Posted on June 22, 2008 – 3:23 PM | by OldManFoster
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Cool “stuff” in Sacramento has a way of coming and going. The Cattle Club’s long gone, artists like Jay Howell migrate to bigger cities, and businesses such as Tonevendor move away. Fortunately for the City of Trees, UC Davis-based KDVS 90.3 FM has stood the test of time, providing our region with emerging independent music and vital public relations programing.KDVS

  While some radio stations in Sacramento tout themselves as being the “real alternative,” and others proclaim that they “play what we want,” UC Davis-based KDVS 90.3 FM offers our community an actual alternative to robo-radio. There’s no “Morning Zoo” drive time bullshit, repetitive playlists, mind-numbing advertisements, or obnoxious deejay’s with contrived names like “Whitey” or “Boomer.” KDVS broadcasts underground music, community affairs talk shows, and public service announcements – all devoid of polish and superficiality.

 KDVS is one of the few truly independent freeform radio stations in the nation. It exists outside of the conventional radio formula, acting as a two-way conduit of information and ideas between the staff and the community. Listeners are encouraged to call in with music requests, comments and questions.

Tim Matranga   “It’s great to play a record and have someone call from Nevada City, saying ‘Where can I get that?’” says Tim Matranga, a 16-year KDVS veteran and host of Sunday night’s Kicksville 29BC. “I just love the freeform nature of [KDVS]. I like being more involved with a community of people who share my musical interests.”

According to former KDVS deejay and current Sac State professor, Jerry Drawhorn, KDVS began as KCD AM, a pirate radio station in the Beckett-Hughes dormitory laundry room. In doing research for his book chronicling the history of KDVS, Drawhorn has detailed the time-line of the station from its campus-only origins in 1964, to its officially licenced FM radio upgrade in 1967. KDVS went through many format changes, first as a jazz and rock station with challenging progressive public affairs programming in the late 60’s, to one that embraced punk rock and experimental music in the late 70’s, then later independent, underground bands of the 80’s and early 90’s, to its current freeform incarnation.

 “We decided to go with a strongly volunteer system,” Drawhorn explains, recalling a meeting in the ‘80’s when KDVS and the UC Davis Media Board decided to recruit community members into the station. “We actually worked on a constitution at that time. We were told by the administration that we had to establish a set of rules. We took that as an opportunity actually, that both enabled the staff to have more control over their programing as well as to allow outsiders into the station.”

 “I think definitely the most special thing about KDVS is that we are a freeform station,” says current General Manager Ben Johnson. “There isn’t a set rule about what you have to play on your show as a music DJ. We don’t have any sort of rotation or set format or anything that way.”

 “Part of my job as Publicity Director at KDVS is tabling at the Farmers Market or other community events,” says Elisa Hough. “It’s strange when I ask people ‘Oh, do you listen to KDVS? Have you ever tuned in?’ And they’ll say ‘Oh, I don’t live in Davis.’ and they’ll think that since they live outside of Davis, they won’t get it.”

 “The primary service zone is about a 35 mile radius around our transmitter site here on campus,” Johnson says. KDVS’ 9200 watt signal has been known to reach well beyond the Sacramento area. “People can tune the station in going all the way up to the top of the Sierras. I’ve had guys call into my show who were lift operators at Sugerbowl.”

A daily live stream of KDVS is also available at the station’s website, kdvs.org. Listeners all over the world log on to the station to listen to live broadcasts via the internet.

KDVS is located in Lower Freeborn Hall.   The KDVS lounge has a well-worn, lived-in, comfortable feel to it, with posters, staff artwork and old show fliers for bands like Black Flag, Green Day and MDC plastered all over its walls and ceilings The glass-enclosed deejay booth consists of a mixing board, computer monitors, CD players, turntables, and two microphones.

 The music library features bookcase after bookcase of CDs, KDVS Music Stacksvinyl records and cassettes spread out over three separate rooms. Since 2003, Music Director AJ Ramirez has been cataloging almost every recording in the library with a bar code I.D. system.

“We have the largest music library in the state of California.” claims Ramirez. He pulls down rare out-of-print 7″ records. “Here’s the first Jesus and Mary Chain single.” There is also a limited edition copy of the Sliver 7″ by Nirvana, as well as a signed copy of the Replacements’ album Let It Be on vinyl.

 Public affairs programs on KDVS cover such wide-ranging topics as politics, health, bike repair, existentialism, poetry, science and technology (to name a few). Anchoring the weekly afternoon slots are Free Speech Radio News and Amy Goodman’s syndicated news show, Democracy Now. Aggie Sports broadcasts seasonal sporting events, while Saturdays at midnight feature broadcasts of legendary storyteller Joe Frank.

“We don’t do a show that takes less than 10 or 12 man hours,” says Douglas Everett of the preparation for his Thursday evening show. Radio Parallax crams wry humor, political/social satire and current events into an hour’s worth of entertainment. Over the past six years, Everett’s interviewees have included Daniel Shore, Walter Cronkite, Eli Wallach, Christie Canyon, and Ray Bradbury.

 What sets KDVS apart from most college radio stations is the fact that anyone, not just students, can become volunteer members. Prospective deejays must volunteer 50 hours a semester, take a musicology class with instructor Rick Ele, “shadow” a deejay during the day, and undertake an on-air training session with one of the station’s Programming Directors before getting a show. New DJ’s are assigned early morning slots in the 2-4 or 4-6 AM spots and gradually work their way up the program calendar. An additional 50 hours of volunteer service a semester is required to maintain a position once on board.

“When I first started, we didn’t have this program,” explains Ele. “They just threw you in the booth, told you the five words you couldn’t say on the air, and let you fend for yourself.” Ele has been instrumental in streamlining the educational process for all new DJ’s. His 8-week class counts as 16 hours of the 50 hour volunteer requirement.

In addition to running and maintaining the station, KDVS staffers host community events such as Picnic Day, the Record Swap, and live music events such as Operation Restore Maximum Freedom. Then there is the quarterly program guide, KDViationS, The Mobile DJ Unit and the recent addition of KDVS Records, featuring bands like San Francisco Water Cooler, Boss The Big Bit and Sholi.  If all of this sounds like a lot of work for a job that doesn’t pay, keep in mind that KDVS isn’t seen as a job by its staffers; it’s a labor of love.

 “I think [KDVS] really creates some kind of community,” says Erica Shultz, host of Friday morning’s Shultz Show. “I really like the fact that I feel like I contribute to a larger thing. I’m not just a student. I’m basically helping this radio station work.”

“The other day I was thinking about what life was like for me before I became a KDVS deejay,” says Michael Leahy, host of Friday evening’s Cool As Folk. “I was not an active participant of live music. I was sort of a bystander.” In the four years that his show has been on the air, Leahy has racked-up an impressive 250 in-studio performances from various touring bands, including the first California appearance by folk rockers, The Avett Brothers.

 In fact, KDVS has played a huge part in exposing the region to new music. Local bands such Buildings Breeding, Didley Squat and Art Lessing have played “Live In Studio A”, a Thursday night show in KDVS’ second studio. High profile former DJ’s include the Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz, Josh “DJ Shadow” Davis, and former Pavement singer and current Jicks leader, Stephen Malkmus.

Running a radio station like KDVS 24/7/365 takes an annual operating budget of $120,000 a year. Equipment cost, repairs and bills chip away at that budget. When something breaks, it’s not economically feasible to simply go out and buy replacements. Some equipment has been repaired and re-repaired several times over.

 A third of the station’s operating budget comes from UC Davis, underwriters and community sponsors. The rest is made-up by community members’ donations during the annual On-Air Fundraiser in April. “The Fundraiser is definitely exciting,” explains Ramirez, “I mean, I’ve eaten live mealworms on air. Twice.”

Usually the fundraiser meets or exceeds its stated goal; the 2008 fundraiser fell far short. Despite a goal this of $75,000, the station was only able to raise roughly $61,000. Still, in these trying economic times, this impressive amount shows the dedication level of the station’s listeners.

 “I think without the station there wouldn’t be an outlet for being able to do more liberal talk show or the kind of music KDVS plays,” notes deejay Klinger, who started volunteering at the station while she was still in high school. “KDVS really brings a great element not just to Davis, but to the Sacramento Valley.”

 KDVS is a valuable resource for the Sacramento scene, and one we can’t afford to take for granted. In an age of increased media consolidation, iPods, American Idol and the Wal Mart whitewash of music, KDVS is an institution we’re extremely lucky to have.  In a world without KDVS 90.3 FM, the alternative wouldn’t be much of an alternative at all.

It’s still not too late to donate to KDVS. Simply go online to fundraiser.kdvs.org. Many of the premiums are still available and your donation is tax deductible.  Or, stop by the KDVS Record Swap at Bricka Bracka, 2114 P St, Sacramento on June 29th

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