“Davisville,” “Rocket Radio” and “Na Mele o Hawai’i” are just a few of the gems that can be heard on KDRT, “the people-powered, community-supported noncommercial radio.”
Locally focused KDRT, the low-power radio station at 95.7 FM, operates out of the Davis Media Access offices on East Fifth Street. And while KDRT is still relatively young as community-based projects go, the station is approaching its 10th anniversary on the air in September.
“When we started working on this 13 years ago, the hope was ‘Let’s give Davis another outlet,’ ” said Autumn Labbé-Renault, executive director of Davis Media Access. “But at that point we didn’t really know what KDRT would turn into. We hoped it would be a mix of music programing and community content; and I feel it’s in a very strong place right now because of the intense volunteer effort that goes into it, and the community partnerships that have been leveraged as a result.”
And “volunteer” is the word that describes KDRT’s program hosts … there are around 30 of them in all. Bill Buchanan has been hosting an interview show called “Davisville” since Fall 2008. Buchanan has a day job at UC Davis as a senior writer in one of the university’s departments, but before he took that job, he was involved in print journalism for many years. Buchanan’s brother Jim suggested Bill propose an interview show to KDRT. “I’d never done radio, but I like local journalism — it lets me focus on things that interest me,” Bill Buchanan said. “And since it’s community radio, I have a lot of leeway.”
The Buchanan brothers produce a half-hour show each week: Bill books the guests and asks the questions, Jim does the engineering in the studio. Guests include local political figures — Mayor Joe Krovoza on water rates, or school board trustees talking about parcel taxes — as well as local and visiting artists and performers, like Miles Anderson, the visiting director of UCD’s recent production of “The Grapes of Wrath.”
In addition to discussing hot-potato issues (like water rates), Buchanan said he likes to “look for subjects that haven’t been done to death. It has to be something where I can talk to one or two people, who can speak from their own perspective.”
“It’s not adversarial,” Buchanan said. “I try to get people to tell me what they do, and why they do it.”
Jim Buchanan is KDRT’s longest-serving program host — he’s been doing “Live Tracks” show since the station went on the air nine-and-a-half years ago. The program features live recordings that Jim makes at concert venues around Davis, including “world beat music by bands like Akimbo, folk music like Rita Hosking, rock bands like Elvis and the E-Men, and jazz … I had a wonderful time recording Bob Raddcliff and His Little Big Band.”
KDRT’s youngest DJs would be Rocket Drew, a 14-year-old who hosts a half-hour youth-oriented weekly program called “Rocket Radio,” and his sister, 10-year-old Penelope, who pinch-hits as guest host on occasion. Their dad, UCD faculty member Jesse Drew, is a silent partner who engineers the show.
Rocket said the idea for the show germinated when the family was returning from Chico to Davis. “We heard a kid talking on the radio, and my parents said ‘You could do that, Rocket,’ so I went to KDRT and filled out an application.”
“Rocket Radio” is a mix of music and stories, as well as a little discussion of news nuggets and contemporary trends. “I try to talk about things that are going on in Davis that apply to my age group. I’m a student at Holmes Junior High, and I play in the orchestra … sometimes I play a recording of our orchestra performing at the Wennberg Festival,” held annually at the Mondavi Center (this year’s concert was on March 15).
Don Shor, proprietor of Redwood Barn Nursery (conveniently adjacent to the KDRT studios), is a host of two shows. Shor, who has been selling plants locally for 30 years, and co-host Lois Richter do a weekly gardening show — which originated as a TV program on what was then called Davis Community Television. “We talk about seasonal questions and good ideas concerning what grows well locally,” Shor said, adding that his co-host’s enthusiasm brings much to the show. Recent topics include low-water landscaping, “clean” shade trees and controlled-release fertilizers.
Shor also hosts “Jazz After Dark,” which primarily features American jazz from the 1940s through the 1970s, but occasionally includes ragtime, big band tunes and other related styles. “And there’s always a song by Ella Fitzgerald” somewhere in each program, he added. He programs largely from albums in his personal collection.
Beth Post — a one-time resident of Hawaii — hosts “Na Mele o Hawai’i,” a program featuring music from that state. “I originally started doing a KDRT show with my daughter about homeschooling,” Post said, “and we did that for about a year.” But then Post decided to try her hand at a music show … and since KDRT already had music shows devoted to classical, opera, jazz and other categories, she proposed a show featuring island music. Post started out programming the show from her own ever-expanding collection of albums — “I think I have about 300 albums now,” she said. “I’m always on the lookout for new material.”
Hosting the show also spurred Post’s participation in the Aloha Music Camp, which she has attended twice with members of her family. “We go and learn how to play slack key guitar and ukulele … If I hadn’t hand the chance to do this show on KDRT, these other aspects of enjoying Hawaiian culture with my family would not have happened. I’m grateful to KDRT” as a result, Post said.
Ruth Chambers hosts “The Chambers Street Theatre” program, which “primarily features writing from the 1800s, when famous writers would tour and give lectures, reading from their work,” Chambers explained. Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde and others made quite a bit of money (and sold quite a few books) in the role of enterprising author/performer. “They called them lecturers, but they were really actors. And traveling around the world in those days was Herculean,” Chambers said.
Chambers tends to favor Gold Rush era material that reflects California history, she reads all the parts herself, changing her pitch and speaking style to keep the characters distinct.
Chambers also is working on a cable TV project for Davis Media Access with animator Alex Silva-Sadder, which will focus on programs related to different holidays through the year. Their next project will be Easter-related.
Most of the locally produced KDRT shows are heard several times weekly — first live, then as rebroadcasts. Many shows are also archived on the station website (www.kdrt.org) and can be heard on-demand. Online listeners can “tune in” from anywhere, so long as they have an internet connection.
The station rounds out its full schedule with a few syndicated programs like “Shortwave Report” (featuring news highlights from international broadcasters) and “AARP Radio” (geared toward adults over 40).
KDRT’s 100-watt signal is heard pretty much exclusively within Davis. Jeff Shaw, production manager at Davis Media Access, said that an antenna upgrade is planned for this summer, and there are also plans in the works to boost the KDRT signal to 250 watts, assuming that the station gets permission from the Federal Communications Commission.
“We were the first cable access TV station to launch a low-power FM station,” Shaw said, noting that it took four years of preparation before KDRT finally went on the air in Fall 2004. “Now there are a lot more low-power FM stations coming on the air around the country, a lot of new little micro-broadcasters,” Shaw explained, adding that several of the new low-power stations will be in Northern California.
May is the month when KDRT holds its annual fundraising effort — the station doesn’t do an on-air pledge drive, but mailers go out to supporters, and listeners are urged to contact the station and send a donation of they can. Donations can be sent to Davis Media Access, 1623 Fifth Street, Davis, CA 95616. The station’s business line for telephone calls is 530-757-2419.
“We are in a steady state financially, but there is endless fundraising,” Labbé-Renault said, and the training session for new and continuing volunteer program hosts, and recruiting of program underwriters, goes on and on as well. “One of the things KDRT has become known for is our connection to the community,” she added, and she’s counting on that connection to keep the station funded and on the air in years to come.