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KDHX's Magnolia Avenue Studios. Photographs courtesy of KDHX
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Back in 2010, we reported that KDHX had finalized plans to move from its Magnolia Avenue studios to 3524 Washington, the Creepy Crawl's old space in Grand Center. After a lot of fundraising, and a lot of interior demolition (goodbye, dropped ceilings!), the Larry J. Weir Center for Independent Media is now scheduled to open sometime in mid-August. The building is named for KDHX’s former operations manager, who started with the station in 1987 and passed away in early 2010 from a brain injury (Weir also hosted Songwriter's Showcase, and epitomized the station's grassroots, community spirit; check out this very poignant piece written by his old co-host Ed Becker).
Last week, Executive Director Beverly Hacker and Director of Marketing and Communications Chris Ward unlocked the doors and gave us a tour of the the building, describing and sketching in the air what the space will look like later this year. Though the building is still raw, the pieces are falling into place: a workman was up on the fourth floor, drywalling the shaft of what will be a freight elevator, and the only trace of the Creepy is some graffiti scribbled on the back wall. The station is still raising funds—Hacker estimates $750,000 is still needed to finish construction—but once that's complete, first floor will house a coffee shop (with food catered by Triumph Grill), and a performance venue. The second floor will be dedicated to production, including a studio for an HD2 Channel, as well as one for recording live in-studio performances, while the upper two floors will be administrative and office space. If you've driven by, you may have also noticed some armature on the top of the building, too.
"This was the Federal Brilliant Sign Company, back in the teens," explains Hacker. "This is not where they made the signs, but this is where they sold them, and designed them. And we think that’s why the giant billboard thing is up on the roof." (If you've seen the clever billboards the station's put up recently, which feature local musicians like Jason Hutto and Tef Poe, as well as personalities like wrestler Gorgeous Gary, you can image the fun they will have with that.)
The concert space seats 125, but it can hold almost twice that if it's standing-room-only. KDHX will book the music (possibly including a lunch series), but the space will also be available to local arts groups; Hacker says that the stacked green rooms in the back will be equipped with bathrooms, which means they can host equity theater productions. It'll also be wired for audio and video. Though she laughs that old buildings are always filled with surprises, often unpleasant and expensive ones, this one had some very nice surprises, especially on the first floor.
"We could kind of see up there," Hacker says of the ceiling, which was obscured by dropped tiles, "but we couldn't really tell how tall it was. It turned out, there were 20-foot ceilings. The other thing we completely missed: there’s no poles. It’s completely uninterrupted space for the music venue. So it was like, holy moly, look at this!"
The ground floor at 3524 Washington, the future home of the coffee shop/concert venue.
The second floor is semi-public space for DJs, volunteers, and the hundreds of musicians the station records every year during in-studio visits. Currently, those happen in a smallish, improvisational space in a middle room at the Magnolia studios. "And you get Of Montreal in town," Ward says. "and they have 8 members and they’re all crammed in there…" Hacker says the tightest-packed in-studio was a few years ago, when they hosted an African drumming group with 18 members, and they had to run a ribbon mic through the middle of the room. So though they've always done a lot with that small space, the new building will make for much more comfortable and flexible quarters, all around.
"We'll have an audio and a video room here for recording," Hacker says of the in-studio production facility. "We'll also have four production studios, including one were we can originate HD." And where will the music library be? She and Ward laugh. "The library is on the walls!" Hacker says. "Everywhere."
"We'll always have a huge collection of vinyl," Ward adds, "but one day, we're hoping to go all-digital." (Or mostly, anyway. There's always the obscure gem that'll only be available on a disc.)
The station is also talking to Lawrence Group about preserving as much of the exposed brick as possible on this floor. "I love all the brick, and the girders," Hacker says. "We’re also getting new windows, so our DJs can see what the weather really is, instead of trying to guess."
The second floor will house production studios.
The other big news in 2013, which you may not be aware of (I am embarrassed to admit that I wasn't), is that KDHX recently acquired the Folk School of St. Louis, now headquarterd in Maplewood, which will make a jump to Grand Center, too. The new building is a long-empty storefront at 3323 Washington, a block away from Urban Chestnut. "We’ve been working pretty much as one company since June," Hacker says, "but it all became official in January 1. When we lost the TV station because of funding, we basically stopped doing educational outreach. We didn’t have the personnel; we didn’t have the facilities. So what came with the Folk School was Kelly Wells, who is the ED there, and she's become our education director. So our educational outreach has just gone through the roof."
For instance, next month two of KDHX's reggae DJs will be at the library, talking about that genre's history. And Memphis to Manchester DJ John Wendland's band Rough Shop will play a concert of protest songs for the Missouri History Museum's "Avenues to Activism," series. "We're doing podcasting classes, and a music collaboration with the library," Hacker continues. "So there's tons of stuff, where we can really tap our experts and do things that are great outreach, and really cool music education."
As for their on-site music programming, Hacker says it will fill an empty niche—the room is a unique size for the city. "And there are a lot of bands that don't have enough of a following to get a guarantee from most venues," she says. "But they have to pay for their travel expenses, so they can't really afford to play for the door. Because our costs are so low, we are able to book some of those bands on their way up, and give them an introduction to St. Louis." Six years ago, she says, they booked The Avett Bros. at The Focal Point. "There were 30 people there, expecting folk music, kind of sitting there like...." She laughs and shrugs. "But then, the last time they were here, they sold out the Fox. Our folks are just so connected with the up-and-coming stuff."
And one last cool newsy bit, though not all the details are nailed down: for St. Louis' 250th anniversary, a local arts organization is commissioning internationally known artists to paint murals all over town. And KDHX gets the first one. Though they can't yet disclose who the artist is.
"They’ve agreed to do it, but we haven’t seen any proofs yet," Hacker says. "But they are going to do the entire east wall."
Exciting stuff. We will keep you updated as we are able, but the latest breaking info (as well as playlists and station events) can be found at the station's website, kdhx.org. The station is still raising funds for construction, and has set up a separate page for that, forkdhx.org.
Disclosure: Stefene Russell is a former KDHX volunteer.