With a rapid-fire verbal style reminiscent of old time AM disc jockeys, Keith Dudding is known as one of the fastest talking disc jockeys on St. Louis’ community radio station KDHX, FM 88.1. Radio is normally a totally verbal format, but sitting in the studio with Dudding as he broadcasts his weekly radio show, Down Yonder, provides a visual analogue to his animated vocal style.
Perhaps it’s the thermos of coffee Dudding works through each show, or perhaps he’s just naturally "up" as he claims. Regardless, his energy level in the studio can be as frenetic as his on-air announcing. Whether he’s playing "air fiddle" during a favorite tune, or racing between studios as he juggles live and recorded music, or rattling off a string of public service announcements at breakneck speed, Dudding’s energy and love for traditional music is patently clear.
Dudding inherited the ten o’clock to noon time slot in 1993 when longtime KDHX deejays Terry Moses and Naomi Soule moved on to commercial radio. For the first five years, Dudding maintained the show’s original title, The Saturday Bluegrass Show, but in January opted for Down Yonder, feeling the new name was more in line with the variety of music he was playing. To Dudding, "yonder is out there." Essentially, he says, "I want to take people yonder. There’s all this great music out there and I say let’s play it."
The politics between bluegrass and old time musicians, such as the debate over the merits of finger-picked versus claw hammer banjo, could easily bog down and constrain a radio programmer, but Dudding opts for harmony. He likes both types of music and includes both on his show. Technically speaking, musicians such as Doc Watson, John Hartford, Bela Fleck, or Norman Blake defy any narrowly constructed category, yet all are welcome down yonder. Dudding designs his time slot "for people who like music and are open to it," he says.
As the time nears to go on the air, Dudding is a whirl of activity, selecting CDs from KDHX’s library, supplementing them with his own occasionally, working through a shelf of new releases, and rummaging through a back room where the vinyl LPs are relegated. He also indulges in a bit of muttering about a misfiled CD—"It always happens that the one thing I’m intending to play, I can’t find." At ten o’clock comes the headphone handover. Clint Harding ends his show, Blue Highways, and Down Yonder is on the air.
The listener requests have started coming in well before the show’s official 10 a.m. starting time. A blinking bulb indicates an incoming call; audible ringing would be too distracting while on the air. Dudding handles each caller politely, including those with requests which don’t even come close to Down Yonder’s format. After an announcement for a ticket giveaway, the bulbs for both phone lines start blinking. For the moment Dudding stays focused on the tall rack of equipment, advising "always cue your next number before you go to the phones." Practical advice-even though the tickets went to caller number five, Dudding has to field almost three times that many calls from hopeful listeners.
The number of requests hints at the popularity of Down Yonder. According to long-time listener Geoff Seitz, "it’s a show that plays a lot of music that I like. Even though that sounds simple, you never hear that kind of music on the radio." Indeed, although one can hear bluegrass shows or country shows on a few small radio stations, Dudding’s show is one of the few that plays such a wide variety of traditional music, including old-time string band tunes.
Dudding tries to balance listener requests with variety in programming to ensure that no one song wears out its welcome with listeners. "Some songs, like ‘the Delta Queen Waltz,’ I think of like fine china, and you don’t get fine china out everyday," he says. "I don’t want people to get tired of them."
To keep Down Yonder interesting, Dudding regularly works up shows based on a particular theme. He has done entire shows on songs about drinking, songs about jail, songs about life on the road, and songs about home. Current events might also spark an idea for a theme—the recent blue moon, or the demolition of the Arena, for example. Four times a year Dudding even does an "all requests" show.
Dudding also likes to promote upcoming concerts on Down Yonder, not only announcing them, but devoting a chunk of his programming to particular artists about to perform in St. Louis. Past shows have focused on Doc Watson and Vasser Clements, covering a wide range of their music and providing plenty of biographical background as well. When John Hartford came through St. Louis recently, Dudding worked to get him on Down Yonder. Already very familiar with Hartford’s music, Dudding boned up for the interview by watching videos on riverboating, a particular interest of Hartford’s and one that shows up in several of his songs. On that morning, Down Yonder alternated between informal interview and live performance by Hartford and his band.
Although live, in-studio performances aren’t a regular part of Down Yonder, Dudding jumps at the chance whenever possible. A live show might promote a national act like Hartford or a local group such as Cousin Curtis and the Cash Rebates. In-studio performances help remind listeners about old-time and bluegrass music’s historic "connection to the radio," according to Dudding. "This music was the popular country music of its time. Before records were as dominant as they are now, live music on the radio was the way people listened to music." Families would gather around the radio to listen to the regular live radio shows of musicians like Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. Dudding sees Down Yonder and KDHX as playing an important role in sustaining traditional musical styles "now they’ve been pushed off commercial radio and are only on community radio stations," he says.
Dudding takes his responsibility to traditional music seriously, not only through his radio show but also in his band, The Lodge Brothers, and by organizing the bi-annual Yonder Festival. The Yonder Festival raises funds for KDHX and provides a large audience for local acts such as the Flying Mules, the Ill-Mo Boys, the Orbits, and the Rockhouse Ramblers. Jim Nelson, guitar player for the Ill-Mo Boys, praises Dudding as "a big booster of local musicians. He’s got a lot of energy and he promotes not only local people, but he gets in a lot of out of town people too."
To juggle such a range of musical responsibilities, plus a family life, plus a day job at Edward Jones, Dudding clearly needs that thermos of coffee. St. Louis community radio listeners are also clearly benefiting from Dudding’s boundless energy and enthusiasm for the all that music from down yonder.
Keith Dudding and his folk music show, Down Yonder, can be heard every Saturday morning from ten o’clock until noon on, KDHX, FM 88.1.
One can usually tell about music: if the artist has really put some thought into the things he records, if he understands what he’s doing, if he respects whatever tradition he’s working from, stuff like that. Music can, of course, be pleasant enough without any of that kind of care and honesty, but it won’t stick in the mind for any length of time. Maybe ‘til the next offering comes along, but not for longer.
This album will stick with you. It seems to be the album that Frode Nyvold has always wanted to make. Each song is chosen for its individuality and sung with loving care, performed with painstaking balance between personal artistic taste and faithfulness to traditional style. There are two actual sailor songs, a couple of lullabies, funny songs, bawdy ones; a striking, tragic story told in an unusual, three-line form; a funeral song of a type traditionally sung by men and frowned on by the establishment as "heathen howling". Twenty songs altogether, all different. Frode sings and plays the accordion. He is joined on some cuts by Anon Egeland and Leiv Solberg, playing mandola, fiddle, ukulele, Jew’s harp, flute, and harmonica. The accompaniments are sensitive, astoundingly good and just right for each song. Even without knowing what is being said all the time, one is continually charmed and beguiled by the changes in mood and delivery, all held together in a cohesive work by Frode’s strong, straightforward voice.
The songs are all Norwegian. Without knowing what is being said, just listening to them with no clue as to what’s going on, you’ll be taken with how familiar it all sounds: tunes, dance rhythms, phrasing…especially the sea chanteys, which are actually bilingual, since crews on ocean-going ships were from all over. It’s neat hearing "Oh, du New York girl, kann du danse Polka?" And occasionally, how strange it sounds, drawing on traditions we don’t have. There are extensive notes on the CD. These are all in Norwegian as well, but I believe plans were in the works to include an English translation. I was given an English translation and will be happy to copy it for anyone who orders this CD and finds no English in it. (email firstname.lastname@example.org).
I’ve also done a bit of internet research and came up with a company who will order this and other Scandinavian music; no doubt anyone with minimal computer skills can turn up lots more places, but these people seem very cooperative and glad to help. Norsk, Ltd., at 770 Linden Ave, Boulder, CO, 80304; phone (303) 442-6452; email email@example.com and finally a web page: http://ares.csd.net/~sodaling/ should put you there.