Although the show's name suggests speaking about something with great excitement or energy, when on the air Caron prefers to let the songs she plays do the talking.
We met at Kayak's Coffee last December, just after the show's one year anniversary to talk about the shows roots, discovering new music and how Caron always manages to stay so calm while on the air.
Brian Benton: When did you start at KDHX and what's the backstory behind Wax Lyrical?
Caron House: I've been working there for years, but I've been hosting Wax Lyrical for just about a year now, maybe a little over a year. My first show was a week before the 2012 Fall Membership Drive so I got thrown into it. There was a lot of scrambling going on, and I sort of got the show on a "we'll see how you do" basis initially.
The first few weeks were a trial run, and one of them happened to be during the membership drive, which was a little crazy, but I had excellent training and of course all of KDHX is super supportive and a lot of them even called in to donate during my show. They wouldn't let me fail. It very much echoes the spirit of KDHX, everyone looks out for each other.
Had you been thinking about doing a show for a while before the open timeslot came up?
It's funny how it started. I didn't have the hubris to think I could host a show on KDHX. I'd been such a fan for so long, and I really loved the eclectic shows. I really liked "Uncontrollable Urge" and "The Record Sto'" and "Coin-Operated Radio," and I really didn't think I could do that. When I started working at KDHX a few years ago, they encouraged all the staff members to at least be trained so we could fill in if there was an emergency or help out and know how things work. I trained initially with the idea of just being a substitute, but there is no substitute training so I had to come up with a concept and write up a script to read and make playlists and record a demo. The selection committee liked it, so that was a pleasant surprise.
How did you come up with concept? Have you just always been a lyrics person?
I've had arguments with friends who are instrumental die-hards, and I'm always arguing that the intensity and connection of the human voice is the most emotive, even more than an instrumental solo, so that was part of it. But I've always loved some songs for great songwriting and some for great music and it kind of came out of that. I would always suggest music to my friends or make them mixtapes (Laughs.)
Other than making mixtapes, did you have any DJing experience when you came to KDHX?
No real experience. At one point as a teenager I wanted to be a broadcast journalist, so I had some broadcasting experience for TV, but I was actually told that I could never do that as a career because I had a really heavy Southern accent. A really deeply Arkansan accent, so bad that other Arkansans noticed it. But after living in St. Louis for a few years, it really mellowed. But had I been told even a couple years ago that I would have my own show on a radio station, I would have told them they were wrong.
When you didn't think broadcast was possible, what did you change to wanting to do?
My first love was museums. I studied art history at WashU [Washington University in St. Louis] and my dream initially was to run the Tate Modern. So I went on to get a Masters in art administration and I had the privilege of getting to work at the Contemporary Art Museum here in St. Louis. I really loved getting to work in a museum environment, but music has always been such a passion too that when I got the chance to come on board with KDHX to lend a hand with music operations I had to take it.
But I guess the radio is kind of like curating a museum? The songs are put in a certain order the same way an art exhibit would be.
Yeah, and we talk about that a lot, about how the DJs at KDHX are your trusted guides and they curate the music for you. That's when you know a DJ is really brilliant when you hear a connection between songs or a new song that you never would have found on your own. I writing essays was listening to Jeff Hess who does Afternoon Delight, and he played an 8-bit version of "Stranglehold" by Ted Nugent and it just made my day. It was something that I never would have found on my own. It's not a type of music I explore; it was just a nice little treat to stumble upon, almost like seeing a Banksy as you're walking down the street.
Have you learned about a lot of new music just from having your own show?
Oh yeah, I listen to a lot of other shows so I sometimes cherry pick from other DJs, but I'm also fortunate that the Music Director's [Nick Aquisto] office is right next to me and he's phenomenal about bringing me new music that he knows I'll like or that he thinks would work well on my show and keeping me up to date. And then sometimes I just hear him listening to something and just poke my head around the corner and say, "What is this?" He is the only person who can hand me something when I'm on my way to do my show and can say "Here, play this" and I trust that whatever he's chosen will be a good option.
Do you think lyrics or the meaning of lyrics changes when you're hearing a song on the radio, or just on its own, compared to on a CD with the other tracks surrounding it?
Oh absolutely. I try to make an effort to listen to whole CDs but a lot of the time I do hear them out of context, just from the way I hear them on KDHX or because of the delivery methods of how we get music at the station, like just getting a track on Soundcloud to listen to. And sometimes it's better for the song, because it pulls it away from the whole album and makes it stand out more, but then there are other times when put next to each of the other songs [on the album] it can take on a whole new layer. I think Yo La Tengo is an example of a band that I really like to listen to more as the entire album because I feel like they really think about how different songs go together and complement each other.
Listening to your show, it seems very smooth and you usually play 30 or so songs, which is a pretty high number.
Yeah, I don't really like to talk a lot when I'm on the air!
Well that makes sense, because you're trying to let the music talk. But is there anything that happens behind the scenes that listeners don't see, or is it really as smooth as it all seems?
I'm really organized about my show. I think that originally came out of a serious nervousness to go on the air. I plot it out down to almost the second on an Excel sheet, what I'm going to play, what I'm going to say, just for my own safety net. I don't like to leave any room for error. I'll make notes by each song, like if the band is coming to town or if there is anything special I want to say. I try to plan out an entire show at least a few days before I go on the air so I have time to listen to it through a few times to see if there are any bumps that I can make better before I go on air with it. I try to get it as perfect as I can and then sometimes I'll change a song or two if there are requests.
But even when there are bumps, you're able to recover. I never notice anything that seems like a problem when you're on the air.
I once just completely lost my train of thought mid-sentence. And that's always been my biggest fear, and it happened the fourth or fifth show I did and while I was saying a sentence my mind just went blank and I stopped talking.
I guess that's part of why people listen to live radio though. You know there's actually someone picking out the songs for you to hear.
That's true. I just reached over and hit play. And no one ever commented on it, so I feel like I recovered pretty well.