On my second day in Arkansas (October 7, 2016), I left Fayetteville before sunrise in order to tour three radio stations on my journey back to Little Rock. My first stop was to KUOZ-LP at University of the Ozarks (more on that in a future post), followed by my trip to Hendrix College’s student-run college radio station KHDX in Conway. A low wattage class D FM station, KHDX’s signal barely reaches off campus, but that doesn’t seem to faze the 60 or so passionate volunteers who call the station home.
Located at a small liberal arts college, KHDX reflects the school’s emphasis on creativity and experiential learning. Students regularly embark on ambitious projects, including station-hosted concerts, compilation albums (Hear Hendrix), music festival coverage, and innovative on-air programming.
Student radio dates back to at least the 1940s at Hendrix, with carrier current stations broadcasting to the campus prior to the launch of KHDX over FM in 1973. Although staffers couldn’t tell me the complete history, they excitedly showed me various station artifacts, including newspaper clippings, documents from the 1970s outlining the planned launch of KHDX and copies of vintage photos. A poster board outside the KHDX studio tells a bit more about radio history through photographs and anecdotes from different eras. I was amused to read on the poster that disco music and Top 40 music were banned from the station’s airwaves in the 1970s.
Interestingly, one of the current KHDX DJs was around when the FM station first launched and has been a college radio DJ at a number of stations. According to his show description on the station’s website, DJ Danny Grace, host of the “Who Will Save the World Show,” started at KHDX in 1973. He writes on KHDX, “My first show on KHDX was at the beginning of Fall Term 1973-the first semester the station was on the air regularly. I was Station Manager from 74-75 and Program Director from 75-77. After graduation I became one of the early Punk/New Wave programmers on WRUW (Case Western Reserve University) in Cleveland. I created WHO WILL SAVE THE WORLD? at that time and that has been the name of my show ever since. I was a programmer in the North New Jersey/New York City area from 82-85 on WSOU (Seton Hall). Upon my return to Hendrix in 85, I was a programmer from 86-88. WHO WILL SAVE THE WORLD ? returned to KHDX in Spring 2015, so I have been active on and off as a show host for 43 years.”
KHDX’s faculty advisor Maureen McClung also has a deep history with the station, having first set foot in the door as an freshman in college in the late 1990s. After going to graduate school (where she DJ’d at KXUA), she returned to Hendrix College in 2011 as a faculty member and is now an Assistant Professor of Biology in addition to her side gig as station advisor. Since I had just visited KXUA the night before my visit to KHDX, it was interesting to get McClung’s perspective on how the two stations differed. She explained,
The way KHDX is run is worlds apart from how KXUA was run and I think that… you gotta have respect for that and sort of let it be its own being…and adapt, but also find a way to…help create your own little niche and contribute to it in a way that…promotes the goals of each station. So, KXUA is very much about promoting…unheard artists, really focusing on…an eclectic collection of music, at least that’s what it was when I was there. And when I came down here…Hendrix is…a very student-oriented entity…that’s very much reflected in the programming that we have here. Students are encouraged to explore their passions specifically, so we get things like the ‘Public Domain Book Club’ and ‘This Hendrix Life’ and ‘Elephant in the Room,’ where people are exploring political issues or literature or…just the storytelling on Hendrix campus and so I think we get…quite a range of…different types of programs because of that and…so it’s…much more about…expressing yourself at KHDX than it was say at KXUA, which…had a more outward goal of promoting eclectic music.”
McClung also pointed out that KHDX staffers are extremely collaborative, often sharing in duties and working on projects that might technically be out of their purview. Station Manager Anna Conard concurred, adding that everyone at the station feels like a friend, rather than a co-worker.
The station itself is a roomy, light-filled room at the entrance to the school’s Student Life and Technology Center. A big window faces the front of the building (and it can literally be opened up for fresh air) and another window looks out into the active hallway. A busy hub of student activity, the building also houses a dining hall, cafe, performance space, technology “clusters” where students can learn and work on projects, and offices.
One wall of the station contains wooden shelves full of CDs, LPs, and books, artfully decorated with holiday lights and station posters. A DIY program schedule is on the opposite wall, with individual programs described on colorful sticky notes. Post-its for programs that are no longer on the schedule are moved to the back of the station door, beneath the letters “R.I.P.”
The audio set-up is outfitted with turntables, CD players, microphones, headphones, computers, monitors, and a mixing board. Nearby, a sky blue wooden box houses KHDX’s Little Free Music Library. Station members are invited to pick up or drop off CDs into the box, in order to share favorite music, reviews, and mix CDs with each other.
The spirit of collaboration is palpable at KHDX and in the days following my visit, I was pleased to see that staffers were also excited to connect with people from other college and community radio stations. Before my trip to the station, I’d mentioned that I was coming to Arkansas for the Grassroots Radio Conference (GRC). Intrigued by the event, four KHDX student managers decided to take a road trip to Hot Springs, Arkansas for the conference. It was fun for me to meet up with them again in Hot Springs and even more exciting to learn that they found it to be a great source of inspiration.
In his recap of the conference, KHDX’s Technical Director Jacob Turner writes, “Having never gone to any sort of organized radio conference before, none of us were quite sure what to expect. However, once we arrived at The Springs Hotel and Spa on that beautiful Saturday morning, we definitely found ourselves in a like-minded community of people who were passionate about community and college radio from all over the United States, from Tucson to D.C. and Ames to New Orleans.”
I love the way that these college and community radio connections are being formed with every conference, field trip, and collaborative project. Soon after the GRC conference, I checked in with Conard to get her thoughts on the event. In addition to her recap, she reported that, “You inspired me to go on my own college radio field trips! I’m currently home in Atlanta for fall break, and today I visited WRAS and WREK, which I learned (after the fact) that you’ve also toured! They both had your red and black striped KFJC stickers posted in the studio. Thanks so much for the great idea!” And…as I’m finishing up this piece, I just learned that a whole bunch of KHDX staffers took a road trip to nearby community radio station KABF in Little Rock. It sounds like it was an incredible visit.
If my 100+ field trips serve to inspire others to visit college and community radio stations, then the bulk of my job is done! I started this whole project feeling like many of us have insular college radio experiences and I hope that with these tours we are all starting to understand more about the myriad ways that different stations operate.
Thanks to everyone at KHDX for a wonderful visit, particularly Anna Conard and Maureen McClung. It was also great to see Anna and more staffers at GRC, including KHDX Promotions Director Everett Roddy, Technical Director Jacob Turner and Concert Director Grace Norton. Hopefully we can all cross paths again. Hear more from this visit on Radio Survivor Podcast #70. This is my 116th radio station field trip report. Future posts will chronicle additional Arkansas visits, as well as trips to stations in California and Pennsylvania. See my most recent field trips on Radio Survivor and peruse a full list of my station tour reports on Spinning Indie.
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