Educational, noncommercial, public service radio has been in operation since broadcasting’s beginning, and educational institutions, in particular, were pioneers in the development of radio broadcasting. WHA, licensed to the University of Wisconsin in Madison, began its experimental operation in 1919 as 9XM. Its present call letters were assigned on January 13, 1922. By 1925, there were 171 educational institutions with radio stations. When Congress passed the Communications Act of 1934, it directed the newly-created Federal Communications Commission to study a proposal to set aside a portion of the broadcast spectrum for noncommercial utilization. In 1945, after considerable debate, the FCC set aside 20 channels between 88 and 92 megahertz for this purpose. Since that time, educational, noncommercial radio has served as an alternative to commercial broadcasting, providing the public with cultural, educational, and entertaining programming.
The station now known as KDVS was formed by the students of the now-defunct Beckett-Hughes dormitories in late 1963. KCD began operations on February 1, 1964, broadcasting from the 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 AC phone lines and could be received on 880 AM by residents of certain dormitories. The first words ever broadcasted on KCD were, “Watson! Come here! I need a quarter!”
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 basement of the 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 have been received from as far away as Woodland, California.
KCD was initially challenging and independent. Its programming was diverse and it aired music which was distinctive from that of commercial stations, featuring, for example, a public affairs program that dealt with issues of poverty, student power, racism and the Vietnam War. KDVS gained a maverick reputation, airing interviews with Angela Davis and a live call-in show with Governor Ronald Reagan on April 14, 1969. In late 1969, KDVS aired its inaugural sports broadcast. Additionally, KDVS covered the all-day Vietnam War Moratorium protest and sarcastically ran an Alsatian for the 1969 Homecoming Queen.
On September 30, 1971, the station upgraded its signal by going to FM stereo. Commercials could be aired on the carrier current but were banned from the FM channel. In the mid 70’s, KDVS confronted a growing 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.
In April of 1977, KDVS went from ten to 5000 watts, and saw an even further increase in 1999 to 9,200 watts. This wattage gain greatly increased its listenership. In June of 1983, an outsider became general manager, took the station off-air for the entire summer, and during tried to make KDVS block-programmed and top 40. A year later, a new general manager began to reshape the station towards the alternative format that it had originally had.
Shockingly, in the fall of 1986, the KDVS staff posed nude for the center photo of the program guide. The news hit the Associated Press wire and the station attracted national coverage. A stamp disclaiming that the opinions expressed in the guide were not necessarily those of the UC Regents was mandated by the administration before distribution.
Along with stepping-up fundraising efforts, the station offices were cleaned up and reconfigured due to a growing record and CD collection. 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 steal 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, 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 experienced on televisions of nearby residents. Negotiations with Capitol 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.
KDVS, a non-profit organization, receives most funding through on-air underwriting, or “sponsorship” (much like National Public Radio), and private donations. In the early 1990’s KDVS was more than half subsidized by ASUCD. Starting in 1993 the station’s subsidy was gradually decreased. Between 1993 and 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. Once 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.
Since then, the KDVS has rededicated itself to high quality programming that follows its original philosophy. The listeners responded and the mid-2000s saw KDVS break both the $60k and $70k fundraiser totals. The station is back in acendency 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 Brodcasting, 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. Additionally, KDVS has birthed two separate not for profit organizations, each with different objectives. “Common Frequency” and the “Radio Engineering Research Group at UC Davis” each contribute to the understanding and proliferation of independent media and non-commercial broadcasting.