KDVS History

The Conception

Educational, noncommercial, public service radio has been in service since the emergence of broadcasting’. Educational institutions, in particular, were pioneers in the development of the medium. WHA, licensed to the University of Wisconsin in Madison, began experimental operation in 1919 as 9XM. with the present call letters were assigned on January 13, 1922. By 1925 there were 171 educational institutions with radio stations. With the Communications Act of 1934, Congress directed the newly-created Federal Communications Commission to set aside a portion of the broadcast spectrum for noncommercial utilization. Finally in 1945, after considerable debate, the FCC set aside 20 channels between 88 and 92 megahertz for this purpose. Since then educational, noncommercial radio has served as an alternative to commercial broadcasting, providing the public with distinctive cultural, educational, and entertaining programming.


After a visit from representatives of KAL (now KALX) in Berkeley a group of UC Davis students formed a radio club with the aspiration of establishing a student radio station.The first President of the club was Michelle “Shelley”  Stone. The unlicensed station, initially given the call letters KCD was allowed to have a site in the now-defunct Beckett-Hughes dormitories in late 1963. KCD began operations on February 1, 1964, broadcasting from the basement laundry room of all-male Beckett Hall. Although this situation could have resulted in the exclusion of women, arrangements were made to accommodate female staff. Initially, the KCD signal was carried by “carrier current” on the campus electrical grid and could be received on radios at 880 AM.  The first official GM was Ken Stallard, who later became Mayor of Woodland.

A large number of staff members were electrical and electronic engineering students who came up with ingenious methods to extend the range of their programs. They set up relays that jumped the transmission signal into the City of Davis electrical grid allowing signals to reach the downtown core and the off campus dorms near Oxford Circle. They also experimented with actual broadcasting, setting an amplifier and running a uni-directional antenna pointing west atop one of the high rise dorms. They then drove West in a vehicle to see how far reception could be achieved. They stopped in Vacaville with the signal still being received, although when they drove North or South the signal strength rapidly diminished. They even received a signal report from a vessel off San Francisco.

Many of these Engineers went into commercial broadcasting or into the nascent Silicon Valley industries (Ken True). One, Gregory Yob (who had an avant-garde jazz show), later began to use computers to play games, and in 1973 invented the three dimensional cave-fantasy adventure called “Hunt The Wumpus”.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hunt_the_Wumpus
Later he increasingly turned to spirituality, changed his name first to Hara Ra, and then to Gregory Coresun. Upon his death he was one of the first to have cryopreservation utilized in an attempt to extend his life.

Another innovation was the surreptitious use of campus “tie-lines”, open telephone lines between UC campuses that allowed official University business and labs to occur. KAL and KCD shared extensive reports on student protests and counter-protests during the “Free Speech Era”. One of the first protests that KCD covered was a protest on May 4, 1964 by unions of a New Christy Minstrels concert in Freeborn Hall. The University had used non-union student workers as stage crew. A large number of student counter-protestors also appeared. Such shared coverage of events expanded greatly six months later when student groups at Berkeley were denied the ability to table and have public speakers on campus. Protests related to that ban rapidly escalated to sit-ins and large demonstrations called the Free Speech Movement. Shared reporting of such news between KALX and KCD and other UC Radio Stations served as the genesis of the UC Radio Network. At this time KCD also developed the capacity to broadcast remotely, even establishing a remote site in the office of ASUCD President Bob Black during the height of the protests, but also using that system to cover Picnic Day from the quad.

Music programming in these initial years of on-campus broadcasting primarily focused upon “music to study by.” Classical compositions, film scores, and “pop” ballads were standard during the day, but in the evening and on weekends one might hear folk, jazz, and increasingly “surf music” and rock and roll. Its music programming was diverse and distinctive from that of commercial stations.

Broadcasting from Beckett began around 8 AM and extended until 6 PM. But student interest caused an expansion of hours to 10 PM. The increasing late night hours of operation, loud music, and the presence of girls in the male dormitory laundry room caused some conflicts that nearly led to the station nearly being shut down in 1965. Hours were cut, a curfew established for co-eds, but the incident led to plans for a move.

The Early Years

In 1966, the ASUCD and KCD staff reached an agreement which would allow KCD to apply for an FM broadcast license. Operations were then moved to the station’s present location in the basement of then newly-constructed Memorial Union. On October 18, 1967, when the FCC granted the UC Regents a Class D, noncommercial, educational FM broadcast license, KCD became KDVS. The initial broadcast at 10 watts on 91.5 megahertz took place on January 2, 1968. These mono signals were reported to have been received from as far away as Woodland, California.  On September 30, 1971, the station upgraded its signal by going to FM stereo.

With the transition to being a community station the programming shifted as well. KDVS developed public affairs programs that dealt with issues of poverty, student power, racism and the Vietnam War. Environmentalism, Civil Rights, critiques of rampant materialism, and other issues were explored. The music programming changes as well. With less issues with interference on the campus phone lines (cross-talk) the music could be louder and more experimental. Progressive and “Acid” Rock, Fusion and Avant-Garde Jazz, and Modern Classical  could be heard in the mix. The latter became particularly explored as the Music Department brought in such luminaries as Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage as visiting professors.

KDVS gained a maverick and court-jester reputation, airing interviews with Angela Davis and a live call-in show with Governor Ronald Reagan on April 14, 1969. One notorious free-form DJ named “Mohon” was in reality Chuck Papke, a military Veteran opposed to the draft, returned a letter to the Veterans Administration with a note written on the envelope: “President Johnson’s War in Vietnam Make’s America Puke.” This led to ….having Secret Service agents come to Davis and interrogate Papke and his neighbors supposedly because, as FBI Agent Larry Sheafe stated, “If enough people puked on the President he might die”. Papke later became a prominent environmentalist, introducing recycling programs throughout Northern California.

Additionally, KDVS covered the all-day Vietnam War Moratorium protests and mockingly ran an Alsatian dog for the 1969 Homecoming Queen.

Also in late 1969, after an initial trial run in which a bowling competition between AS President Bob Black, and Chancellor Emil Mrak was covered, KDVS aired its inaugural sports broadcast. KDVS Sports Director Dennis Packer announced the famous November 6th, 1971 comeback “The Miracle Game” against an undefeated UC Hayward football game in which the Aggies scored 16 points in less than twenty seconds to go to the Camellia Bowl. Packer went on to become stadium announcer for USC Trojans for over two decades along with stints as the Public Announcer with the Raiders, the Chargers, the Dodgers, Angels, the NHL’s LA Kings  and even several World Cup Games when the tournament came to the Rose Bowl.

Roberto I. “Bob” Jimenez became a prominent news reporter and anchor for KRON-TV in San Francisco and KCBS-TV in LA ….GM at KDVS in 197 later anchored news for.  Several of the DJ’s became broadcasters such as Mike “Mama” Blachman, and several went on “free-form” commercial radio stations at a time when FM was “underground”, hip and radical.  “Gordo” Styler, Edd Fong, Keith Stark, Roger Moon, Chris Collins, Jack “Normal” Androvich and Bruce “Jet” Riordan went to KZAP in Sacramento, and Ken Beck and Karen Hadlock Beck went to KSFM in Woodland before moving on to a host of other radio stations.

In the mid 70’s, KDVS confronted a growing campus conservatism which threatened the station’s effort to provide an alternative to commercial broadcasters. Some students held that a more mainstream format would increase student listenership, basing their arguments on a controversial survey that showed only about 20 percent of students listened to KDVS. They failed to note that the station had higher ratings than all but one commercial station, KZAP…where, ironically many former KDVS and other college DJ’s were disc-jockeys.

While KDVS still had considerable diversity in different genres there was a tendency for the rock programming to mirror the commercial rock stations in the region (what would later be defined as “classic rock”). But in the late 1970’s a revolution swept the music world…what was called “punk rock” or “NewWave”… and a plethora or independent artists that were releasing single or cassette tapes.  KDVS was an early adopter with “Shake Some Action” the first dedicated “punk rock” show on KDVS hosted by Music Director Tom Gracyk in 1977. Gracyk was later a member of the so-called “Gang of Four” (with Steve Wynn, David Ciaffardini, and Kendra Smith) in 1979 which encouraged more new alternative music to be played on the station. Wynn and Smith were later of the band Suspects (along with Russell Tolman) and then The Dream Syndicate. 

Coffee House

On Friday, November 5th 1976 several KDVS staffers brought in the punk band Leila and the Snakes (featuring Jane Dornacker, Pearl E. Gates (later Pearl Harbor), Pamela Wood to the “new” ASUCD Coffee House. This was one of the first known punk concerts in California. The “old” Coffee House in North Hall had previously hosted folk, blues and even some rock groups in previous years, but the new venue allowed larger audiences. The next year the ASUCD hired Peter Afterman who worked with KDVS Music Directors and DJ’s to identify upcoming and unknown touring artists that would make the Coffee House a mecca for the new underground. The “Afterman Years” at the Coffee House included performances by Elvis Costello, the Talking Heads, The Police, The Ramones, Iggy Pop, John Cale, DEVO, the Gang of Four, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe, Bill Monroe, Ultravox, Dire Straits, Emmylou Harris, Peter Tosh, John Fahey, Tom Robinson, Pearl Harbour and the Explosions, Gil Scott Heron, Joe Jackson, George Thorogood.


In April of 1977, KDVS went from ten to 5000 watts. These wattage gains greatly increased its listenership to include some parts of Sacramento and the Sierra foothills. Unfortunately a concurrent move of antenna site by the PBS TV station Channel 6 resulted in some Davis viewers receiving interference. KDVS Engineers provided free antenna filters at no cost to viewers upon request. Still Channel 6 filed a complaint with the FCC but that challenge was overturned a few years later. In the mid-1980’s a general rewiring project was initiated.

In the early 1980’s KDVS was wracked by several premature unexpected turnovers of General Managers. This caused considerable instability in planning and direction.  In the Fall of 1982, MBA student who had no KDVS experience became replacement general manager after the previous one hired was declared academically ineligible. The GM attempted to institute block programming that either required experienced DJ’s to alter their class times to fulfill or lose their shows. This created intense alienation and dissent. Then the Media Board hired another outsider who took the station off-air for the entire summer, and tried to reduce the diversity by requiring DJ’s to play material from a restricted number of albums placed in bins in the studios. After resistance allowance was made for some DJ choice and creativity and the range of albums was increased.  At the same time conservative politicians in the student government also attempted to mandate that KDVS play more Top-40 and initiated a referendum to compel such programming.

Fortunately a year later, a new general manager began to reshape the station back towards the alternative format that it had originally had. With the introduction of more artistic freedom on shows station staff were energized to improve the station. Staff initiated the quarterly station program guide “KDViations” paid exclusive from print advertising, and built a mobile DJ Unit to earn money and increase community visibility. Live In Studio A (aka L.I.S.A.) was initiated during this period…allowing local and touring bands to showcase in a studio setting. In 1985 they inaugurate a series of Record Swaps accompanied by a free concert for those that paid attendance to the swap.

KDVS also sponsored concerts and benefits in the Coffee House. But because of increasing pressures to limit the audience size of Coffee House concerts and to increase paid security (Cal Aggie Hosts) an increased reliance on off-campus “house shows” occurred. Several off-campus venues developed…616 Anderson (which evolved into the Pirate House), the Aggie Hotel, and the Olive Pit. Many of these skirted the City of Davis noise ordinance by being held in settings away from, or with the cooperation of, nearby neighbors. Forty years later the “House Show” tradition still continues.

In the fall of 1986, the KDVS staff posed nude for the center photo of “KDViations” as a joking spoof of the beefcake calendars that police and fire departments had started doing for charity. A few copies of “KDVS Exposed!” were distributed in the Memorial Union before off-campus dissemination. Panic ensued when the guide was brought to the attention of Administrators by an outraged and shocked ASUCD student politician. Campus administrators requested a stamp disclaiming that the opinions expressed in the guide were “not necessarily those of  ASUCD, the UC Davis or the UC Regents”. The news hit the Associated Press wire and the station attracted local and national TV coverage.

About that same time the FCC had begun an investigation of KUSB-Santa Barbara for a program that played a ribald and scatalogical song called “Makin’ Bacon” by the Pork Dukes during what had always been considered “safe harbor hours” (after 10PM with a warning). The FCC also requested that the Regents demonstrate precisely how they were instituting control over the student stations in the UC system.

The Media Board required KDVS to develop the first formal written By-Laws for the station that laid out not only the organization, but how programming decisions were made. Prior to this the rights and responsibilities of core staff and, more importantly, volunteer programming staff, was largely based upon custom and traditions passed on from year-to-year. Those traditions had been severely disrupted in the early 1980’s and so staff decided to use the directive to formalize the system to their advantage. Thus the By-Laws created for the first time formal protections, but also elaborated on the responsibilities that volunteer programmers and appointed stipend staff had to one another and the station.

On a second-front KDVS staff member Jerry Drawhorn and GM Marg Tobias drafted a 20 page amicus curiae brief that was approved by the UCRN to be submitted to the US Federal Appeal Court. This brief was cited by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in overturning the FCC’s crackdown on UCSB as an ex post facto regulation.


KDVS, is a non-profit organization, and as a non-commercial radio station it cannot advertise even for the University. It receives the bulk of its funding through on-air underwriting (or “sponsorship”), events, and private contributions. Until the early 1990’s KDVS was more than half subsidized by ASUCD in exchange for announcements of AS and UC Events and services. Starting in 1993 through 1995, the station’s operating budget was reduced by $6,000 and its reserve fund allocations by $7,000. Such cuts in funding forced a turn to our listeners for support, and the 1993-1994 academic year saw the first full-scale KDVS on-air fundraiser lead by GM Marta Ulvaeus. While there were concerns that it might not be successful due to inexperienced fundraising staff and an ungenerous audience, it actually almost raised enough to counter the loss of subsidy. Twice a year, all the radio shows on KDVS for one week will ask listeners to call in and donate to maintain the radio station. Each DJ is required to attend a meeting on how to properly execute a fundraiser show. The listeners responded and the mid-2000s saw KDVS break both the $60k and $70k fundraiser totals.


The station is back in ascendancy with a new generation of staff and managers who share a healthy respect for the higher purpose of community radio and a zeal for innovation. This philosophy and energy has helped KDVS become the leader in UC Broadcasting, making it the only 24/7/365 live broadcasted station. In addition to our commitment to programming, KDVS has founded a record label (KDVS recordings), dedicated to the station’s original mission and also student run.  [When founded, still extant]

The philosophy of KDVS has also been one to encourage allow others to have their own unique alternative radio station suited to their communities.  The first spawn of KDVS was when KCD DJ Fred Barbaria transferred to the University of Hawaii and brought his expertise and knowledge of college radio along.  He organized a group of interested students and became the first General Manager of KTUH at the University of Hawaii-Manoa in 1966 and served for six years. In 2004 KDVS DJ Sakura Saunders mobilized KDVS volunteers to produce announcements and mix CDs for the first few days of air while former GM Nix Glass helped train inexperienced staff on the protocols of broadcasting. 

Additionally, KDVS has birthed two separate not for profit organizations, each with different objectives [which are?]. “Common Frequency” [How many startups assisted…states?] and the “Radio Engineering Research Group at UC Davis” each contribute to the understanding and proliferation of independent media and non-commercial broadcasting. KDRT and X number of Low Power FM Radio Stations.  A KZAP Reunion and 48 hour marathon hosted by KDVS in 201 led to the return of that station to the Sacramento airwaves as a LP-FM station and with a worldwide on-line streaming presence.

Along with stepping-up fundraising efforts, the station offices were cleaned up and reconfigured due to a growing record and CD collection. [Size]

KDVS reclaimed the use of the lobby for a business area instead of a storage room. In the mid to late 90’s, KDVS attempted more student outreach and promotion, and optimized its financial and business strategies. Some believed that KDVS was “professionalizing” and becoming more “mainstream,” with the renovation and progress that KDVS was but the music on the station remained the same.

The station upgraded its link to the transmitter by utilizing a new digitally-encoded “microwave” link. KDVS’ aged broadcast antenna, a steel pipe stuck through the MU roof, was upgraded to a professional mast erected on Kerr Hall’s roof. The transition was a rocky one, as the MU building was gutted and was receiving a complete seismic retrofit at the time. In December 1996, shortly before New Year’s, dust and moisture from the construction and heavy rains seeped into the station’s transmitter and knocked KDVS off the air. The repair to the transmitter took months, so KDVS had to temporarily broadcast at 30 watts.

Upon relocation to Kerr Hall in 1999, the station’s wattage was doubled from 5000 watts to about 9200 watts via application with the FCC. Upon returning to full-power, KDVS released a special 80-page program guide. Due to the increased wattage, interference was once again experienced on televisions of nearby residents. Negotiations with Capital Public Radio and KVIE Channel 6 took place with the increase of power, as these entities were concerned with the negligible interference KDVS may have caused. KDVS agreed to visit every house that experienced television interference and install a filter to remedy the problem. KDVS also went online in 1996, and shortly later became one of the first stations on the web with streaming and archiving audio.

KDVS’ programming continued to reflect that of the underground in the mid 90’s. The growth of hip hop, underground garage rock, and hardcore was amply reflected in programming. KDVS Public Affairs began regular daily slots in the morning and late afternoon.

In 1999 KDVS continued to renovate. Both Studios A and B were completely overhauled, from the carpet to the ceiling. KDVS’ analog cart machine was replaced by a digital version. New computers were purchased and networked, and a library database was started. KDVS purchased a digital ADAT system that allowed 16-track recording in Studio A, and also procured an MCI 8-track recorder. Security became more of an issue: ID cards were introduced, and a digital surveillance system was purchased. KDVS also expanded its floor space by annexing the adjacent room in Lower Freeborn Hall, installing a door, and utilizing the area for offices. The management, headed by a very proactive General Manager and Engineering Manager, completed many of these projects. 

In 2003, the KDVS lobby was remodeled with donations from the General Staff. KDVS also commenced work on another room that is now used as an audio editing area (designed “Studio C”). 

As of 2013, KDVS has been broadcasting from a transmitter on a recently built tower in the Yolo County Landfill. Boosting their signal power from 9,200 watts to 13,000 watts, and having the new transmitter 193 feet above the ground vs 108 feet above the ground from the previous location in UC Davis, the KDVS signal reaches considerably farther into the central, southern and eastern portions of the Sacramento metropolitan area, portions of the Sierra foothills in Placer and El Dorado counties and parts of Solano County.

To this day, KDVS continues its original mission: to provide the university with a laboratory for learning broadcast, production and managerial skills, and to provide its listening audience with diverse, challenging, noncommercial, freeform radio.