KCUR’s Night Tides host Renée Blanche talks music as “emotional balm” in The Pitch Questionnaire

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Renée Blanche is the host of Night Tides at NPR’s 89.3 KCUR-FM. // Courtesy Renée Blanche

Since moving to Kansas City in 1993 and taking over the show in 1994, Detroit native Renée Blanche has honed her talent at the mixing board to create the glittering, moody Night Tides vibe we all know and love. Or, if you don’t know, now you know.

Night Tides runs each Sunday from 8 p.m. to midnight and combines instrumental music with buzzy electronica. The result, thoughtfully curated by Blanche—whose dreamy voice floats in and out at 30-minute intervals—is an endless, atmospheric wave.

In this rendition of The Pitch questionnaire, Renée also discusses the importance of recognizing emotions post-pandemic and highlights Kansas City’s need for safe spaces for youth of color.

Social handles: Renée Blanche, @night_tides

Hometown: Detroit, Michigan

Current neighborhood: Midtown, KCMO

How did Night Tides come to be?: Night Tides was already on KCUR’s schedule and for a long time followed the syndicated show Hearts of Space. I don’t remember how long the show has been on air but I’m proud to have received the approval of the gentleman who premiered it. I was offered the Night Tides shift after about 11 months as the midday announcer. It’s been my labor of love since September 1994.

It’s hard to define what you play on the show, which is why it’s so good. Why did you want to focus on this type of soothing-yet-slightly-dubby style of music?: Thank you for this comment and question. I was introduced to the genre in a “jazz-pop” format, and the tracks designated as “new age” stood out with gentler and less intrusive melodies. Fast forward to Night Tides and the responsibility of programming the music following Hearts of Space, a well-established syndicated program that I wanted to match professionally without sounding like or duplicating it.

As time passed, the genre evolved, and I started to experience the music as a mental, emotional, and spiritual balm, notwithstanding the tempo. Whether slow or upbeat, melodious, ambient, or drone, the crazy in my life would subside as I listened. The decision to create an atmosphere of sound that incorporates, as you described in your question, that “soothing-yet-slightly-dubby” listening experience was born. The more upbeat tracks are aired on the front end of Night Tides, becoming gradually quieter in the later hours.

The show feels like walking through a huge, shiny city after dusk. How do you find the artists and songs?: I love that visual! As for the question: I rarely have to find music these days because the music finds Night Tides via internet searches, music promoters, and record labels. Relationships with musicians have developed as well, which puts Night Tides on the list to receive new releases. There is no shortage of music to choose from and I listen to every track to determine its fit. When the fit is identified, the next step is placement to tell a story and create an atmosphere.

What do you like most about what you do?: I like working the mixing board most because my goal is to create mixes that will make the show sound like one long four-hour song that my voice floats in and out of every 30 minutes until midnight.

Does social unrest and inequity in the radio industry affect your career and perspective? If so, how?: My perspective is deeply affected, so much so that I’ve stepped back to process my feelings. I’ve been in radio part-time since the mid-’80s and, because it’s not been my main source of income, I’ve managed to keep my spot on the air. After multiple attempts at going full-time, I settled in and maximized the space I was given: Sunday nights from 6 p.m. to midnight.

I’ve experienced every possible human emotion while on air. With the help of music, peace and goodwill can still shine through—even when the world doesn’t feel safe for me and those who look like me. For the sake of my emotional well-being, I allow myself to feel the feelings I’ve bypassed or suppressed over the years. The pandemic offered the world a pause, and in the pause, I found a bucket of painful truths that I’m learning how to live with and navigate. In the meantime, there is a movement to change workplace behaviors. I’m watchful and understand that we didn’t get here overnight. We won’t get over there overnight.

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“With the help of music, peace and goodwill can still shine through—even when the world doesn’t feel safe for me and those who look like me,” says Renée. // Courtesy Renée Blanche

What new projects are you working on?: I’m working with the African American Artists Collective in an exhibition at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art until March 2022. I’m scheduled to do artist interviews, moderate artist and community talks, and do voice-overs. I’m scheduled to work with the World Flute Society as the Mistress of Ceremony for their virtual concerts. I’m also looking for space to teach private Tai Chi lessons now that places are opening back up.

Who inspires you?: I’m inspired by my peers—those who work with the same style of music and do so on various platforms. I may be one of a handful of individuals who broadcast via terrestrial radio.

Finding a job when you come from a creative place can prove difficult. What obstacles have you faced in your career?: My radio career has always been part-time because I was raising a family and wasn’t in the right headspace to figure out how to make a living in radio. I found a way to balance what I had to do with what I like to do. I’ve done this for over 30 years.

I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve balanced my analytical side with my creative side for the sake of sanity. What’s been difficult is having little to no time to learn more of the technical aspects of radio—recording and editing, specifically. I’m in the process of learning those things now.

You were once the midday announcer for KCUR and traffic reporter for Metro Traffic Control in Kansas City. What does a day in your life look like?: I left both of those positions in 1994 for a full-time gig outside of radio. Monday through Friday I work my day job, filling evenings and nights with a long list of tasks that keep me busy. My love for the late-night hours often makes for painful weekday mornings, which start around 6 a.m. After work, there’s a laundry list of things to do: I listen to music, exercise, do yard work. It’s the life of an introvert.

Where did the love for instrumental music come from?: I grew up in a household filled with the love of music. My father listened to jazz, mostly. My mother listened to R&B and my grandparents listened to spirituals and gospel music. I didn’t learn how to play an instrument, so I chose dance as my creative outlet. My dance teacher would take our class to see professional dance performances where I was introduced to other styles of music not heard in my home. When the opportunity to do radio came to be, it felt like a natural fit.

What does Kansas City need more of?: Kansas City needs more safe spaces where youth of color can congregate without impunity, plans that will shape an equitable public school system, and organizations that support a reliable public transportation system.


Click over to kcur.org to hear this week’s Night Tides anytime. Read about the radio station’s need for a replacement transmitter here.

Categories: Questionnaire