My name is DJ Shadow, and I’d like to describe a small piece of what KDVS has meant to me. At age 13, KDVS was my lifeline to alternative music. Growing up in Davis, we were beholden to the radio tastes of the Sacramento Valley. In the mid ‘80s, that meant classic rock, new wave, and country. I was searching for something different. I found it one day when I chanced upon a DJ playing “The Roof is on Fire” by Rockmaster Scott & the Dynamic Three. It was followed by a Fats Comet record, and then some noisy punk tape. I was confused, I was enthralled, I was hooked.
At age 15, KDVS was my introduction to the music business. One of my earliest mentors was a KDVS DJ named Oras Washington. He was the first person to have a rap show on the station, although he played contemporary R&B as well. I used to call in and request hardcore rap, and we struck up a friendship. Eventually, I asked if I could play one of my own mixes. I rode my bike down to the station, met Oras, and he introduced me and my skill to the listeners. I browsed the new arrivals, and learned about promos and what “adding a record” meant. Eventually, some of my first record label contacts were procured via the station.
At age 18, KDVS was where I met my crew. When I entered UCD as a freshman in 1990, Oras had just graduated, leaving void at the station. It was soon filled by Jeff “DJ Zen” Chang, who welcomed me down to his show. Eventually, he introduced me to two other freshman hip-hop devotees, newly arrived from Berkely and Sacramento, respectively. They would become known as Lyrics Born and Chief XCel (from Blackalicious). We were competitive, and didn’t think we needed each other, but right there in the KDVS lounge, Jeff made us realize that banding together as a unit would benefit everybody. Later, once we started our label, the lounge served as our de facto meeting place.
At age 19, KDVS was where I learned about music, and vibed on new ideas. At one time, the KDVS library was astonishing. I had heard about The Meters, but their early albums were hard to find, even in the early ‘90s. KDVS had them all. I first experienced their music in one of the audition booths at the station. Ditto Sun-Ra, and countless other cult and overlooked soul, rock, and jazz artists. The crew and I would spend hours listening to records, and sometimes talented folks like Chip Handy, Gary Yoder, and John Tchicai would pass through, engaging in discussion about what our ears were gravitating to. We even recorded a session with Tchicai in the KDVS live room, a moment that would later end up on one of our records.
All of my first recordings were debuted on KDVS. KDVS was where I met rapper Paris, who would later hite me to produce for him. And KDVS was where I interviewed other established artists I admired for Jeff’s show, later meeting many of them as my own career took flight. Simply put, it’s not entirely clear if I would have ever had a vocation in music if not for KDVS and the people I met there.
In 2020, many colleges have taken a short-sided approach to their station’s legacies: “With the internet and podcasts, who needs college radio?” It reminds me of the early 80’s, when to save money, many local TV stations recorded over, or threw away, older videotape. Countless hours of regional programming spanning 30 years (often featuring underrepresented groups) were lost due to a prevailing sentiment at the time which dictated that it’s just not worth the effort to keep it all. But once it’s gone, it’s gone. And once conventional wisdom swings the other way, and people and institutions decide that actually culture does matter, and alternatives do matter, and college radio is a community resource worth saving, it’s too late.
It doesn’t have to be too late for KDVS. Art, dialogue, and individuality should matter to any college campus. A radio station is more than its call letters. It’s an archive, a studio, a live room, a lounge, a place with space for big ideas and dreams. KDVS deserves to be respected and cherished, in its entirety.