Join the fun
What: KDVS celebrates 50th anniversary with a concert featuring the bands Big Sticky Mess, Whiskey Business, Genius, Beast Nest, Chad Stockdale and Robert, and Virga, with a special appearance by KDVS “mascot” Mr. Turntable Head
When: Saturday; doors open at 8:30 p.m. and show runs 9 p.m.-midnight
Where: Rock Band University, 720 Olive Drive, Suite H, Davis
On the air: Broadcast live on KDVS, 90.3 FM, and on www.kdvs.org
Admission: Free; all ages welcome (no alcohol)
KDVS — Davis’ charmingly unpredictable campus/community radio station — was born 50 years ago, in a laundry room.
The fledgling student enterprise, which initially had the call letters KCD, began broadcasting on Feb. 1, 1964, from a dormitory (Beckett Hall). Initially, the KCD signal was a “carrier current” on the AC phone lines and could be received on 880 AM by residents of certain dormitories. Legend has it that the first words broadcast were, “Watson! Come here! I need a quarter!”
The station eventually was granted an FM license and went on the air as KDVS in 1968, broadcasting with a measly 10-watt signal, barely audible on the edge of town. (The station now broadcasts on a more robust 13,000-watt signal.)
KDVS quickly gained a maverick reputation, presenting an interview with radical activist Angela Davis, and hosting a live call-in show featuring California Gov. Ronald Reagan. The first local sports broadcast was in 1969, and hundreds more would follow.
The station was one of the first in the region to program reggae music. Longtime volunteer disc jockey Gary Saylin recalls, “When I joined KDVS in the mid-1970s, I started out playing mainly reggae. And I remember there were many callers who asked ‘What is this music?’ It was very exciting, because it was something new.”
KDVS also has featured a Saturday morning folk show for some 38 years. Robyne Fawx, who co-hosts the program, said her interest in folk music began when she attended a Pete Seeger concert at Freeborn Hall (upstairs from the station’s studios) in 1978.
“It was the first big concert I had attended, my first concert outside a high school auditorium,” Fawx recalled. “I was a 17-year-old freshman. … I didn’t know anything about him. … He came onstage with a guitar, a banjo and a recorder. And he held us enrapt. He had us singing in harmony, and in canon. It was wonderful.”
(Fawx was nearly in tears as she shared this recollection on Tuesday; Seeger died Monday at age 94.)
After hearing that concert, Fawx approached KDVS about hosting a folk show, but was offered a classical show instead. She switched to folk a few years later.
Fawx recalls a phone call while hosting a traditional folk music show some years ago.
“The call was from a young man, living in the dorms, and he had just discovered this music, and was enthusiastic,” she said. “The way he spoke, he reminded me of when I was 18 and discovering this music.”
And it’s that kind of transmission — with a volunteer DJ sharing his or her enthusiasm for a particular kind of music, promoting interest in the minds of listeners — that has kept KDVS on the air for five decades, with volunteers coming into the studios even in the wee hours of the morning.
KDVS also carries alternative news — the station was the first in this region to broadcast radio news from Al Jazeera — and airs Amy Goodman’s syndicated “Democracy Now” program. The station also regularly presents live music performed by local and touring bands.
There also have been on-air interviews with unusual musicians. Longtime DJ Bill Wagman recalls interviewing the eccentric singer/ukelele player Tiny Tim in 1996, shortly before he died.
“I think he was a person who never quite fit anywhere and so built a persona for himself and became that persona,” Wagman said. “He knew a tremendous amount about popular music of the 1920s and 1930s.” (Wagman’s interview can still be heard online at www.secretsevenrecords.typepad.com.)
Wagman also interviewed guitarist/record producer Ry Cooder when he visited Davis last year.
The DJ added that the bottom line is, “I appreciate the great variety of music I’ve been exposed to through the station over the years.”
Saylin agreed: “It seems like the station just keeps getting more eclectic, which is great. I’m hearing more DJs exploring more styles of music, and not just different styles of rock. People are discovering the more traditional music — old jazz, blues, traditional country — as well as modern music.”
— Reach Jeff Hudson at email@example.com or 530-747-8055.