Chuck Haddix estimates that he spends about six hours a week programming eight hours of live radio, which requires lots of listening time.
“My turntable is in constant motion,” said Haddix, host of “The Fish Fry” on KCUR (89.3 FM). “I take great care in programming the show. I don’t want to repeat myself. I program eight hours of music every week, 64 tracks each night. Do the math on that. It’s a lot of music.”
Here’s another number: 30 years. That’s how long Haddix has held court from 8 p.m. to midnight every Friday and Saturday, showcasing a variety of roots music. But the show didn’t start out that way.
“The first ‘Fish Fry’ was in October of 1985,” he said. “I was on Saturday at midnight. Not a good time.”
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But Haddix gave the show his own twist — “a fresh take on American roots music” — and it quickly developed a following. The next year Haddix was asked to move it to its current times and add a Friday night. It has since become a fixture in Kansas City, a go-to place for music fans, especially those who love classic zydeco, soul, R&B and jumpin’ jive with some jazz tossed in the mix.
Haddix uses the show to highlight bands coming to town. Often he interviews them on air the night of the show.
“I’ve had many great guests,” he said. “Son Seals. R.L. Burnside. Lonnie Brooks … most recently Dave and Phil Alvin. It’s a real pleasure to have what can be really revealing conversations that get into their early careers and their influences. And letting people know who is coming to town is an important part of the program.”
So is playing new artists and new releases, which he does every show.
“It’s interesting to hear this generation interpret in its own way the previous generation’s music,” said Haddix, who is also the director of the Marr Sound Archives at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. “It’s also a way to get new and younger artists on the radio, which is really important for them. The new Luther Dickinson album, for example, is called ‘Blues & Ballads,’ and it’s his take on folk and blues music and a bridge between the old and the new.”
Lately, some of those new or younger artists are from Kansas City, and two of them will perform at a 30th anniversary show at Knuckleheads on Thursday.
“Things are booming here,” he said. “The scene is more vibrant than ever. For our anniversary show, we’re having Danielle Nicole and Katy Guillen & the Girls, who are doing great. And of course Samantha Fish is breaking out. And we have Jason Vivone and the Billy Bats. And now I’m playing the new Victor & Penny, a really nice CD.
“Social media has been really instrumental in helping bands like this break out, nationally and internationally, which is not something many local bands could do before.”
Haddix spends Wednesday nights programming Friday’s show. He takes off Thursday, but when he gets home from Friday’s show, he stays up late finishing Saturday’s. Mining his enormous trove of music has its own rewards, he said. So does the programming. But his favorite part is being on the air, a gift and a skill he has honed over the course of 30 years.
“Doing the program live is my favorite part,” he said. “There’s nothing like being on the radio and being in the zone, keeping it tight and the people informed in a real artful way. Like Van Morrison said, ‘When you get me on your wavelength, you’ve got yourself a boy.’ ”
Chuck Haddix will celebrate the 30th anniversary of “The Fish Fry” starting at 7 p.m. Thursday at Knuckleheads, 2715 Rochester Ave. The Danielle Nicole Band and Katy Guillen &the Girls will perform. Tickets are $20.