Photo by Nicholas Phillips
As St. Louis's main community-supported radio station, KDHX 88.1 FM is proud of its independence — so proud, in fact, that it published a humorous video on Facebook
last June showing how a "fearless KDHX employee deflects the corporate wolves waiting in the wings."
It has not, however, totally deflected corporate America from its exterior walls: This Friday, the station will unveil a 1,200-square-foot mural on the west side of its headquarters at 3524 Washington Avenue in Grand Center. A depiction of dozens of St. Louis icons, the mural was paid for by oil giant Phillips 66
as part of its "66 Reasons to Love St. Louis
" ad campaign.
The mural remains unfinished, but will include
the ad campaign's logo, which is a heart with the number 66 inside. The oil company has called the artwork a "gift to the city."
It's also being framed as a gift to KDHX. Despite the station's recent financial turmoil and urgent pledge drive
, it will receive no monetary contribution in exchange for the use of its wall, says Kelly Wells, the station's interim co-executive director.
"It is not likely we would have taken on a mural without some kind of sponsor," Wells wrote in an email to Riverfront Times
. She said the company paid for all the materials and compensated the father-daughter artist duo, Robert and Liza Fishbone, who created it. The Fishbones were selected by a committee consisting of representatives from Phillips 66, KDHX, the Grand Center and the locally-based marketing firm Switch after a request for proposals
The "66 Reasons" campaign looks like a big win for Phillips 66. The whole point, as described in promotional material
published by Switch, is "to celebrate St. Louis while introducing our citizens to their soon-to-launch newly remodeled gas stations." Yet the mural will far outlast that launch: Wells said it will remain on the wall for ten years.
Local media outlets have been happy to oblige with coverage. In KSDK Channel 5's web story on the mural, that network pulled
straight from the press release in stating that Phillips "has been fueling St. Louis neighborhoods with performance gas for more than 80 years" and has a "rich history in the region and long relationships with local operators."
And the mural itself also contains some subtle — though probably unintended — PR imagery. The left side of it depicts someone canoeing on a clean blue river — ironic, given that as recently as last April, the Phillips 66 refinery in Wood River, Illinois (which is just across the river from St. Charles) spilled 25,000 gallons of diesel fuel
into a waterway that feeds into the Mississippi.
"We are in the process of evaluating this project as well as others," wrote Wells, "looking for ways that continue to build community through media."
Tom "Papa" Ray, a longtime volunteer DJ also known as the "Soul Selector," views the mural as a win for the station, too. He prefers to see this project not as KDHX working with an oil company, but rather, a project with the Grand Center community.
"Much like the Zoo and Powell Symphony Hall and other mature non-profits that to me improve the quality of life in St. Louis, KDHX is deserving of corporate largesse," said Ray. "I think people take for granted that we literally have the single best community station in the country here."
KDHX also agreed to coordinate music for the ad campaign. Wells says the station was "thrilled" to be able to highlight local artists and sent out emails to bands in June asking if they'd like to submit a track for a "66 Reasons to Love St. Louis" playlist.
But the email made no mention of Phillips 66, which didn't necessarily sit well with everyone.
"We always do things for KDHX, so I thought, 'Oh, this is from someone I trust,'" said Melinda Cooper of the band Town Cars
. Cooper received a release and signed it — and only afterward realized the oil company was involved. "It was really upsetting," she said.
Wells told RFT
that "There was never, at any point, an intention to exclude information about Phillips 66 to the musicians solicited for the playlist. Each musician was asked to sign a release allowing their track to be used for the playlist. The release clearly stated that Phillips 66 was involved." She said all thirteen bands currently on the master playlist
did indeed sign the release.
Musician Matt Harnish of the band Bunnygrunt
decided not to sign the Phillips 66 release. The document failed to list a specific track or to specify a time-frame of use, for which reason he found it "completely open-ended in their favor."
"I hope the people that signed it got a better contract than the one I saw," he said.
Some other musicians who donated a track and were contacted by RFT
didn't respond to interview requests or declined to speak on the record about it.
This is by no means the first time a private company has sponsored KDHX activity. Its Concert Calendar, for example, is funded
by Stringbean Coffee Company and Parker's Table.
On Friday, September 11, the mural on the KDHX building will be formally dedicated by Mayor Francis G. Slay. There will be multiple bands in eight different venues in and around Strauss Park (right in front of the Fox Theater). It's the last in a series of free concerts called Music @ the Intersection. The promotional graphic on the Grand Center's website
calls it "St. Louis's Newest Summer Celebration." And on the right, a little heart-shaped logo to remind you that it's "Presented by 66 Reasons to Love St. Louis."