Q/A with Chris Ward of KDHX’s loudQUIETloud

Local man discusses his radio program and personal amusements.

loudQUIETloud was okayed when? And aired when, for the first time? How long had you been in queue for show? Had you been doing a lot of fill-ins?

My first official show was March 10, 2014. Here is what I played. I had first subbed for Ryan Heinz on Coin Operated Radio, may it rest in peace, at the old Magnolia Avenue Studio, while I was also Director of Marketing. I did a demo and put in an application. Once we made the big jump to Grand Center, the then-executive director called me aside to let me know I would finally have my own show. That was on a Friday. “I won’t let you down!” I distinctly said, no joke. Like a too-eager, rosy-cheeked Jimmy Olsen. I was over the moon. Then I was fired the following Monday morning as marketing director. But I kept my radio show, and have been doing it ever since.

Your background prior to KDHX? You came here specifically for a gig at the station, yes?

I moved to St. Louis in 2011, specifically to be interviewed for the marketing director job. Having zero experience, I was a perfect fit. My background was in print media: I was a staff writer and editor at Wizard Magazine and ToyFare Magazine, before they folded and/or became Robot Chicken. I also wrote a pretty well-received Barack Obama comic book biography. It sold 10,000 copies and I made $200. I was also a Certified Pharmacy Technician in Springfield, IL where I worked around narcotics, and I then worked at Jimmy John’s where I worked around narcotics before I got the job at KDHX.

Shows are curated in myriad ways, from pluck-off-the-shelf-the-night-of- types to those who have every second planned out. Where’s yours fall on that continuum?

I used to plan every single show out in a spreadsheet down to the second. Now that I’m comfortable on air, I never do that. The ideal show is to wing it completely and go where my mood takes me. In a live show in front of a crowd, you can read the audience and play off them. But I’m playing to the vacuum of space. I have no idea what’s landing and what’s not. And it sort of doesn’t matter. I hope that it causes someone to feel something, I don’t necessarily care what. I have had people tell me “when you played that song or said that thing, that’s exactly what I needed.” I’ve had people tell me “quick fucking talking.” I’ve had people say “You don’t talk enough.” I just want to put on a show, as opposed to just having a show. It’s FM radio in 2018, it’s like “whadda ya got for me?” Put on a great show, you know? There are a million options to do anything else. I’m at 11pm on a Monday, for Christ’s sake — take it or leave it. That’s my perspective. I’d rather be the best or fail spectacularly, there’s no reason to be audio driftwood or background noise. I just go into it feeling that, whatever I do, it might be what someone needs to hear at that time and resonate — whether it’s funny, or depressing, or earnest, or annoying, or irritating. A guy told me “I love listening because it’s like a train is about to go off the tracks at any second and I don’t know when.” That’s the balance I try to strike. A weird thing that has happened is I have extreme social anxiety now because of being so “on” in that way. There is almost never a time when I want to be at some public function, when I used to all the time. I used to love it, and now I super don’t. That could be my age, too. I get very freaked out and it’s a huge source of stress. I’m very much an introverted extrovert, which I didn’t know was even a thing until I learned about it and was like “AHHHH… yep. That’s it.” I think if someone who only knew me from the show met me, they’ve have a very different impression of me. Also, I never want someone to meet me. I just want to be at home.

What guests have appeared on the show and still register with you, in terms of how their appearances went? Which is to ask: who are your memorable guests and why?

Guests are weird, because … I don’t know. It’s hard for me to find a rhythm with guests on my show to play off each other in a natural way. Occasionally, someone will click. Jeremy Essig gets it, because he does a lot of radio shows and he’s a professional. Allen P. Williams is one of my favorite guests, and is hilarious and absurd. This is going to sound biased, by my girlfriend Melanie drops by occasionally and we play off each other really, really well. Like in a Howard Stern/Robin Quivers kind of way. She’s amazing. I do miss doing in-studios with bands, it’s been a while. I liked Cloud Nothings, David Bazan, Kishi Bashi, and Alec Ounsworth from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. We were able to goof around and they really got it. I hate interviews where it’s like “what artists inspire you?” I would rather argue about the best Frosty at Wendy’s. No one gives a shit about your music writing method. That’s not good radio. Getting angry about ice cream is good radio.

Your show seems to veer on interesting plane, in which it could operate as more of a standard, play-some-tunes show, or it could be a bonkers, sound experiment. Understand that you’ve had conversations with the station about where that fine line might exist. How do you ride that line?

To the station’s credit, they get it. They get what I’m doing and they’ve said as much. They’ve been really kind. And if my hand has been slapped, I try to be respectful if I feel I’ve earned it. I’ve been salaried staff there before, and I know what it’s like to try to keep KDHX running…the last thing I want to do is give them a headache for no reason. They get that it’s a show I’m putting on. I’m doing bits. It’s rooted in sincerity, but I’m doing a character, to an extent. I’m doing radio. Anyone who knows radio history knows I’m just ripping off Howard Stern, or Bob Reuter, or Phil Hendrie, or National Lampoon anyway. I’ll NEVER be those guys. They’re the best there will ever be. So I idolize and channel the spirit of what they do, and then I just try to be authentic to myself. It got bad when Trump was elected, I was relentless with screaming about him for weeks, and a guy called and said “I’m not going to give you money anymore if you insult our president” and I said “good, fuck you.” And hung up. And some people DID pull their funding dollars because of the relentless Trump bashing. But just as many people joined the monthly giving club because of it. You don’t have to listen to my show, you can just listen to another show. There are like 80 to pick from. That’s the beauty of KDHX. There was a concern at one point by management that I was being too divisive, because our mission is to build community through media. But my thought is… whose community? My community, the people I love in my audience I know are listening, are under attack, the way I see it. That’s the community I want to build and support — weirdos like me. This is our two hours to be weird. This is our two hours to say “fuck you” if we want. Or to say “here is an extended slide whistle solo, because today was a good day.” I like the manic nature of it. I was definitely told at one point “we love what you do…we want you to go right up to the line, but not cross it.” Well, “where is the line?” I asked. “We don’t know,” they said. Then we just sort of looked at each other. So that’s the rub. The average Howard Stern hater listens twice as long because they want to say what he’ll say next. It’s a show. It’s entertainment. Unlike Jaime Allman, I don’t drink my own Kool-Aid and become the embodiment of my own sad caricature. It’s a bit, but at the same time I won’t bullshit you either. I’m also maybe one of the few DJs who was a broadcasting major, and I’m not saying that to sound arrogant but to say I have a deep respect for the medium. And you have to know what the limitations are to play within them. “The devil knows the Bible like the back of his hand,” sort of thing. The Bible being the radio rules and regs. But I love that, because without something to push against there’s no creative challenge. Is it illegal to play a song called “Assassinate the President”? Actually no. Is it in bad taste? Depends on who you are I guess. And I didn’t write that song. I’m not saying those things. It’s on Spotify, and it meets their terms and conditions. Don’t shoot the guy pressing play. Don’t shoot any guys, for that matter. We’re just putting on a profoundly stupid show here by design. Maybe don’t think about it so hard. Maybe if I’m getting under your skin, that’s on you.

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What are your other favorite shows on the station and what about them do it for you?

I’m not just trying to bullshit, but just about every show has something so special I wish I could bottle forever. I know that is sappy. The entire station means so much to me. My friend Scott and I still text each other, randomly, “It’s 4 O Clock on a Blursday” though they, sadly, stopped their show. And we probably always will. Every show has these little iconic things about it that are just part of my life forever. But let me narrow in on one: C-Sides with Rick Comello. And here’s why. Rick is on after me every Monday at 1 am. One of the most positive people I’ve ever met. When I’m leaving, he’s coming in 1 am to 3 am. It’s really weird to form an actual friendship based on the 5-minutes a week we’re switching over shifts. And that’s all we see each other. But I look forward to it every single week. And not once has Rick played a song I know. The names of the bands, and the songs, are the most batshit insane thingsyou’ve ever heard. “Sleepytime Gorilla Music.” What the fuck is that? I’m just in awe of his devotion to a generally thankless time slot, and the kind of person he is, especially since he has a really early morning job! I work in the morning, too, and it’s not easy after that shift. I’m like “How do you do it man?” And Rick says “Oh, I just call it ‘Tired Tuesdays’.” Like…really? You just give it a silly name and that gets you through work the next day?? Guy is incredible. The next pledge drive that comes around, show a little love to those Dead of Night guys. Because they’re wonderful human beings.

As I don’t know: what kinds of performance have you engaged in? Bands, yes. Any improv or standup or storytelling? (Have seen you at Sorry, Please…,  but figure there are some/many things I’ve missed.) In short, your stage experiences over time have included: ___?

I think I was on the very first “Sorry, Please Continue” at Foam, which was then called something terrible I can’t remember…you’ll have to ask Jeremy Hellwig, Kenny Kinds, and Kris Wernowsky. I think I might have suggested they should just call it “Sorry, Please Continue” because they kept saying that during the show. I can’t verify that, or remember it too well. But I definitely said “this is like the Moth Radio Hour meets Mystery Science Theater 3000,” and that description stuck. I’ve done a few of those shows, and I’m never a good guest. I’ve guested on the best show in North America, which is Fatal Bus Accident. People should know it’s a fucking honor to be on that show. I was terrible on it, but I was so nervous because it’s so wildly beyond anything I’ve seen before. For a few years, I did a show with Jeremy Essig called “Loser: A Live Action Game Show” at the Heavy Anchor, which was very loud and very stupid and annoying. Those are all things that just don’t come naturally to me, so we retired it. I’ve tried stand up, and I ain’t great at it. Stand Up is the kind of thing where, like, if I worked at it really hard I might be able to pull it off and be good. I don’t mean that in a snobbish way like “Oh, I could do that.” But I mean I really feel like I could if I put in the work. But I don’t want to work at it. I don’t want to go to open mics and have social anxiety for 40 minutes and bomb in front of 10 people for seven years. Stand Up is fucking hard, and I admire anyone who puts that work in and gets up there but it just stresses me the fuck out. I’m also obsessed with stand up, and the history of comedy so it’s, like, who am I to have the ego to say “I can run with that crowd, and be that good some day.” That’s like “my band is gonna make it!” You’re not. You’re not gonna make it. It I’m better at writing, and I enjoy it more. I know my wheelhouse. I don’t need another thing I have to work at that stresses me out. But when the time comes that comedy demands another white man’s unique perspective on life, I might get a tight 5 together.

Lightning round:
A book to read: Wayside Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar
A magazine that you still pick up in print: Cat Fancy
A national comedian who makes you laugh: Norm MacDonald. Always Norm.
A recent scandal that bums you out: What’s this shit about “no added sugar” to Capri Suns???
A recipe: Toast an Eggo Waffle. Put a Snickers Ice Cream Bar in the middle. Fold it. Take a bite like a taco. Don’t ever tell me pot hasn’t ever brought genius ideas into the world.

Which reminds me: what’s this about you and pizza?

I have a strictly underground pizza operation that will soon be public. You’ll know when you know.