The real spin master

Joey Hill

The Marr Sound Archive on the ground floor of the Miller Nichols Library houses Chuck Haddix, KCUR radio DJ, director of the Archive and recipient of the Pinnacle Award for Excellence in the Arts by the Johnson County Library. Haddix often asks students who approach him, “What would you like to listen to today?” and happily unearths the selection from the vast array of the Archive’s material.

Haddix’s love for music and radio started at a young age.

“It began when I was a kid,” Haddix said. “I would listen to the radio, stations like WHB, KPRS, the kind you’d find on the right side of the AM dial, and KCKN. My grandmother also had this old Victrola record player that I would listen to records on. I also used to sit in my older brother’s 1940 Ford and listen to the radio and pretend I was driving to California. It would make him mad sometimes because I’d end up killing the battery.”

Throughout high school, Haddix collected  records and eventually got a job at a One-Stop Record store, which later expanded to Westport as  the current record shop, Penny Lane, at 4128 Broadway.

In 1980, Haddix and other employees of Penny Lane created the Penny Pitch, a weekly alternative newspaper, which would later became The Pitch.

“We modeled it after both other underground newspapers of the time and The National Lampoon,” Haddix said.

In 1984, Haddix was hired on to KCUR as a jazz-based DJ until 1985 when he began hosting “The Fish Fry,” a radio show which aired every Friday and Saturday night, and still currently airs.

“I put together a pilot cassette and gave it to the station and they liked it,” Haddix said. “They first had me air on Saturdays at midnight, but hardly anyone listens then, so it was much better when they moved me to Fridays and Saturdays around 7 and 8 p.m. and the show really caught on.”

The show’s theme, “Saturday Night Fish Fry,” performed by Louis Jordan, was chosen by Haddix for its “active and fun feel” that reflects the show’s mood.  The song tells the story of the singer’s experience attending a “fish fry,” a Harlem and New Orleans-styled rent party where the resident would fry up fish and invite guests to eat and listen to music.

Haddix has been deeply involved with the Kansas City art scene for many years, contributing to film projects like “Cronkite Remembered,” a biography of Walter Cronkite, “Kansas City,” a 1996 noir crime film directed by Robert Altman and “Mr. and Mrs. Bridges,” a 1990 film based on the novels by Kansas City-born writer Evan S. Connell. According to Haddix, it’s Kansas City’s “vibrant art and music history” that attracts him to projects like these.

In 1987, Haddix was approached to help develop the Marr Sound Archive. At the time, the Archive only had 43,000 recordings. Despite the fact that Haddix initially worked alone, he was delighted to work on the Archive and said it helped that, “I know records, I love records and I know everyone in Kansas City with a record collection.” The Archive now totals over 300,000 recordings, and a selection of antique audio players and equipment.

Haddix’s style is to expose interested students to a variety of music in the archives, but he doesn’t play regular material the student has heard before. He will play a rare live recording that lets the listener see another side of the artist. As Haddix puts it, “When you challenge the listener musically, you really draw them in.”

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