saw a pop-up directly to her, hit her in the nose, because it didn't occur to her to put the glove up in front of her face.
CS: Oh no! We're disk-jocks, not jock-jocks.
SP: But Larry Weir and I stayed on that team for years and years and years, but the people who gravitated to it were all listeners not DJs —
CS: Had to get some ringers in there. I was on the kickball team one summer, and we weren't very good. But we had fun! And that's what matters.
SP: That team still exists and it’s still called the KDHX team. And there are in fact more people involved now than there were back when we started it. I mean Rich Reese [host of Pop! The Beat Bubble Burst] is on it, and bobee Sweet [host of Uncontrollable Urge]— but it's great to know that that tradition still continues.
CS: Absolutely — many traditions do continue. So those were some struggles. Any major victories that you remember? Any specific moments when you were like, "Yes, we've been fighting for this and we got it!" Other than getting the hip-hop show on or something like that.
SP: Honestly, for the most part, the victories were just the fun of doing the show. And back in those days, when you'd have a membership drive, which is what we called it then — everybody would come together, and you would see all these people you usually didn't see around the station everyday, and we have some of the best, most hilarious times doing those drives than in all those years. Though there was one year when I was on the air during the San Francisco earthquake, during the World Series — that night, nobody called in.
CS: Wowza — I bet. Oh man. So, favorite DJ moment? Like maybe an interview you thought was really rad?
SP: I always hated interviews. I would do them occasionally, but to me, nobody wants to hear people talk on the radio. Obviously people do, or this whole podcast thing wouldn't exist. But —
CS: It is a phenomenon.
SP: But I was just more into the music. Every one of my favorite moments was just hitting the perfect segue.
CS: That is a beautiful thing — those transitions.
SP: One of the things I prided myself on for a while, in ‘91, when the Gulf War started, we would do these little 5-minute BBC news clips at the top of each hour. I got so good at timing it so I could get the music to end just at the beginning of the BBC thing —
CS: That's a victory!
SP: Cause you would [pile it up] into your headphones and you'd hear this "beep beep beep" and then you'd know, that's when the song was gonna end. Yeah, those were good times.
CS: That's awesome. Can definitely relate to that 100%. So the description of your show "Sound Salvation" reads “it’s 3 hours of the best new music liberally mixed with the classics of the past century's worth of pop music, rock and roll, jazz, blues, country, soul and more.” How has your show evolved over the years, once you came back in the ‘90s.
SP: The biggest thing is that I have personally grown into listening even more music than I did back then.
CS: Because it's so much more readily accessible now?
SP: Yeah, exactly. Back then, you were only limited to hearing what you could get yourself. What you could afford to buy, what promos I could get. I was very lucky in that I was a writer and a record store guy and could get lots of promos, but I still couldn't get as much as I really wanted. But now, with the internet, with the radio station getting so much more music than it did back then —
CS: More than ever —
SP: Yeah. And also because of technology, I can put CD's that I can't afford onto my computer because I work at a record store where we sell used CD's, and I can just put them onto my computer, then go ahead and sell them. Therefore, I have access to so much more, and it's opened up to show in ways I could have never predicted back in the day. The fact that I say "the past century's worth of music," it's important to me to know that all of this stuff has a history, that the whole recorded music history goes back to 1880, but African-Americans couldn't do it until around 1920, with very few exceptions. So I don't count it. There's good stuff before that, but I don't count it.
CS: 1920 is where it starts. I like that a lot.
SP: That's where the whole American pop music thing took off in so many different directions and spread around the world —
CS: Everything is informed by something that came before it.
SP: I like to make those odd connections between something that might have been released in 1928 and something that came out last week.
CS: Right — it's so fun to find those little nodes that you can connect to one another. That's really exciting and still such a big part of your show, which is musical discovery and fusing it all together.
SP: Exactly, every week I play something I've heard for the first time that week. That is really, really important because it keeps it fresh. And there's no way you're going to predict what I'm going to do, except that hopefully you can predict that you're either going to like what I do or not like what I do, because it's based on what I can connect to. And I don't play anything I don't like, it's that simple. And that's the great thing about this station — nobody plays anything they don't like.
CS: Right, it's free-form, there's no obligation, it's what we're excited about and it's what we hope the listeners are excited about. 30 years, listener supported radio: I think they're excited about it, too!
SP: It does seem so.
CS: Well this is so great — I love hearing about the glory days in the beginning, and I'm so thrilled that you're still such a huge part of what makes this station so great right now.
SP: Thank you.
CS: What advice would you have to give an aspiring DJ or perhaps someone who might just started hosting their own show on their favorite community radio station?
SP: Well, this imaginary person we're going to create, the first piece of advice I'd give them would be to have enthusiasm — I know that you personally have enthusiasm, that seems obvious as all get-out. Enthusiasm, interest. The most important thing to know is that you don't know everything and you never will, but that that means that you will always keep on learning and finding something new to get excited about. You're never gonna get bored with doing the same old thing. Because you're on fire, you're searching for new music. And that's what I'd tell anybody — there's a certain phase in your life when you think you know everything, and the important thing is to get past that. And once you do, you're off to the races, and you can go on learning for the rest of your life, and music is just the most amazing thing to learn about, because it just keeps coming and evolving and changing. And you'll never know all of it that ever existed — it's impossible, you can't.
CS: Which is hard to come to terms with, because I want to know it all. But it's true, it's never going to happen. And that's ok. And that gives other people those holes to fill.
SP: Exactly, and that gives you the chance to make a contribution. Because what you know is what someone else doesn't know.
CS: We're here teaching each other and helping with that exploration process.
SP: People will a lot of times say that I'm an expert and that I know all this stuff, and I have to remember that I do know more than a lot of people, but I don't know more than a lot of people I know, and I also know so much of what I don't know.
CS: Absolutely! So, we're going to end on one more question here. Do you have any wishes or hopes or dreams in the next 30 years?
SP: Just to keep being here, man. That's the amazing thing, because we're in this environment where radio — I mean, when I was growing up, radio was a huge deal for everybody. It cemented a community. Depending on which radio station you listened to, you knew a lot about the person you were talking to right away. What radio t-shirt they were wearing. KDHX is one of the last remnants of that, because commercial radio as it exists now has a pop element for teenagers — which has always existed and probably always will — but it's a lot more ephemeral now that it used to be. And then other than that it's all nostalgia. There's not these communities of people that are listening to the radio and connecting with any kind of contemporary music. Well, maybe country — I guess probably has something along those lines.
CS: But that still has such a pop element to it.
SP: And that's fine but KDHX is a community of people connected to music not just from now but the past, the future, all of it together. And to me that's just so special that I hope it goes on forever and ever.
CS: I absolutely agree. You can't talk about KDHX without talking about community. It's pretty much impossible. Because of that, it is going to keep going strong for 30+ years. Thank you for keeping this station going strong and for all of your enthusiasm and music discovery through the years. Just keep it coming, dude —
SP: Thanks so much!
CS: Cheers to another 30 years!
Join us for KDHXFest: 30th Birthday, sponsored by Urban Chestnut Brewing Company, on Saturday, October 14, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., at KDHX's home in the Grand Center Arts District. Two outdoor stages showcasing local musicians, beer tents, food trucks, activities, DJ spins, archival displays from KDHX's history, and more. Free and open to the public.
This August, Orlandez celebrates the one-year anniversary of Night Grooves, which first aired Friday, August 5, 2016. A while back Andrea Dunn of Radio Rio had the chance to sit down with Orlandez and chat about his first months on air, deep cuts from the '70s, and the necessity of independent media.
Andrea: Greetings! Let's start with a description of your show Night Grooves.
Orlendez: Well, it's a nice little mix of a little bit of everything, mostly ranging from '70s, '80s, current rock, jazz and soul. A little bit of indie here and there, but for the most part, it's pretty funky. Just a nice little beginning to your weekend, you know, getting it off to a good start. I definitely try to keep it diverse because I'm just sort of a musical sponge — I listen to anything at anytime if you threw it my way. I have noticed, though, that since I've had the show, it's gotten quite soulful, quite groovy.
A: Have you ever felt that it's an obligation for a Friday night show to get people ready for their weekends? My show used to be on Saturday from 5 to 7, and I felt like I had a little bit of an obligation to not be too sleepy. People are tuning in now, they're making their dinner, they're getting ready to go out, you know...
O: It's one of those free evenings when you're not obligated to do anything necessarily. So it's just got a lively type of feel, when you actually want to have some downtime, you can relax for once and let your hair down.
A: Exactly. Let me ask you, are you a St. Louisian?
O: Yes, I am — born and raised. All 26 years of my life have been spent here. I'm a Cardinal's fan — Imo's Pizza, all the way. The City museum, all that good stuff.
A: Growing up here, do you feel like St. Louis, with its musical history, has had any influence on where your tastes lie?
O: Greatly. Very much! St. Louis is like those other great cities like Chicago and Memphis that have a great effect on how you listen to music. It's one of those places where, anywhere you go, you can hear, if not live music, street musicians playing, or just somebody with their car window down and they are playing maybe KDHX or something of their own. And the great venues as well. St. Louis definitely has had and continues to have a great impact on me. I am glad to call it home.
A: How about KDHX? Were you brought up listening to the station or did you come to it later?
O: I kind of came to it a little bit later. Growing up, my dad was a big influence on me musically. He listened to a little bit of anything. A little bit later, though — I'd say my teenage years or so — I started listening to DJ Needles and a little bit later Caron's show Wax Lyrical. Papa Ray's show is great. But I think a little bit later after that, my taste started to diversify quite a bit and I started to come along to KDHX. Really, it was great. That's why I'm so glad to be here, because it's one station where there's no format. There's something for everybody — that's what I always love about it.
A: Do you find yourself listening to the station a little differently now that you have your own show? Once you start, as a DJ yourself, you listen to other DJ's techniques — the way people set up their shows, the way they flow, things like that. Are those catching your ear a little bit more?
O: Definitely. I have been picking up on how different people do things, something as little as introducing a song and actually having some facts with it as well. I am always one of those guys where sometimes my friends are like, "Ok, we get it, music is your life." But I'll be like, "Oh yeah, there was that one record Curtis Mayfield released on Curtom in 1970! It was a first pressing, and that's the one that's got 'Move On Up' on it..." and blah blah blah. And they're just like "Dude, Oh my god!" But it's great to be here amongst people in that same vein because I hear a lot of those same kind of things. It really gives the listeners a great feel as well because when they're checking out something new — I don't want to say it's like being a teacher necessarily — but just throwing out great research and awesome stuff beyond it being just a song or album gives more of a flavor and feel to what you play. That's one of the things I like about a lot of DJs here, because if you listen to other radio stations, it's, "Ok, here's Led Zeppelin 'Stairway to Heaven'," and that's about it. And I'm like, "Tell me more!" I'm one of those people who always want to learn a little bit more about something when I'm hearing it. I have come to find out there are a lot of other people like that too.
A: Well, that's the beauty of a station like this, where we have the freedom to do that, and I think people look to the station for that little bit extra. People definitely tune in for the music first and foremost, but to be able to have the open mic where you're allowed to give that added context. And then people can call you; they can email you...
O: It's a very interpersonal type of feel. I've had tons of great conversations with people during my show on the phone. I've learned a lot from them as well. I have had some people request to hear some song and I'll be like, "Oh, I haven't heard that." Like the Nick Waterhouse album that came out last September. I'd heard of him — he's like a newer soul guy — but somebody called in around then and was like, "I don't know if it fits your format, but if you can play it, that'd be great." I checked it out and thought, "Oh man, this record is great. Thank you for teaching me something." Again, that's the beauty of music. I never claim that I know absolutely everything about music. No one knows everything about music. It's impossible. Somebody's making a new gem right now that we don't know about. For that to be very reciprocal and have somebody tell you about something as well, it's really great. So that's one of the many things I love about KDHX.
A: So you mentioned your dad, I remember one show, it might of been his birthday, and you were sending a shout-out. I wish I could remember the song....
O: It was REO Speedwagon's "Roll with the Changes." I may have followed it up with The Stylistics or something like that. But that was my home, coming up. That was my dad's record collection range — everybody from Peter Frampton to Donald Byrd to Prince! It was all over the place.
A: I keep this running list in my head that I want to write down someday and send to certain people — but I have this list of these moments in my life where certain people have introduced me to certain artists and genres. I call it my musical gratitude list. My parents are on the list for sure. They never pushed music on me but their influence was always there. But they had their vinyl record collection. And it was just a great thing of flipping through as a kid, even just pulling out the covers that struck my eyes as a child, things like Magical Mystery Tour and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, you know...
O: Oh yeah, those very intricate and loud, flashy covers.
A: Yeah, they always had animals on them. But those were the gateways to listening to music, and throughout my life, I've had this great group of friends who have helped me get to know a little bit about everything.
O: You realize there's just so much out there.
A: Exactly, there is! And you really never learn it all. But I just remember, say, my friend Philip introducing me to the Kinks. I'm always so grateful to those people, because those are the doors that were opened and lead you further and further in...
O: It molds you into not only the kind of musical person you are but the kind of person you are as well. It's funny you mention that about the Kinks. I was thinking about one of my good friends who I use to work with, Pat. We were not too far off the same age. I was maybe 19, he was maybe 20. He was like, "Yeah, you ever checked out this Brian Eno guy before?" And I was like "No, I don't really know much about him." Well, that changed my life. I mean Another Green World by Brian Eno is just one of those records that's just — And it'd been out, of course, since '75, but I was like, "How am I am just finding out about this?!"
A: I know. Those are the things I kick myself with. I am so embarrassed, "Why have I not listened to this?!" For me I also have my list of shame. Even Led Zeppelin — I mean, of course I know all of their radio hits, but I've never dived deep into their catalogue.
O: Yeah, the deep stuff — like "The Crunge"!
A: Yeah, and it was just like, "Am allowed to do that?" I remember I came to the Velvet Underground very late in life. I was like 20, and my friend Cindy, she said, "You can't start listening to them now! You're too late, you are too late."
O: That was the same with me. "Andy Warhol." That first record, I bought that album when I was like 20 or 21, and it was one of those where I though, "I am just catching up onto this!?" I could have been like, "Yeah, I knew what that was about." "Femme Fatale" and Nico and all that kind of stuff. The good thing with that, though, is that it's never too late. You might think it's a little bit late, but as long as you are getting into it in some sense, it's like meeting a mutual friend. You already have that bond and you equate it with someone who put you onto it. It's one of those things that provides a great memory — not only the music but the person that gave you that info. Again, that's the beauty of music. You might hear something and you think about that old friend or that old lost love or acquaintance. It's great.
A: So you are a young man. I won't say how many more years older I am than you are...
O: No such thing as age — it's all on the mind.
A: But on Radio Rio, my favorite genres come out of the '60s and '70s. And I think the 1970s were one of the richest decades across the globe — for film, for music. It was just this amazing time. But the '70s doesn't get as much respect as it should. I think if people went back and re-inspected what was created in that time they'd be blown away.
O: It is a golden period. There was so much that came out in the '70s, you can kind of get bombarded with it in a way, and that can go for films as well. I'm not even gonna lie — I mean, The Godfather is my favorite film — and all these other classics.... There is so much that's out there. You think of the '70s, you think of one or two things and that's kind of about it, because people talk about them so much, but there are so many other things that happened in that decade that are great.
A: So on Night Grooves, of course, you draw from many different time periods, but you there's definitely a lot of '70s stuff in there. What's the draw there for you? Can you pinpoint it?
O: Ever since I was kid, my parents were like, "You were definitely here before. This is right, but it's not right." From the '70s, specifically, everybody likes the hits. You can't lie. You can't be like, "I'll never listen to another Motown song ever again." That's just not true. Like you were saying with Led Zeppelin, it was the same thing with me. When I first heard them, it had just been the hits, but then I started to flip over those records and hearing all those other songs as well and those end up being some of my favorite songs. It was like that with me for everybody. I remember as a kid I was especially like that, and it hasn't really changed much. I've always been that person who, if there's a new album that I hear and it's featuring a hit, I'm going to listen to every other song but the hit. Those are some of the greatest tunes that I've ever heard before. And it's kind of, I don't know, not sad necessarily, but one of those things where people just, nowadays, when a new album is released, there aren't many album cuts. There are just singles and that's it. It is what it is, but that's really the gist of the show in a way: it's more album-cut oriented rather than just single- or hit-oriented — something the listener may already have in their library, but they don't know it. I remember, on one of my first shows I was playing I think a Steely Dan song and a person was like, "I have had that record for 20 something years and I didn't even know that song. I'm gonna go listen to that now." I think that's really the gist of it all — especially from the '70s — it's that B-side feel. Flip those records over.
A: I feel like KDHX is the home of the B-side. "We will take you to the B-side!"
O: Yeah, I'd like you to have a little bit access to it, not too obscure, but something that's always been there that you never really appreciated.
A: Right, well your show seems like the perfect format for that, where you are definitely playing something familiar and a lot of the artists you play have a very distinct sound, like Steely Dan: you know who it is when you are listening to it, but that serves as a gateway to going beyond just the hits, which is great. I think people rely on that from us. I always like to mention the first time I ever volunteered to answer phones here during a membership drive; some guy said he had to swerve off the road, had to stop his car on the side of the road, because Doug Morgan had just played a Jimi Hendrix song. "I can't believe you just play that on a radio!" he said. That kind of moment where it is familiar, but you don't get to hear it that often. There's this recognition: "Of course there's this deeper catalogue of music from people like Jimi Hendrix!" But you never get to hear it. It's so great to have a show that will take you back into that realm or remind you.
O: Absolutely. Doug is the king of that. I talk to Doug on the regular, he's great. His show The Record Sto' is a big influence on my show — to give props where props are due. But something I get a lot of flack about is that I am a big live-album person. I like to play a lot of live cuts totally distinct from the studio version.
A: It offers a different experience. Doug Morgan is one of those people who has brought up your name for so long: "You got to get this guy on air! He is young, but he has this catalogue in his head. It's amazing!" He has always touted you: "He must be on the air." I am very glad it's finally happened. So tell us what you do for your day job?
O: Of course, musically inclined, I work for Vintage Vinyl in the Delmar Loop. I have been there for seven years. I do quite a few things there — I'm a manager and I also handle the marketing and promotion for the store as well. Going back to St. Louis being a very influential part of my life musically, that really was the beginning of it. My father was first, of course. I went through his records. He has about two stacks of records in his old apartment building that we used to live in. I was like five or six, and they were way up — I couldn't get to them. I asked him, "What are those things up there?" He was always like, "Don't worry about it. You don't need to know." One day he brought them down, it was Isley Brothers, Chaka Khan, very soul heavy. I started to going through them and a few days later, he brought me my first turntable, which I still have. I remember playing those suckers until they were all worn out. After a while, I got, not burnt out on them, but I was familiar with all of them. And then, when I was eight, he took me to Vintage for the first time. Every time I would get some allowance, I would spend my money over at Vintage Vinyl, so now it's just turned it into a paycheck — spending my money at Vintage Vinyl.
A: It's all very dangerous.
O: Oh yes, seven years worth of that! The collection is just accruing, constantly.
A: I use to work at Dusty Groove up in Chicago. And one of the reasons I do the Brazilian show is because I got this amazing education at that store. It was an absolute deluge of stuff I had never heard before, and it just rocked my world across the board — Brazilian, soul, all of it. It was one of those intense times. And I couldn't stop spending money! It was terrible!
O: And that's the thing, too. When you are familiar with all that stuff, the rock and the jazz and the soul — and then get hip to the Latin jazz section or Gal Costa something like that. The thing with all of those international records is that there are so many musicians on them and they each did records themselves. It's like a never ending game — you have to find all of them. I was in Columbia [MO] a few months ago and I found an Arthur Verocai album and I was like, "I've been looking for this album for ages!" Working at a record store, you never stop learning. It's a constant. I've been telling myself for seven years now that I'm gonna stop on records, but then next week comes along, and I'm saying, "I can go without eating for today. This double-LP reissue of something I totally had already just came in and I need to buy that again! — so I will just go without food." In a way, that's really a sense of me, that place. It's really had a huge influence on me. Some days I still wake up and I'm like, "I work here?!" It's a beautiful thing, and that's also a huge part of St. Louis I believe: we get so many people who come through and purchase LPs. And it's so great seeing — I don't want to say re-creations of me, but younger kids, like ten or eleven, coming in and they're going through those 2.99s and asking about, I don't know, a Grateful Dead album. And I'm thinking, "Oh, your mind is just about to be blown." It's just great to see that.
A: Do you have any regulars who come in and ask for your advice?
O: There is this one kid who used to come in quite a bit. I still keep in contact with him — his name is Luke and I think he left town to go to school. I need to start doing this more: putting blurbs on our favorite albums and why we like them and that kind of thing. We would keep a catalogue of whose write-ups would sell, and I noticed that my stack would get high and I thought, "Is somebody buying all these at once?!" And then I actually ran into him and he was like, "So you're the guy who's been writing these up! Man, I can't go wrong with your suggestions!" It was stuff from Pat Metheny to Hall and Oates or something. It was really cool.
A: And now that you're a DJ, you will have a new little army. You will have these people looking to you.
O: It's kind of already started since I made a Facebook page for the show. At first I just started with inviting friends and stuff to like it. I post some musical news in there and, during the show, what I will be playing. I like to have interactions with listeners. I love feedback. I love that. Just talking music. I honestly don't think I know anything better than that — and I went to college! So that's saying something there. Sorry Mom and Dad! That degree was great and all, but I am just saying this is my heart and soul.
A: How about live music? You get out to many shows here?
O: Quite a bit. A lot of mainstay venues — Off Broadway and the Pageant, of course, as they're not too far away. Seeing shows is another great way to get hip to so many great acts. I've seen so many openers that are favorites of mine now.
A: Do you tend to go to shows of bands that you know or do you go even if you might not know the band?
O: For the most part, I tend to go if I know them. But there's was this group — Moon Taxi — that was coming and I was reading up on, and they're whole description just sort of fit me to a T, so I checked them out and they were amazing. They're from Nashville, progressive rock, that kind of thing — and I was just oogly-eyes. But for the most part, I like to keep it pretty familiar — but, again, the openers often become my favorites. Like the Districts, a great young group, hard-hitting rock. I saw them when they opened for White Denim a couple years ago. And Charlotte Day Wilson. She's totally multitalented — plays sax, bass, guitar. I was like, "Oh my god!" But yeah, through concerts I learn about a lot of good stuff.
A: You cover it all.
O: I try. Such a tough job. [laughs]
A: Yes, such a tough job. And so nice that it comes so easy to you.
O: I know — can't you hear the stress in my voice! Just ridiculous.
A: Is there anything you would like to add? We are so glad to have you as part of the KDHX crew, so once again, welcome.
O: I am just gonna say the gratitude this place has given me ever since I have been here, it's like a whole other realm. It's really an honor for me to just be here, to be able to spread joy and happiness through music is just a completely blessing. It's kind of beyond words. I am really just glad to be a part of this crew and this organization. St. Louis — I won't even say that they don't know what they have, because they do know what they have. That devotion shows every pledge drive. But it's great that we have this station here. We are quite fortunate to be able to deliver music to the listeners and the listeners are the fortunate to get it. It's great on both ends.
A: Agreed. Without independent radio — or independent music stores — we'd be regulated to mainstream stuff that wouldn't take anyone very far.
O: Yeah, technology these days is really great but people know the difference between easily getting this stuff online and experiencing it in the actual physical form. They're dedicated — to listening, to being there — they know how unique and magnificent that is. It's great we have these platforms where we can actually speak about these kind of things. Just turn people onto it. It's an amazing thing.
If you can't wait until the next Friday at 7pm to tune in to Orlandez on Night Grooves, remember that every show on KDHX is available for streaming for two weeks through our archives.
On Friday, August 25 at the Old Rock House, G.Wiz, D-Ex, DJ Alejan, Needles and Iceman Stylz will gather for a special Hush Groove event celebrating 30 years of KDHX. In advance of the event, Wil Wander of Elevated Rhymestate spoke with DJ G.Wiz about the legacy of rap and hip-hop at the station and what to expect at the silent party with three DJs mixing live on three different headphone channels. For a double dose of G.Wiz, follow up Friday's Hush Groove with this month's Musical Edu-Tainment, "Blue-Eyed Soul: Chapter II," at the Stage at KDHX on Saturday, August 26.
Wil Wander: You've been in hip-hop & DJing even before KDHX was around.
G.Wiz: That's true, that's right.
WW: So where did you start pre-KDHX?
GW: I started right out of high school — in 1978, yeah. [laughs] I was brought in by Sylvester the Cat [Sylvester "The Cat" Caldwell] who later started Churban Radio here. (Now his brother Ray is doing Churban.) But Sylvester got me started DJing. I was doing frat parties, house parties, skating rinks and all that stuff, then I got into KDHX through Russ Girard aka LG when he started the hip-hop show African Alert in '87 or '88. It was a year later that he brought me in.
WW: Could we say that African Alert was the start of hip-hop on the radio in St. Louis? Or is that too much of a claim?
GW: Well, I don't know. I know there was rap played on the radio — very, very little. But there was also rap shows. Marley Marsh did a rap show over at WashU and I think a couple of other colleges, community colleges were doing stuff — but I'm not quite sure and I don't want to stake a claim.
WW: Alright, fair enough. But we were in there, though!
GW: Oh definitely, because this was during the time when commercial radio was putting billboards up saying, "We don't play rap," so yeah, it was ground-breaking.
WW: Right. "You can avoid it by listening to this whatever station" — don't need to name names....
GW: I could name names! [laughs] But, yeah, it was definitely a launch pad. And it took a little persuading to get hip-hop on KDHX but they gave in and thirty years later it's still here. And all those shows branched off that one show.
WW: Hip-hop is still maybe a struggling minority amongst KDHX shows, but it's not forgotten.
GW: It's not forgotten, right. It's not a step-child or anything — it's in the house, it don't eat much, but it gets fed. [laughs]
WW: How long were you on KDHX?
GW: I was actually on for a ten-year stretch — from '88 all the way to 1998. And that's from African Alert and then when Russ passed the show onto me, I changed it to Street Vibes. And I kept Street Vibes up until '98 and then I passed the show to Fly D-Ex & DJ Alejan, and they changed the name to Da Science. And they ran that stretch as Da Science until 2006 or 2007 when it turned into Deep Krate Radio, which is on the air currently. When I came back to KDHX in 2007, I brought Needles in — and we started a show called The Remedy. We did The Remedy for two years, and then I stopped and Needles started his show Rawthentic, which is on the air now.
WW: I remember that Da Science wasn't just a radio show...
GW: Yes, the radio show was a live broadcast from the Duck Room at Blueberry Hill.
WW: I remember this friend of mine who joined the Navy when he was 18 who gave me this CD that just said "Da Science" on it. He was like, "I know you like rap and hip-hop! I think you'll like this." I was perhaps not ready for it, but now I really wish I had it somewhere.
GW: You blew it! You blew your chance! [Laughs]
WW: I did. At that age, I wasn't quite into the independent scene yet. Now you got Needles in and he's doing Rawthentic now and you talked about Street Vibes — Alejan was on there?
GW: Alejan was a guest DJ on Street Vibes and then he went to Da Science. And then, as time went on, Da Science brought on other DJs — B. Money, Grocery, among other folks — they always had guest cats comin' on. And then when D-Ex changed it to Deep Krate, he brought in Furious Stylz — Iceman, who actually runs the show now.
WW: So to celebrate the 30 years of KDHX as well as the hip-hop on KDHX, you guys have an event coming up at the Old Rock House in August.
GW: True indeed!
WW: Pretty much everyone involved in that event you've already mentioned in this conversation, right? You've got four DJs spinning?
GW: As we know them now, there's five and probably some extras who may stop by. But me, Alejan, Fly D-Ex, Needles, and Iceman on the turntables.
WW: Now what's the date on that event?
GW: It's August 25th — Friday Night at the Old Rock House. Hush Groove, which is the name that I have given my events, basically entails the quiet or silent headphones. And instead of quiet or silent, I call it "hush." So, basically you come to the venue and you don't hear any music until you put your headphones on, and you have the ability to switch to any DJ — and three DJs will be spinning music at the same time — you can choose whoever you want to listen to, at your own convenience, at your own volume control. And you can talk to the person next to you without screaming, you know.
WW: I love that idea. I'm also interested to see what it looks like when you have people on the dance floor dancing to three different songs, maybe it will just look like a movie where people don't listen to the music as they dance. But I'm picturing some people with a fast beat and some people have a slow break. It will be interesting to see the mix of physical responses out there.
GW: The physical thing is — you've got two entities going here: the sight and the sound. Looking at a floor of people going to three different grooves throws your equilibrium off, but it doesn't matter, because it's all virtual. It's like driving down the highway with your windows rolled up — you got somebody going slow, somebody speeding, somebody driving crazy — but you deal with it, right?
WW: You stay in your lane and you're fine!
GW: Yeah! And you're cool! I mean it trips you out, but you really don't trip off it like that. You actually laugh at it 'cause it's funny. Now you really wanna trip? Take off your headphones, listen to the ambience of the room, and you hear people singing or rapping and they're saying the wrong words — that's hilarious.
WW: [laughs] Oh yeah, I'm picturing that now. I might get myself in trouble in a room like that.
GW: But see, nobody cares. That's the thing, because at events like that everyone's about having fun. You have the remote control in your hand, and you control what's going on inside of you. You know who's listening to what DJ, because the color of their headphone will light up, the color of that DJ.
WW: I was going to ask if there was anything like that, because it's so simple now. Just a little bulb that you can change. Will there be any kind of competitive nature with that? If you're the red guy and you see a pool of blue out there, are you going to be dropping something else?
GW: [laughs] That's one of the reasons why I chose to DJ as I do. Myself, Fly D-Ex, Needles, Alejan have a group called the Turntable Orchestra. We always spin together at events — the four of us together at one time. We don't have an ego-competitiveness amongst us. We all love the same type of music and we bring it like that, we don't compete against each other, so we don't really care if the room is all red and there are two blues over there and one green. 'Cause we don't really care. As long as everybody's having fun, that's all that matters to us. That's how we roll! [laughs]
WW: That great. You know there's usually a competitiveness from like the battle rap scene. It's taken over so much of the culture. I personally like to see the culture move more toward that type of feeling, even if it's in small groups. I like the idea of doing it for the love.
GW: It's for the people, man, for the people.
WW: So that event will be one of a few events celebrating the 30th year of KDHX. That's celebrating the past, but we've also got the present and future that we're still lookin' at. You're still very much involved here with your monthly Musical Edu-Tainment series.
GW: Oh yeah, oh yeah.
WW: I have to get through those crowds to come in to do my show! You did one on Nina recently, right?
GW: It was actually for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and it was a tribute to those who passed or struggled with breast cancer. It was a combination of people from Nina Simone to Minnie Riperton — you know, like 12 different women and based on their careers. For me, Musical Edu-Tainment is basically a live version of the TV show Unsung / Behind the Music, but it's done live. I read books, dig up information on the artist or the group and I tell a story showing video footage — performances, interviews — play some of their music and just try to give people insight into that particular artist. Where they started, who they started with and where their career went off to — that's what it's about.
WW: Well, not to put you on the spot...
GW: I'm never on the spot. [laughs]
WW: If you were to have a Musical Edu-Tainment event about the history of hip-hop on KDHX to this point, what would be the selling point for that night?
GW: Well, it would come from with Russ Gerard on African Alert playing some of the music that gave him the inspiration for the name of that show. Because at that time, the name of that show was based on the fact that hip-hop music was Afrocentric. You had the Poor Righteous Teachers, Public Enemy, King Sun, Rakim — so it was based on that. And that would be the beginning of the story. Then Street Vibes is when the music starts slightly changing — you had the more backpack groups coming out — Black Moon, Das EFX, Lords of the Underground — and as it evolved on into Da Science, you had the Talib Kweli, the Mos Defs, The Roots and all that doing their thing. So that's easy for me! [laughs]
WW: Right — that's something you wouldn't even have to prepare for.
GW: Yeah, I really wouldn't have to prepare for that because I was there. I lived it. I witnessed it. I was involved in it. So that's easy.
WW: If you're looking at the future of hip-hop in St. Louis and KDHX, what's your hope for what you'd like to see happen.
GW: That's the hardest question you've asked me, man! Whoa. Well, how about a curveball: how about hip-hop in primetime on a weekday?
WW: You're saying like that 7 o'clock spot ...
GW: Uh-huh, uh-huh!
WW: That would be interesting.
GW: It's never been done! [laughs] I'm saying that whole live mixing, back-to-back type style of hip-hop show — that true, raw, like BAM! It's 7 o'clock! Woah! Now, that's a wake-up. [laughs]
WW: That would definitely be interesting. I certainly hope to see that too. It'll be tough going into the future...
GW: Yeah, especially with the way the music is going. Everybody wants to curse. I'll be like, "Aw, this sounds good!" Then half-way through they start cursing and I'm like — "Really, really?" Did you have to use that word?
WW: So many times!
GW: I mean, I want to play this but I don't want to have to work to play it. You know? So you gotta start doing the edits. It's so sad.
WW: Now that I've been doing edits for a while, I have a library of my edited material. But when I first started edits, it was terrible. I was editing 15 songs for every playlist. I was dyin'!
GW: Those words are really unnecessary — that's how I feel.
WW: I used to say "wasted syllables," but at the same time, it's not always wasted.
GW: I mean, get a thesaurus!
WW: Yeah, like find something else to keep that rhythm you got going.
GW: Like, really, couldn't think of nothing?! Really?! I understand emphasis on something — but just to use 'em for no reason? That was the thing that always got me. I'd be like, they don't need that word there.
WW: I think we've about covered everything — anything you'd like to add in preparation for Hush Groove or anything else?
GW: I think people need to get their tickets for Hush Groove because there is the possibility of selling out. I'd hate for people to come to the door and be like, "Aw! I waited too long!" You need to go to Ticketfly and get your tickets. Now! Seriously! I'm not saying that on the quiet tip. I'm not saying that on the silent tip. I'm saying that on the hush tip! [both laugh] It's going to be an epic event, I can feel that. When I came to KDHX with this idea and they went for it, I was like "Yes. That's why KDHX is my home." They understand my ideas.
WW: I think that's a great point to end it on. I appreciate your time and everything you've done for KDHX and continue to do.
GW: Well, you know, anytime you all need me, all you have to do is call. Come see the Wizard.
The induction of five of KDHX's first generation of blues DJs into the St. Louis Media Hall of Fame happily comes as KDHX looks towards its 30th anniversary. Among those honored at the ceremony this past April were Art Dwyer, Ron Edwards, Denny Clancy and John McHenry and the one and only Tom 'Papa' Ray aka The Soul Selector. Adding to interviews with Ron and Art by Ronnie Wisdom and Sean Smothers, Andy Coco of The Rhythm Section sat down to talk with Tom about the earlier days of St. Louis radio and what goes into being a DJ.
Andy: So I'm curious about the early days can you tell me a little about your involvement, would you talk a little about St. Louis radio at the time and describe what appealed to you about getting involved with KDHX?
Tom: Simply the fact that KDHX literally provided the alternative to the status quo of commercial radio. St. Louis radio was very, very profitable for its owners in the 1980s and they certainly didn't wish to rock the boat in any way. At the time, the only programming you had for a historical look at blues and historical look at reggae was Leroy Pierson who had a show at KWMU in the early '80s. Those were very well-produced shows but eventually a new station manager managed to get that programming off KWMU. So until KDHX came on the air there was nobody playing the kind of undiluted blues programming that you were suddenly able to have when KDHX went on the air.
Andy: Am I mistaken in assuming that that was a substantial portion of the programming at the time, being that all of you who were recently inducted into the St. Louis Radio Hall of Fame were all primarily about soul, R&B and Blues? Was that a significant percentage of early programming?
Tom: I think that would be fair to say, but also that a percentage of programming at the station got transformed as more and more personalities were brought on air to do more and more different kinds of shows. For example when KDHX had its morning shows, two DJs in question were throwing blues artists into the mix, especially local blues artists. So I think that if not the agenda of management, it certainly was of the DJs doing it.
Andy: Was there a lack of that programming in the '80s following the heyday of race radio, clearly segregated...
Tom: Well, in the '80s you started seeing the beginning of the larger corporate radio companies acquiring more signals. For many years St. Louis had KATZ, an AM station, as well as WESL in East St. Louis, and although their signals were modest they tended to be very, very well placed in relation to the urban area of St. Louis where their listenership was. And those were very influential stations, especially KATZ — KATZ literally introduced an entire generation to hip-hop in the late '70s.
Andy: Can you talk a little bit about the people who were on the air at the time?
Tom: Well, let me begin by saying I always enjoyed listening to appropriate personalities to the music on radio, whether it was rock, whether it was blues, whether it was jazz, whether it was reggae, whether it was country-western. I liked hearing a DJ who you could tell had an interest and a knowledge and hopefully a passion for what they were doing and conveyed that over the air and by doing so created a sense of community. DJs like Jim Gates, Fatha Thines and Dr. Jockenstein really did that in the St. Louis black community. Those were very much household names and trusted qualities for an enormous amount of listeners.
Andy: I'm told we use the word "community" broadly here at KDHX. But I think what you're speaking to is a genre fan-base — there's someone out there who likes what I like.
Tom: Sure, sure. For example, if you go into the office of Joe Edwards — one of the first things you're going to see is a large photo of a very happy Joe Edwards at the age of 16 sitting at a radio board with a microphone standing there with his idol Lou "Fatha" Thines.
Andy: ...who did a program at KDHX for quite some time too. I was lucky to be around when he was on the air for a few years; he was really cool.
Tom: Compared to some people who called themselves old school, they are elementary in comparison.
Andy: So the Soul Selector, the man, Tom Ray, owner of longstanding St. Louis record store Vintage Vinyl — it seems like you've always been a record collector, but what about the record store business — how did you get started in that?
Tom: I was offered a job as a jazz buyer for the Peaches store that was opened on Hampton in 1975. Instead of finishing my college hours, I decided I wanted to be in the music business. So I took that offer, and within 11 months of that I was living in Manhattan and working in the music business there. I did that for a little over three years.
Andy: Were you record collecting before that?
Tom: I was record collecting as soon as I could scrounge money. I hated mowing yards as a kid but I'd mow a yard to buy a new record.
Andy: [Laughter] What were some of the first records you bought? And were they 45s or LPs.
Tom: Probably the first 45 I ever actually bought was "Good Lovin'" by The Young Rascals, but before that I'd bought soul and blues LPs. I remember my first blues LP by B.B. King was The Jungle. I bought that at a hardware store because the hardware store in that part of NE Florida had a rack of budget records. That's where I got my first Howling Wolf & John Lee Hooker LP, too. I guess I was probably about 12 years old.
Andy: Musical household?
Tom: Not at all — actually that's not true. I was very fortunate to grow up in a home in the 1950s where there were no Patty Page records, no Frank Sinatra records. There was none of that what I call non-rock '50s pop music. It was all pretty much country honky-tonk, and when I say that I mean Webb Pierce, Lefty Frizzell, Ernest Tubbs and Hank Williams. That's what my father liked and my mother liked it too.
Andy: So you had a turntable?
Tom: Oh, yeah, yeah...
Andy: So does that career you built in the music business ever interfere with your DJ identity as the Soul Selector at all or does it just enhance it?
Tom: Often it enhances it, but I think there's a separation in your head, the musical equivalent of the separation of church and state — of course, KDHX is the church.
Andy: I would think that the wealth of knowledge gives you so much to choose from that you realize the depths of the water...
Tom: Oh yeah. That's why I think it's important for people who are music-obsessive to try to have a life outside music.
Andy: [Laughter] So your on-air presence has a almost a commercial or slick style to it, and I mean commercial in the sense of race radio. How did you come to that style?
Tom: I think a lot of the cadence I use is Southern in origin. You used the word "slick" — I've got no problem with that word, but I never want to sound like an NPR announcer. I think the kind of music I play behooves the DJ to be economic and have a certain rhythm and stroke that is a segue from one song to the next...
Andy: That's the positive use of the word "slick" — greasin' the wheels a little bit.
Tom: And the fact is commercial radio often despite itself was the launching pad for the most astonishing kind of DJs on the radio. And it's long been my contention that St. Louis absolutely punched above its weight when you consider how many really good DJs were on the air at one time. And that was spread over a number of genres. It wasn't like I thought there was anyone in particular in St. Louis that I wanted to copy or imitate but there were all these radio DJs and club DJs who indicated the possibilities.
Andy: The club DJ versus Radio DJ thing has me thinking a little bit. I've seen you do club DJing and you have a real enthusiasm for it — and I think there's something really interesting about how the crowd reacts to what you'll play next. How would you describe the different feelings you get from being a performer on the radio versus a performer on stage?
Tom: It's just the difference between being in a room of kindred souls. And it's just much more of an immediate social setting. It makes you want to connect with your listeners and have a call and response. Again, when I came to St. Louis and started getting into clubs and seeing the older guys at their sets and how perfect they were at being the master of ceremonies in an evening using music as well as the people in the room as the gist of their performance — guys like Jules Carlos, who was a very popular club MC and personality who made his living in St. Louis for over 50 years doing that and being a promoter and this and that. It's an art. Then also seeing the close relationship of camaraderie between radio personalities and the visiting artists. On any number of levels, both parties want to bond to each other — the DJs are drawn to the people whose records they're playing and the visiting artist is looking at the DJ as his homeboy — "This is my solid sender here in St. Louis." It's like Solomon Burke telling me that when he came to St. Louis he didn't know anyone and it was Lou Thimes who took him around in a brand new Lincoln and, as he put it, "played my records before anyone else did and introduced me to all the people that I needed to know."
Andy: How do you get yourself pumped up to do your radio show — do you visualize an audience?
Tom: No, I get in the air room as soon as I'm allowed and go from there.
Andy: Is it all internal or do you draw from your audience?
Tom: I think about the audience and also about in the context of being here in St. Louis. Trying to make it a mix of old and new. Certain records can put brackets around or signify or reflect on something that's happened that day or that week. Then, if you take phone calls, that's sort of like the I Ching as far as what you're going to play that day, because chances are somebody will suggest something that you hadn't immediately thought of, would not have thought of, but when you thought about it you said, "Yeah, I'll do that here and then I can play this."
Andy: It's the "Yes, and...." Just switching gears here a bit — tell me what it means to you to be inducted into the St. Louis Media Hall of Fame this year?
Tom: A real, real life honor to me, 'cause it puts me in the company of people I thought were just magicians on the air waves. And I think when I'm really hitting on all fours, I do some spell-casting.
Andy: There's been a couple of instances, I recall, when you've left the air room and you had to share with somebody, "I think today was a good day." I always enjoy hearing that. What do you think about the other guys [Art, Ron, Denny and John]?
Tom: They're dedicated. They know their stuff. Each of us has a different take and view and rhythm. There's no carbon copies, everybody's one of a kind.
Andy: Did you and those other blues jocks at some point along the way step back and realize that you would be carrying a torch of a kind? Was there any kind of agreements among the group about who'd do what and how you'd do it?
Tom: No, I think the music gives you marching orders, if you're so tuned.
Andy: There's a real significance in this city to what you've all accomplished. You mentioned earlier that there wasn't necessarily a written guide to embracing St. Louis's blues heritage in the early days, but it was exemplified: people there and that's what was coming out. When I think of similar stations such as OZ in New Orleans, I think there there was a definite stated intention towards elevating the historical significance of the creative talent of that city. Was that just implied or ever stated here?
Tom: I think that given that everyone involved, for the most part, are musicians and musicians whose work to a greater or lesser if not exclusive extent had them playing in a blues context — I think that helped enhance the drive and dedication and desire. I mean it's a great, great feeling to me to play a record that you might have heard 20, 25, 30 years before you went on the air, and that record still sounds great to you. Especially when it's one of those records where if you wanted to you could wear yourself out playing other recorded variations of what this person did in two-and-a-half minutes in 1957.
Andy: Any concern about the art form — about the blues' resonance and lasting-power?
Tom: It's so deep in the DNA of the collective American music that I don't think it's going away. It will obviously change because the people change — and that the person in 2020 that will be making that music almost certainly did not pick cotton, almost certainly did not come up in the same historical conditions that spawned blues musics. When that music first came up — if you think about it — there certainly were cities, but a much larger part of the population still lived in a rural setting. So that's changed. Sometimes when I'm on the air, I say that I'm playing blues for the twenty-first century. I don't want to do something I consider archival. If I didn't think it was relevant to today at 4 p.m., I don't think it would be nearly as attractive to me to do, and I seriously doubt I would have done it for 30 years. To that end, I do think that these days the secret to having a 30 year career in radio is to do it pro-bono.
Andy: Did you ever do any commercial work?
Tom: I did a couple of commercials, but if you think of the '80s, corporate was so buttoned-down that — no fucking way, no way. It's not as buttoned-down now, only because of the fact that it's been stripped of so much of its power. I don't know if I ever told you this about one of the DJs I know who left St. Louis for a while after having a nice five-year-plus career on a major local corporate station. When he had his show in the '90s, you went in, there were two interns, a producer, and an engineer. Definite support team. He comes back a few years later. I remember going on the air with him around then — no interns, no producer, same morning slot. He's the only person there. He told me that when he came back, he was offered exactly the same job, same everything for a third less than what he had been making before. So that's it in a nutshell.
Andy: What does that mean to KDHX?
Tom: What was that billboard? "We're all that's left." People in commercial radio, I think they all view themselves as walking on thin ice unless they're engineers and even they have to. You certainly don't see commercial radio supporting the tried-and-true radio personalities that they've had for years. You don't see them getting a bigger contract, and in a lot of cases you don't even see them being offered another contract 'cause management's looking for a way to save 20, 30, 40 thousand dollars by putting in someone who's green, they'll do that. They're doing it already. You've been over to one of these media mega-corporations, right? Man, what a plantation — it's all there. Right-wing talk radio: you got it. You want country: you got it. You want "real" rock radio: you got it. In one sales staff. I often think back there was a certain point that I realized what had changed in radio. It used to be that if you had a career in radio as a program manager or an engineer or the head of sales, nine times out of ten you had been on the mic, even if it was the graveyard shift, you had done radio. And when they started promoting sales to management — you got hired first in sales and then got promoted to management — I think that was a big change.