Born and raised in St. Louis, Steve Pick, 55, has spent just about every one of those 55 years absorbing as much as he can about music and music culture. Both a freelance writer and a veteran KDHX DJ, Pick has worked in various record stores since 1983, written (at different times) for publications such as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, The Riverfront Times and Jet Lag. But perhaps the most little-known fact about Pick is the role he played in the establishment of KDHX as the independent, listener-supported radio station it is today.
Back in the early '80s, Pick heard that the folks at Double Helix (a non-profit arts and media organization) were "trying to get a radio station back together" after the demise of community station KDNA. Between his jobs at Vintage Vinyl and Jet Lag, he became a part of that group that got the radio station back on the air.
For five years, he was more involved in "the politics of it" on the program committee, which he eventually grew tired of and prompted a short break from the station. In 2000, Pick returned to KDHX and is now the DJ of the Friday morning radio show "Sound Salvation."
Liz Schranck: How does it feel to be a part of and to have witnessed the birth of KDHX?
Steve Pick: It feels pretty great! Back in the day, before KDHX existed, there was nothing like it. And we knew all this great music that nobody was hearing and it was driving us crazy. We could write about it, but there was no Internet then; there were no other options. There were far fewer live clubs for bands to play in. Once KHDX got out there the club scene exploded because it gave people a chance to hear the music they could go out and see.
And now, continuing to see it grow, from KDHX's move from Magnolia Avenue to four floors of incredible resources!
Right. Well, we were there for a long time. And even before then, we were broadcasting from the actual tower. So if you want real comparison! I remember the first live music we had on the air -- when the Tom Russell Band came to the tower in Arnold, and I had to duck whenever the fiddle player would move his bow. That's how tiny the room was. Now, we've got this incredible performance space and state of the art equipment. It's come a long way.
What blows me away is just the sound in the air room. It's better stereo equipment than I've ever had, so I look forward to just hearing the music I own up there!
Which leads me to my next question. You play a broad range of genres on "Sound Salvation." Is that intentional?
It doesn't feel that way to me, but people tell me so. It's just the music that I love. I've never understood restricting yourself to one genre of music. That's boring. There's so much great music out there, so I listen to it all. People say, "Play something that rocks," or "Play a fast song." I don't hear it that way. It's either good or bad to me. So I'm not thinking like that. It's eclectic, I guess, but it's really all coming from the same place. It's all music that speaks to me and that has incredible passion, technical skill or some combination thereof that makes it really valuable.
It's clear from listening to the show you have that appreciation. There are many who stick to listening to or learning about just one genre.
What I really appreciate are people who are like that. There are people at the station who know everything there is to know about reggae or country, and I'm not like that. I know what I like and I also know how much more there is that I've never heard. I just can't focus myself that way, or stay in one place. I have to listen to all kinds of things.
I think both approaches are valid; that's just not the one I happen to take. I have a different background than most people who are music listeners. I loved records until I was six, then I switched to comic books until puberty hit, then I switched back to records for a year, and then strangely back to comic books for five years. So I was 19 before I really went into music "mode." I didn't grow up hearing a lot of the stuff people did who are my age. I had to go back to it. So, to me, it felt like a natural extension to listen to rock, then soul; rap was being born at the same time, then I discovered jazz, then I started hearing New Orleans cajun music and world music. It just kept growing, more kept coming. Being a writer and working in a record store, I was exposed to it. I had the access.
You mentioned you sort of came from rock initially. Why was that?
What really changed my life was the punk-rock, new-wave scene of the late '70s. It was probably 1978, when there was no Internet, no TV, no way to hear about this stuff. What you don't understand, being young, is how rare it was to find somebody who liked it. In those days, you could be beaten up, attacked, because you liked the Sex Pistols or the Clash or Elvis Costello. If you weren't beaten up or attacked, you would be threatened, or called a "fag." It was that dramatic. All people in their teens and 20s worshiped KSHE, and the music that was played on that radio station was what ruled this city. If you were going against that, you were the absolute lowest scumbag that there was.
I discovered [new wave music] by listening to KWUR, which was the Washington University radio station and still is. That station had 10 watts. It didn't go very far. Where I lived, in North County, you could barely pick it up. I would sit there and move the aerial every which way to try and tune in and hear that stuff better. Then I started going to concerts and meeting people that were really into the local music scene in 1979 and became friends with them and that grew from there.
So, that changed my life. If I hadn't discovered that, I really feel I would have ended up working at a job I hated, married to someone I didn't have anything in common with, just living a life that would have been awful.
It's amazing how much of an impact music can have on a person's life.
Circling back to "Sound Salvation": How do you go about creating your playlists?
In order to try and remember things, because I like so much stuff I don't remember it all, what I've done is I've put as much of it onto my computer as possible, and I just play it in shuffle. As I hear something where I think, "Oh, that should be played," I put it into the playlist. Then I get it to about 60 songs every week, which is more than you can fit in three hours. Which is good! Because I want to be able to, at the end of the show, be like "Oh darn it, I didn't get to play that," which is better than "Oh hell, I've got to play this song." So, as the show is going on, I pick the songs from those 60. That's my process.
You mentioned you were involved in the programming committee for a period of time [1989-1992 approximately]. Was that a part of your goal or was being a DJ your main goal?
The board came after being a DJ. I wanted to be a DJ from the get go. That was always my goal because it just seemed like so much fun. And I was right! So, when the station first got on the air, in those days, there was no real set schedule. It was so random. You might hear a folk music show at 7 o'clock on Monday one week, then the next week it might be heavy metal. There was no rhyme or reason to it at first. But the people who were on the program committee at first didn't realize there were all these volunteers who wanted to be DJs as well, even though there were applications. I still don't understand how that worked.
But what was hilarious was that there was a meeting one night, and people were complaining, wondering when there were going to be new DJs. They said there would be new DJs when they received more applications. I stood up and said, "What about me?" Then others followed. At the end of that meeting, one of the directors told me to meet him at the tower at noon. I showed up at noon and he said, "All right, here's turntable one, here's turntable two, here's your microphone. Any questions? I'll see ya." And I was on for four hours. That was a Wednesday, my day off then.
Afterwards he said, "That sounded good, you can be on next Wednesday," so then I had the show…. That's how it happened.