Every Wednesday, between 10 and 12 pm, the soothing, dulcet tones of Mark Manning take over the KKFI 90.1 FM airwaves. For 10 years, his program Wednesday MidDay Medley has highlighted a variety of music—both local and non-local, and includes in-depth interviews with bands, local music aficionados, and others in the community. But many of us don’t know much about Manning himself; not only is he a radio personality, but he’s been an active part of the theater community since moving to Kansas City in the mid ‘80s. Check out our Q&A with him, and find out more about one of the most ardent supporters of the Kansas City arts community.
The Deli: How long have you been in radio? Give me a little about your background there.
Manning: I started volunteering at KKFI in the spring of 2001 and worked as producer/host/engineer for The Tenth Voice for 8 years. Prior to this, in 1994, I co-produced and contributed as a writer/performer for The AIDS Radio Show with friends Lisa Cordes and Jon "Piggy" Cupit. The show was a radio adaptation of a live show we had done on stage, and was reproduced and recorded especially for radio. It won a Silver Reel Award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters.
The Deli: What other work have you done in performing arts and entertainment?
Manning: I moved to Kansas City in 1986 and immediately found a home at The Unicorn Theatre where I worked on 18 professional productions. I was given the opportunity to work as an actor, stage manager, assistant stage manager, designer, and production assistant. I also worked with Paul Mesner Puppets on 18 productions, as a stage manager, technician, and sometimes puppeteer. I've worked as a site manager for the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival and as a freelance artist and stage manager. I have also worked as an actor for The Coterie Theatre, Gorilla Theatre, Theatre League, Actors Against AIDS, Quality Hill Playhouse, One Time Productions, and The Fishtank.
As a performance artist and writer I've created several original pieces and plays including: "Jesse's Dream Our Nightmare," "Every Gay People," "Gay Bash," "It's A Man's World," "Anti-Gone in Kansas," "Slightly Effeminate Men," (with Ron Megee & Jon "Piggy" Cupit) "Straight Marriage," "70's Cocktail Party" and "The Children of Karen Carpenter" (with Sandra K. Davies).
The Deli: You also co-founded Big Bang Buffet, an underground performance collective. How has that organization fostered the arts community?
Manning: In 1990 I co-founded Big Bang Buffet with my friends Ron Megee and Janice Woolery, a producing organization that worked to provide venues for original works in performance art, spoken word, theatre and visual arts. BBB fostered an underground scene. Founders met at The Spoken Word at Cafe Lulu (until it closed in Oct. '91) and Club Cabaret (a gay bar on Main St, now demolished). Between 1990 and 2005, BBB presented 75 different productions at many venues including American Heartland Theatre, Unicorn Theatre, The Midland, Harling's Upstairs, Quality Hill Playhouse, back alleyways, Unity Temple on The Plaza, The Hobbs Building, Just Off Broadway, The Farm, KC Fringe Festival, Phoenix Books, All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, Bang Gallery and Lou Jane Temple's living room. Shows were benefits for the Free Speech Coalition, Human Rights Project, Missouri Naral, ACT-UP KC, Free Health Clinic, SAVE. Core contributors: Ron Megee left BBB to create Late Night Theater; Beth Marshall became Producing/Artistic Director of Orlando Fringe Festival and now runs Beth Marshall Presents; Lisa Cordes is now Director of Artist Inc. and Janice Woolery now runs weekly in marathons.
With Big Bang Buffet, I appeared in over 75 different productions playing roles as diverse as Jesse Helms, Phil Donahue, Tonya Harding, Barbara Bush, George W. Bush and Andy Warhol.
The Deli: You started Wednesday Midday Medley 10 years ago. What was the goal of the program then, and is it still the same now?
Manning: I was asked by then 90.1 FM program director John Jessup to become a host/producer of Your MidDay Medley. The concept of the show was to play all the different music genres heard on KKFI: blues, jazz, rock, folk, world, electronic, reggae, punk, etc. I really took the "medley" part seriously and I've always loved mixing it up. I remember once when I played gay singer-songwriter Peter Allen followed by Jimi Hendrix. A listener called in and asked, "So this is how it's gonna be on this show?" I wasn't sure in the beginning what the show was, I mainly used it as an opportunity to play everything I loved that I never heard on commercial radio.
I started doing more interviews and special shows. One of our signature shows we started was "A Story in A Song," where we invite listeners and writers to share an original short story about a song that changed their life in some way, and then we play the song. The concept is simple but the shows have been some of our best, and a big favorite with listeners. We also have done a series of satire radio shows called "Then He Touched Me Gospel Hour." We produced the first edition on April Fools Day in 2008. The show was inspired, co-written and starring Jim "The Blind Guy" Hoschek, who played a down-on-his-luck, Christian fundamentalist radio evangelist who recently relocated to Sugar Creek with his wife and many children. Their ministry has taken over the community airwaves. A cast of actors plays all of the roles of the family, and we play actual vintage, locally produced Christian music from the early 1970s.
I was really inspired by my good friend Anne Winter, who helped me a lot in the early days. Anne had already done "the KKFI thing" but her experience and love of the station was still present. After her death in 2009, I dedicated my efforts with a new direction to continue the work of Anne. I remember holding onto friends Betse Ellis and Kasey Rausch and making a pact with them that we would be there for each other as friend and never forget.
I always wanted someone from a record store to have a regular contribution to the show. I met Marion Merritt at Barnes & Noble on The Plaza. Marion has been joining us on WMM for over 10 years, sharing her discoveries and info from her musically encyclopedic-brain. This year Marion Merritt, left Barnes & Noble to pursue a dream and she opened Records With Merritt (1614 Westport Road) in May.
The listeners helped make the show what it is today. In my continuing search to tell stories on radio, I stumbled into the story of Kansas City's beautiful music community. The music community never ceases to inspire and move me. Musicians started playing live on the show and appearing for interviews. We interview close to 200 people each year. I started searching for as much locally produced music as I could include, and mix this with the very best national releases that aren't being played on commercial radio. The musicians have taught me. Slowly musicians and artists began to take ownership of the show itself. I remember the day Abigail Henderson told me, "We think of this as our show,” and I couldn't have been happier. For the last 8 years we've been serious about tracking and celebrating the best music in this diverse MidCoastal area.
The Deli: Why is supporting local music and the community important to you?
Manning: I feel it is my responsibility as a host/producer of a music show on Community Radio. As a non-commercial/educational community radio station owned by a nonprofit organization (The MidCoast Radio Project), we must work to tell the story of what is going on in our culture. KKFI plays over 1000 different songs in a week, we can cover more types of music. You don't have to love it all, but if you listen you will learn, and you will get to go deeper into genre than any other media outlet will take you. Our jazz shows are hosted and produced by many of KC’s best and hardest working jazz musicians. Our blues shows are hosted by blues musicians or those who have served on the KC Blues Society board. The same can be said for our shows that feature the music of folk, punk, reggae, women's music, hip hop, rockabilly, world, Native American, new wave, clectronica, etc.
The Deli: Why should people be interested in community radio?
Manning: Community Radio really is radio "of the people." The spirit of this can sometimes be polluted by those with narrow vision and selfishness, but ultimately community radio lives by the idea that the airwaves belong to the people. The station belongs to all of us. It is powered by people who want to hear about their own communities in our media. Volunteers who are willing to give up part of their life to produce and host a weekly show and basically give it all away for free, without asking anything for all of the work, and time and investment. With community radio you can have the freedom to tell the stories that just aren't included anywhere else. This is space that we must hold on to. It is some to the last remaining community space in the broadcasting world. With community radio I know what is happening in my communities and I don't want to have to listen to commercials for breast enhancement or diet pills.
The Deli: Who are some of your favorite KC-area bands and musicians?
Manning: This is so difficult because I love and respect so many local artists. In the last year we played over 100 local releases and had over 40 artists/bands on the show to talk about their 2014 releases. We had Madisen Ward and The Mama Bear on our program 4 times in 14 months. They always blow me away. I love everything about Schwervon!, Shy Boys, Howard Iceberg, Matt Dunehoo, The ACBs, Sara Swenson, The Philistines, Betse Ellis, Ghosty, Katy Guillen and Claire Adams, The Bad Ideas, Kristie Stremel, Mikal Shapiro, Krystle Warren, Dead Voices, The Sleazebeats, Pedaljets, Jamie Searle, Calvin Arsenia, Hermon Mehari, Amy Farrand, Chris Meck, Jorge Arana Trio, Dedric Moore, Not A Planet, Michael Tipton, Hearts of Darkness, John Velghe, Vi Tran…I could keep going.
The Deli: What do you like most about hosting your own radio show?
Manning: Every week is different. Each week I'm forced to write a script and put together the puzzle of a radio show. It is an education, I'm always learning, there is always research, planning. It is personal. I love the interviews. I love having an opportunity to make connections. To serve. I try to find equality in music and music that moves your heart and your body. I want to be a good custodian and help open the door. Through the show I've been able to do longer interviews with Tommy Ramone, Lily Tomlin, Laurie Anderson, Krystle Warren, and so many others.
Manning: In 1998 we produced a Big Bang Buffet show on stage at the Midland as a benefit for a high school student-produced poetry magazine and program in KCK. I left my job as manager of the box office at The Midland and went to work in KCK training and recruiting volunteers for a literacy program. Somehow this led to my work in creating—from scratch—a garden-teaching initiative that has built multiple raised bed organic gardens, at seven schools in the KCK School District #500. Our program is entirely grant funded and supported by the Kansas University School of Medicine’s Office of Cultural Enhancement and Diversity. We serve over 1000 students in classrooms with a 9-month curriculum that involves the students in 3 plantings and 3 harvests each year, and workshops on soil, worms, parts of plants and seeds, sweet potatoes, salsa, and how plants grow. We launched the program in 2000. I conduct 37 workshops each month at seven schools with 25 different classrooms and teachers, serving over 1000 students in first, fourth, and sixth grades.
The Deli: What else inspires you?
Manning: My partner Caleb who I've been with for 23 years and who has never tried to change me, but only offer me support and a home. His beautiful mom Julia, who lives with us, and reminds me that some of the youngest people I know are in their 80s. My mom and stepdad Arlo. My dogs Maggie and Jack (both rescued from the gardens). I'm a huge fan of David Bowie, The Velvet Underground, Andy Warhol, The Factory, Interview Magazine, New York punk, early ‘80s new wave and post punk, Kraftwerk, Brian Eno, Patti Smith, performance art, Laurie Anderson, LaBelle, local record stores, Broadway, artists, Martin Luther King, LGBT activists, Larry Kramer, Mavis Staples, trees, walking, President Obama, the Grand Canyon, the Atlantic Ocean, Joni Mitchell, George Washington Carver, honey bees, butterflies, gardening, Iris DeMent, vertical files, The Smiths, British music magazines, Bold Nebraska, Rachel Maddow, RuPaul's Drag Race, photography, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Paul Thomas Anderson films, This American Life, homegrown and homemade food, coffee, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and Michelle Bacon.
Michelle is the editor of The Deli KC and plays in bands. She’s also a huge fan of Mark Manning.
You can celebrate with Mark this Friday at Davey’s Uptown Rambler’s Club, where KKFI will be celebrating 10 years of Wednesday MidDay Medley. The show is a benefit for KKFI 90.1 FM, and will feature performances from The Philistines, Dolls on Fire (who will also be releasing their LP that night), and The Pedaljets. Facebook event page.