UC Davis’ freeform radio station serves as platform for alternative community
Whether through through music, talk shows, announcements or advertisements, KDVS 90.3 FM, UC Davis’ freeform radio station, serves as an ongoing resource for the community. While the station is both literally and figuratively underground, its utility for the campus and Davis/Sacramento community is limitless — KDVS runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, year-round.
Though the station has evolved since its birth in 1963, its commitment to alternative music and news remains. Originally run out of the laundry room of a campus dorm, the station first operated as KCD in February of 1964, according to the KDVS website. The station has since relocated its tower, modernized and renovated, but it remains one of UC Davis’ most influential nonprofit organizations.
UC Davis alumna Janie Lozano first joined KDVS in 1998 as an undergraduate student looking to get more involved. Like all KDVS members, she began as a volunteer, cleaning and organizing music.
“I didn’t think I wanted a radio show at first, but then people kept asking me, ‘So what kind of show are you gonna do?’ And so I thought: maybe I could do a rock show,” Lozano said. “I was starting to get into punk rock at the time, so I started a punk rock show in April of ’99.”
Since her first show (for which she was admittedly nervous to go on the air), Lozano has continued to DJ, and she still DJs for the station to this day. She noted that, among other changes, more women have become involved with KDVS since she began volunteering.
“I think when I first started I could count on one hand all the female DJs that I knew about,” Lozano said. “And now, it’s pretty 50/50. It’s better; it’s not as male-dominated. And, as you know, our general manager is Olivia [Henderson].”
Volunteers at the station have a variety of duties, primarily helping DJs so that their shows run smoothly and the station functions efficiently. Volunteers organize records, mark songs with radio or TV profanities and perform a variety of other tasks as needed.
“Everyone gets a show if they put in the work,” said Henderson, a fourth-year communication major.
Henderson has been the KDVS manager since 2015, and, because KDVS is mostly comprised of volunteers, she noted that the station is entirely self-run.
“The DJs are responsible for their own transitions. The only time myself or the programming director get involved is if they’re showing up late or there’s a content issue on their show,” Henderson said. “Otherwise, they are supposed to be there 15 minutes early — because it runs 24/7 — but if they’re irresponsible and they don’t show up, the programming director issue[s] them a violation.”
This emphasis on independence translates into KDVS’ content as well. As a freeform radio station, the music and talk shows played on-air are original content and represent an underground community ignored by many mainstream radio stations.
“The DJs have agency over their own content,” Henderson said. “We bring the music that no one else is going to hear.”
Owen Martin, the KDVS business manager and a second-year sustainable agriculture and food systems major, is consistently amazed by KDVS’ self-sufficiency.
“It kind of blows my mind every time that I go down [to Lower Freeborn] that our completely student-run station — which at pretty much every other UC has at least one faculty member — runs itself,” Martin said. “These hundreds of volunteers coordinate to make this thing run 24 hours a day, seven day[s] a week, 365 days out of the year.”
Part of this commitment to alternative music includes hosting KDVS’ annual festival, Operation Restore Maximum Freedom (ORMF). The festival varies in music from year to year, depending on the KDVS events director and what bands are on tour around that time.
“KDVS has always been really closely linked to the alternative art scene, and what that shows up as […] is events like ORMF,” Martin said. “One of the business managers for the school itself was suggesting bringing bigger artists like Chance the Rapper, but we were thinking we have to cater to the alternative community, because we’re one of the only outlets, physically.”
Throughout her time at the station, Lozano has also grown to recognize that KDVS fills a particular niche within the Davis community and campus.
“I think it fulfills a need for scratching underneath the surface for music that wouldn’t be heard anywhere else,” Lozano said. “And also for opinions that aren’t heard elsewhere. Because not only do we do music shows, but we also have news shows.”
In addition to organizing ORMF, the radio station hosts various house shows within the Davis/Sacramento area. Student bands have the opportunity to perform and promote their content at these shows, as well have their music on air.
“KDVS — it’s not just a radio station. It extends into real life,” Lozano said. “There’s often a show and it’s a ‘KDVS Presents’ show.”
But for Lozano, having command over the content played on air — whether it’s new music or a morning talk show — is liberating in many ways: “If I’m not DJing, it feels like I have a super power I’m not using.”
Those looking to become involved at KDVS may email the general manager, Olivia Henderson, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by: Ally Overbay — email@example.com