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Saturday Morning Folk show marks 35 years on local airwaves

Robyne Fawx hosts the Saturday Morning Folk show on KDVS radio station earlier this month. Wayne Tilcock/Enterprise photo

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From page A1 | November 25, 2011 |

Thirty-five years is a long time, particularly in a medium like radio. Particularly at a freeform campus/community station like KDVS, which is staffed by volunteer DJs, and reorganizes its broadcast schedule quarterly.

So this weekend’s 35th anniversary of the Saturday Morning Folk show on KDVS — to be heard from 9 a.m. to noon on 90.3 FM and online at www.kdvs.org — is quite remarkable. The show will include an on-air reunion of most of the show’s hosts over the past 3 1/2 decades.

The show’s first host, Stephen White, became a student at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in 1975.

“And I noticed that there was no folk music show at all on KDVS,” White said.

So in fall 1976, White started the show called Saturday Morning Folk. Initially, it aired in the 6 to 9 a.m. time slot, which presented a challenge for a full-time vet school student, then moved to a more hospitable 9 a.m. to noon slot.

White played all sorts of folk music, but he tended to favor folk and folk/rock from the British Isles — artists he enjoyed seeing live, then and now.

“I was fortunate enough to see Steeleye Span three times in the U.S., and Fairport Convention played at The Palms in Winters about three years ago,” he said.

White left Davis in 1982 as he pursued his career. He returned to UCD in 1998 as a professor at the veterinary school, specializing in dermatology. And he still listens to the Saturday Morning Folk show, when time allows.

Richard Ellis and Pete Hellmuth inherited the show from White. Ellis had been listening for some time, “and one morning Stephen said he no longer had the time to do it,” and asked if anyone wanted to keep it going.

Ellis had never been a UCD student, “but they didn’t get wound tight about a non-student being a DJ,” he recalled.

“I had fallen head over heels for the music from the British Isles,” Ellis recalled. “And Pete was a blues performer. That alternating pattern of American and British music continues on the Saturday Morning Folk show to this day.”

Ellis — who is now shop foreman at Niello Audi in Sacramento — added that he “always kept Bob Dylan’s 11-minute-long song ‘Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’ queued up on Turntable 3 — just in case I ran out of something to play or something to say.”

Ellis eventually left the show because “my wife and I had a brand-new baby. But hosting the show was fun, more fun than people should be allowed to have.”

Hellmuth wasn’t a UCD student either.

“We had a lot of live music in the studio when we did the show,” Hellmuth recalled. “Fiddler Laurie Lewis, who went on to win a Grammy Award — she was with the Grant Street String Band when she was on the show. Kathy Barwick — she’s made a lot of records. Cynthia Llano and David Faulkner were on the show as well.”

Hellmuth, who now lives in Sacramento, made a living performing with “blues bands, rockabilly bands, swing bands …  I played with the late Peewee Wilkins at the Ryde Hotel for 20 years.”

Hellmuth still plays with a loosely organized group of musicians who gather monthly on a Thursday night. “I bring out my shakers and my beer cans filled with mung beans. It’s fun,” he said.

In 1985, Hellmuth and Ellis sought new hosts. Jim Veit and Robyne Fawx, who had been UCD students, answered the call. Veit, who was a relatively recent UCD grad at the time, recalled that “when I was on the air, The Bangles were on my show once. And Henry Kaiser, the guitarist.”

Veit said he tended to favor “artists who were players, rather than singer/songwriter types — I liked Ry Cooder, David Bromberg and David Lindley, and Richard Thompson — a lot of them played at The Palms” — and the loose association between the radio show and that club that has continued through the years.

Veit added, “I remember the last year I was at KDVS, they installed a CD player in the studio.” Veit moved on to Boston, and worked for Tower Records in various locations until that company dissolved in 2006. He now lives in El Cerrito, and works for Amoeba Music.

Fawx got into folk music after hearing the legendary folk performer Pete Seeger at Freeborn Hall in 1978.

“The concert was sold out, and he had 2,000 people singing,” Fawx recalled. “And the tickets were $3.”

After a while, Fawx switched into a role as an occasional sub on Saturday Morning Folk, and in the early 1990s, geology professor Peter Schiffman joined in the hosting rotation.

Schiffman, now an emeritus professor, stayed with the show for about 10 years, playing artists like Richard Thompson, John Prine, Christy Moore and Bill Morrissey.

“It was good fun. I had been listening to the folk music on KDVS since I came to Davis in the early 1980s. But eventually I got so involved in administration that hosting the show got to be too much.”

Schiffman also brought records that he picked up during his travels, including albums he encountered at the Shrewsbury Folk Festival in England.

Hiram Jackson, a grad student in geology, studying under Schiffman, also hosted regularly from 1993 to 1995, and subbed after that.

“I learned to appreciate some lesser-known singer-songwriters,” Jackson recalled. “Some artists that I liked to play were J.J. Cale (he wrote the song “Cocaine” that Eric Clapton made famous), Butch Hancock (Joe Ely covered some of his songs), Robert Earl Keane and David Massengill.”

Jackson now teaches at Cosumnes River College, and has been an advocate for string music programs in the Davis public schools.

Bill Wagman and Fawx became the Saturday Morning Folk hosts after Schiffman and Jackson moved on. Wagman had been hosting a Wednesday morning folk show for years, and then switched to Saturdays. Wagman worked in the computer/IT department at UCD, retiring in 2009. He likes to mix American and British music.

“The folk show has been going for a long time, and there are a lot of people who are familiar with it and tune in,” Wagman said. “I was helping at the Bucks for Ducks benefit, and I had a name tag on, and a guy came up and told me he had been listening to the folk show for years.”

Fawx enjoys her radio identity as a folk show host. She said that on weekdays, “I’m a boring federal employee,” living in Sacramento. When she’s on the radio, Fawx said, “I like the songs that tell stories. I like to play the Halloween music, and the midwinter music, and music that goes with the equinoxes. And the music from the folk festivals. And the songs that tell the story of historic events.”

She mentioned artists like Aubrey Atwater and Elwood Donnelly, the band Dervish, and Lee Murdock, who specializes in songs related to the Great Lakes region.

Fawx has been with the Saturday Morning Folk program, off and on, since 1985.

“It’s sort of a way of life now,” she said. “And I love the music. There are people who have listened to the show for so many years, we have built up relationships with listeners. There are some who call on a regular basis. I know that every year on my last show before Christmas, Glen from Placerville is going to call and ask me to play ‘The Counting Carol.’ And that’s the kind of thing that keeps me going. With the webcasting, we now have a listener who used to be in Davis — he called last summer, and said that he was now listening from Tanzania.”

— Reach Jeff Hudson at jhudson@davisenterprise.net or (530) 747-8055.

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