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Doug Morgan | KDHX's "The Underground"

Doug Morgan’s been a presence on the local music for years in a variety of settings. As a drummer for the instrumental/surf band the Civil Tones. As a club DJ, tag-teaming with Chioke early and, later, solo. As one of the original principals behind the jazz-meets-disc-jokey Delmar Lounge. Most, though, will know him from his lengthy stint on “The Underworld,” a KDHX staple now on Thursdays from 2 to 4 p.m.

The show will soon change names, Morgan promises. Maybe by the time this hits print. Safe to say, though, that the blended approach that he takes to the radio gig will continue, even when he’s slid out from the under the name that’s been quietly bugging him since year one. We caught up at Tanner B’s, a few blocks from the KDHX studio, not long after the end of another Thursday air shift.

When you started the show, what was the initial impulse?

I had just gotten back to St. Louis after leaving the Navy. Well, after the Navy, I did my little European backpack thing. Decided to come to St. Louis to get a job, try the real life. I remember when I [first] heard KDHX: a Sunday night, I was downtown, Papa Ray was on the air. He played an absolutely mind-blowing set. I pulled over and parked, sat there listening to the radio for half an hour, thinking this was the greatest fucking radio station I’ve ever heard in my life. Asked around and got a little bit of feedback and, about a month later, I wound up working at Vintage Vinyl. In those days, I believe 90 percent of the board and the programmers worked at Vintage Vinyl. They suggested it: “You have some really varied, interesting tastes; you should apply for a show.” I put a demo together, I got a show, that was it.

Do you remember some of the early cuts you played from that period?

When I started off, what was going on at the time was a lot of Seattle, Wash., stuff. Sub Pop, K Records was coming along. Beat Happening, Nirvana, Sonic Youth, pretty noisy. One of the Dazzling Killmen, Nick Sakes, lived in my building. Also Uncle Tupelo was always over at the house, so I was getting into that stuff. It was all over the place.

How has the show changed over time?

It’s become more varied, if anything. To this day, I’m really happy I never tried to “genre-ize” my show, because it gives me a chance to play whatever I’m listening to at the time. Rock ’n’ roll and soul are two solid staples. Hip-hop I’ve always been into and always played a little bit. At one time, I’d play a little bit of it, between some things, but once I started playing it, I didn’t want to stop. Originally, the show was three hours. I went from 15 minutes of hip-hop to 20 minutes to a full hour. When that went away a couple years ago, I couldn’t figure out what to lose. Doing a half hour of hip-hop was hard to figure out; it’s where the chips fell.

Doing a two-hour show has a different feeling than a three-hour one.

It definitely has a different feel. I don’t stretch out as much, nor do I get as experimental. Before, I always felt there was an hour to play around with, so to speak. If I got into a certain vibe, I could take things longer.

What are some examples of what’s in your crate at all times? Are there some albums always there?

There’s been a KISS record and a Black Sabbath record in my crate for 15 years. It’s always there; I won’t always play it, but it’s always there. And James Brown.

Your listeners may expect some certain things at pledge drive time.

I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s one act; it’s more of a tempo or a feel. Keep it upbeat and keep the energy crackin’. On the whole, the shows always have energy and I crank it up for pledge drives.

The interaction with callers is so much different than with commercial radio. What do you get from them, in terms of energy and feedback during the course of a show?

I wouldn’t be on the air today if not for caller interaction. Fifteen years is a long time. There’ve been times when I was flailing around a little bit or feeling uninspired. “Why am I doing this? I’m an old man.” But it never fails; the phone will ring. It’s that one person that says, “I’ve been driving home to you for a couple years and it’s the highlight of my day.” That doesn’t happen every day; they come few and far between. But they mean a lot.

Being in a sort of public space outside the station, you must hear it there, too.

Sure, that’s where I hear more than callers, which is really nice. At a show, occasionally, someone will say, “Hey, I know your voice; you wouldn’t be Doug Morgan, would you?”

Early on, were there people you’d listen to and find yourself emulating a little bit?

I’ve been listening to radio pretty much my whole life, pretty hardcore. I’ve been lucky enough to hear the waning days, the heyday of radio, with jocks putting their particular spin on things. Jockenstein definitely had an influence on me, as well as everyone else in my neighborhood. I wouldn’t say I emulate their style, but I grew up listening to Wolfman Jack, Dr. Demento, a lot of the guys on KSLQ. KCFV was a huge influence. That station had the hugest impact on me musically, ever. I happened to actually be listening the day, the moment, they changed to the new wave/punky format. I was listening to my grandfather’s radio, bored and flipping around the dial and I heard the first song they played, “Video Killed the Radio Star.” Then right after the song ended, they announced this big moment. I sat there for three hours and called the other punk rock kid I knew in Baden, too.

How much has being a musician influenced your style on the air?

I would say it’s the opposite. Being on air influenced me as a musician.

Do you feel more tired and satisfied after playing on the radio, or with a club set?

More often, probably radio, because I imagine I rocked St. Louis. The club set’s pretty cut and dried. You either know you did, or didn’t. The club set’s a better feeling. To rock a house, have people jumping up and down, dancing and screaming is pretty awesome.

Any secret hobbies?

Nope; music’s my hobby, always has been. That’s why I love KDHX so much. To have an opportunity so long… I can put it out for people to enjoy; is awesome. I don’t think I’d take money for it. That would change it somehow.

 

 


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