60 Years of Stories! KCFV-FM
“The biggest thing we teach people is how to touch other people. How to reach other people, how to make them feel something, and just generally how to interact with them and communicate in a meaningful way. I think that will allow us to keep doing this for years to come.”
-- Paul Huddleston, KCFV Station Supervisor and General Manager
It started in 1972 as a 10-watt signal that, on a clear day, could barely be heard across I-270 from the St. Louis Community College-Florissant Valley campus.
Today, KCFV The Wave (89.5 FM) operates at 100 watts and streams live online, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to a worldwide audience.
“As it is, you can listen to us from anywhere over a stream, which you can get at rdo.to/KCFV,” said Paul Huddleston, an STLCC graduate who currently serves as KCFV’s station supervisor and general manager. “We do have listeners from all over the world, predominantly in the U.S., the Philippines, Ireland, London and South Korea.”
During its 50-year history, the student-run radio station has prepared hundreds of students for careers in radio, television, journalism, public relations and advertising.
“We were actually founded by a group of students who petitioned the president of the college at the time to apply for an FCC license. They did and they got it,” Huddleston said. “Everything that we do is done by students. I am the only non-student employee of KCFV. Most of the things that you hear on KCFV are students. If somebody is on air, they are definitely a student.”
KCFV is in Room C101 of the communications building at Florissant Valley campus. Blink and you'll miss it.
“I've had students walk past and one day poke their head in and ask, ‘Is this a radio station in here? You guys really have a whole radio station in here?’ Yeah, we do.”
In its early days, Huddleston describes KCFV as “kind of freeform, all over the place for the first couple of years.” The disco era did not go over well, and students started bringing in some New Wave records. Which became KCFV’s moniker – The Wave.
“When I was there as a student (1992-96), we played New Wave. At the time, it was just weird music that nobody had ever heard of,” Huddleston said. “We took a bunch of music nobody ever heard of, threw it at the wall, and some of it stuck.”
In addition to New Wave, KCFV’s sound has featured hip hop, rap, rock, alternative, dance music, remixes, some adult contemporary, country, rhythm and blues – basically a little bit of everything.
Huddleston returned to KCFV in 2005 as a weekend supervisor. Veteran general manager Diana Kirby was in her 32nd year, and unfortunately passed away in 2008. Another KCFV veteran, Tim Gorry, took the reins until 2012. Huddleston, an intern at the time, became the station’s third full-time general manager in January 2013.
“I kept having to introduce myself as the new Tim because people knew Tim. They’d worked with him for years,” Huddleston said.
Another big change occurred during Huddleston’s first full-time year. KCFV upgraded its systems and started broadcasting 24 hours a day. On-air personalities would sign on usually around 7 or 8 a.m., and then sign off between 8 and 11 p.m.
“Everything that played overnight just went on our stream,” Huddleston said. “We got an automated transmitter monitor that let me know if something went out of range, so that we're not in FCC violation. We got that installed, and up and running in 2014. Within the first year, we were able to start broadcasting 24/7, which was really cool.”
KCFV talent has become well-known broadcasters in St. Louis radio and TV, Huddleston noted. That alumni roster includes:
- Casey Van Allen, popular local DJ and radio production specialist
- Joe Sonderman, traffic reporter for iHeart Radio
- Dan Gray, veteran reporter and current news anchor at KPLR-TV
- DJ Kut, who up until recently was on 95.5 The Lou.
- Kiki the First Lady, former radio personality, voice-over talent and actress
- Donny Fandango, on-air personality for 105.7 The Point
- Guy Favazz, K-SHE 95 veteran
- Brad Hildebrand, owner/operator of KSLQ and KRAP Radio
- Meghan O., City of St. Louis’ “Lifestyle” host, local TV and radio personality
- Curt Allen, former on-air personality at K-SHE 95
- JP Soto, former on-air personality at K-SHE 95
- Miss Pooh, former on-air personality on Hot 104.1
- Aprylete Russell, Fox 2 News digital journalist
- Ben James, producer at NewsRadio 1120 KMOX
- Rob Levy, KDHX writer/podcaster/content creator
“I love seeing students be successful, whether it's in radio or television, or they get their own podcast. It makes me so happy to watch somebody be a success,” Huddleston said. “Even the ones that don't do anything even related, watching them come out of their shell. It’s just so cool watching that transformation happen.”
Joe Sonderman enrolled at STLCC-Florissant Valley in 1983, hoping to get a shot at Broadcast Center.
“I came here because it really was the only other broadcast education besides private broadcasting schools like Broadcast Center, and they cost a fortune,” Sonderman said. “The equipment here was better. And above all, you got something you couldn't get at those places -- being on the air and getting your feet wet and screwing up and making your mistakes here. This was such a bargain then, I used to tell people to go to Flo Valley because you're getting hands on."
Sonderman represents the era before the arrival of technology, before there were computers and before consolidation.
“I come from an age when you could be yourself on the radio, to a certain extent,” he said. “I sit here now, and I look at the difference, and it's like night and day. But the ‘80s, it was a wild time. Music was better.”
Sonderman spent most of his career doing music and being a DJ, but stumbled into being a traffic reporter. He now works for iHeart Radio, formerly Clear Channel, in the traffic division.
“If you have a navigation unit in your vehicle, that data comes from us. We have producers that sit, and we input the traffic flow in the data, and we do traffic reports in all of the iHeart markets,” Sonderman said. “Most of our anchors, most of our air talent, do more than one city at a time, and not only produce that data, but report for those cities from St. Louis or from Chicago.”
Sonderman reports traffic for several markets, including Omaha, Neb., and Springfield, Ill.
“I love traffic because traffic is changing all the time,” he said. “I could never have foreseen that. I wanted to be a DJ, but you're not going to make a living doing that anymore.”
Meghan O. enrolled at Florissant Valley in fall 2003. She had to complete some prerequisites before she could hit the airwaves.
“You had to knock out your first semester classes like intro to mass communications and the radio production class,” she said. “So needless to say, it took about a year, and I think I was ready that summer.”
Meghan O. cohosts a show that is specifically for kids, teenagers, young adults. It provides an opportunity for listeners to express their views on topics such as current events, mental health, suicide, parental stress, and stress from people in general.
“It's a really dope show, you know, being able to allow the people who are the age that I used to be when I was super, like, ‘how do I get in, I just want to hear my voice on the radio.’ Now being able to give back, I feel so honored, and I'm still getting paid to talk, and I love it.”
She marveled that KCFV’s technology was far superior to anything she had seen or worked with at the time.
“The technology, the computer, the system, the software, everything was more advanced here, and I caught myself going to work having to do extra steps because the software that they had was not as advanced as what was here,” she said. “The money that I was paying for Flo Valley, I was getting the bang for my buck because the software was way more advanced here than it actually was at a commercial radio station. And it actually blew my mind.”
For Meghan O., adding a song to the playlist was extra special. In her case, it was The Pussycat Dolls’ “Don’t You Wish Your Girlfriend Was Hot?”
“That was one of my very first memories. When I asked to play a song, and they put it in the system, I felt dope. Like I was literally contributing to the music, to that artist, loving their style and helping to help build up their career that's coming,” she said.
Sonderman had difficulty narrowing down to a favorite memory, but eventually did – a special Christmas tree.
“We had an aluminum Christmas tree in here and we'd drag a microphone out there during Christmas,” Sonderman said. “It had a musical stand, and we'd just played the music from the stand on the Christmas tree.”
Huddleston, who is 51, is excited to think that KCFV could be around for another 50 years.
“I don't know if radio will be around, but I know audio will be,” he said. “Will we always be a terrestrial radio station? There's probably a good chance. Will that always be relevant? Maybe, maybe not. Will what we do, and what we teach people be relevant? Absolutely. The biggest thing we teach people is how to touch other people. How to reach other people, how to make them feel something, and just generally how to interact with them and communicate in a meaningful way. I think that will allow us to keep doing this for years to come.”
Sonderman is proud to be among the personalities who got their broadcasting feet wet at KCFV.
“That's the best legacy that this place has. People who continue to contribute to a new generation now,” he said. “St. Louis has always been so lucky because we are so spoiled. We had the best broadcasters for a market this size. I grew up with Dan Kelly and Jack Buck and those guys, but you know, the’ 80s people, like the KHTR jocks, were freaking brilliant. And a lot of that is because we have a facility like KCFV. And for all that technology to change? The business to change the way it has, and for KCFV to still be here? I'm pretty proud of it.”
Meghan O.’s favorite memory is interacting with DJ Kut, whose career took off while in New York before returning to St. Louis.
“I felt like I was just as dope as him, even though I was still learning as well and perfecting my craft and my talent. But to know that all of us came through the program here at KCFV, there was nothing different than me and Kut,” she said. “There was nothing different between him and everyone else here. We all were provided with the same tools to take us into the real world and be great in our own way. KCFV was always ahead of the game. And 50 years later, they're still getting the next generation prepared to take over, it's always going to be a continuous cycle.”
Meghan O. and Sonderman hope KCFV expands its list of successful alumni by doing what it does best.
“Being able to shape and mold students, and getting them prepared for going out into commercial radio, that’s what I would love to see with KCFV in 10 years,” she said. “Just continue pumping out the stars that are here. Sometimes you’ll catch yourself noticing those professionals that you think are better than you, who are going to turn around and ask you, ‘now how do you use that system again?’ So, remind yourself that you are just as powerful and dope as anyone else. I don't care where you go, you can take that knowledge no matter where you are. KCFV is second to none.”
Sonderman hopes students continue to experience that initial adrenalin rush of being on the air for the first time, just as he did.
“The first time you turn that microphone on, and you get that feeling that you're talking to someone and you're accomplishing something – and you look back on it from 40 years later, and realize maybe you did create something special,” he said. “It may not have been apparent at the time, but this legacy that we've all created together is always going to be here.”
Check out more stories from STLCC's 60th anniversary celebration.