GIVEAWAY! Celebrate 30 Years of WXPN’s ‘Kids Corner’ at Epic Concert
The April 22 show features great music from some of the local call-in show's favorite bands.
In 1988, the idea of a call-in radio show just for kids was unique. Thirty years later, WXPN’s Kids Corner remains in a class of its own, with a new generation of young listeners queuing up to talk to host Kathy O’Connell every Monday through Thursday from 7 to 8 pm.
The origin of the show, now a WXPN and Philly stalwart, was simply the need to keep the schedule stacked. On Christmas Eve 1987, a WNYC show called Kids America was canceled. WXPN, a public radio station run by the University of Pennsylvania, had added the show to its lineup a few months earlier, and the sudden cancellation left a hole.
Kids America host O’Connell got a call from Philadelphia: would she come south and try out a similar show here? O’Connell said yes, and on January 4, 1988, Kids Corner went on the air.
Robert Drake heard the broadcast, and a call for volunteers to answer the phones (which, in the pre-call-waiting era, was a serious job for a call-in show). He marched in the door the next day. That volunteer gig became a paying one, and as the show’s producer, he’s now as intertwined as O’Connell.
All these years later, Kids Corner is still simply about just listening to kids, Drake said. He’s now meeting parents who grew up on the show and are sharing it with their children.
Even as podcasts and other digital media are ascendant, kids are still willing to sit by the phone four nights a week and wait for their chance to chat with O’Connell. (Though Drake chuckles at how many of them are so unfamiliar with using the phone that they often don’t say anything for 30 seconds when he calls to put them on the air.)
“I think as much as things have changed in society and in technology over the past three decades, the reality is the show is Kathy talking to kids. That’s what it was in ’88 and that’s what it is in 2018,” he said. “The way she communicates with kids is a sincerely ‘I want to hear what you have to say’ mentality.
“Feeling respected by an elder is always a positive thing … I think that keeps the show alive.”
Kids Corner has also offered a platform for countless children’s bands over the years, so of course the anniversary party is a big concert for kids. The Kids Corner 30th Anniversary Concert will be held Sunday, April 22, at World Cafe Live (aka the WXPN studios, at 3025 Walnut St., Philadelphia) beginning at 10 am.
The concert dovetails with the two-day KindieComm conference, also hosted by WXPN. (O’Connell will interview Dr. Demento as part of the conference.)
Trout Fishing in America is basically Kids Corner’s house band, Drake said, and the obvious choice for the anniversary show.
“We’ve been fans of their since their very first cassette came out,” he said (raise your hand if you remember cassettes!). “It was the first time in a long time that an artist was talking with kids about stuff versus singing to kids.”
Trout Fishing in America has been followed by other bands and performers who cater to kids without pandering to them, and Kids Corner has been a key platform for the music.
In honor of the 30th anniversary, here’s a playlist of the show’s top 30 songs, including three Trout Fishing in America songs, “Meltdown” by Justin Roberts, “Parents Just Don’t Understand” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince (aka Will Smith), and the classic “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” by They Might Be Giants (recorded back before the band took up children’s music in earnest).
The ongoing success of the show is a testament to the power of connection, Drake said, and O’Connell’s ability to really focus on what kids are saying.
“In an age where kids are so visual, to be able to sit back and imagine … it’s a really fun, unique experience,” he said. “As long as Kathy is able to talk to kids, there will be a Kids Corner, because the root of Kids Corner is basically Kathy and kids having a conversation.”
You can listen to Kids Corner from 7 to 8 pm Monday through Thursday at 88.5 FM in Philadelphia; 104.9 FM in Lehigh Valley; 88.7 FM in Lancaster/York; 99.7 FM in Harrisburg; 90.5 FM in Worton/Baltimore, Maryland; and 91.9 in Hackettstown, New Jersey, and via WXPN’s live stream.
We’re giving away a family 4-pack of tickets to the April 22 Kids Corner Anniversary Concert! Simply comment on this post with your favorite song or album to listen to with your kids by noon on Friday, April 20. We’ll pick a winner and notify them by 5 pm.
Photographs by Joe del Tufo/Moonloop Photography, courtesy of WXPN.