UC Davis KDVS Radio Current Workers and Alumni Frustrated by Station Relocation and Downsizing

Courtesy photo – source

By Allison Hodge

DAVIS, CA– The University of California at Davis is intending to go ahead with the relocation of the KDVS radio station and demolition of its home, Freeborn Hall, despite calls from the community to reconsider the plan.

An anonymous source close to the radio station stated that he is, “Totally afraid that [UC Davis] is going to ruin the station,” which has a long history at UC Davis.

KDVS began broadcasting in 1964 and has been operating out of Freeborn Hall for over 50 years. The station boasts a wide collection of alternative music, public affairs shows, and news shows, like the popular Democracy Now, that are hosted by many current UC Davis students.

The university has stated that seismic concerns have forced them to formally demolish Freeborn Hall and relocate the station.

The original plan to tear down Freeborn Hall was conceived of and supported by former Chancellor Linda Katehi, who resigned in May 2016 after being placed on administrative leave for investigations into nepotism. In 2014, the administration had cited seismic concerns and closed the upper part of Freeborn Hall.

KDVS, however, continued to broadcast in the basement of Freeborn Hall. It was not until 2018 that UC Davis decided to demolish the building rather than retrofit it to be earthquake-safe.

An organization titled “Save KDVS”, which is dedicated to saving Freeborn Hall, estimates that earthquake renovations would cost 8 to $9 million, while demolition would cost slightly less at $5 million. Nevertheless, Save KDVS claims that, “At base cost, seismic renovation is 3.5 to $4 million over demolition, which is superior to paying $5 million to place a hole in the ground in the middle of campus spending.”

In April 2021, the university announced that KDVS would be relocated to a 1,000 square foot computer room in the Memorial Union building, a significant difference from the 3,000 square foot basement of Freeborn Hall that they currently occupy.

Noel Fernandez, the general manager for KDVS, remained optimistic in the announcement, stating, “Our new home in the Memorial Union will be the stomping ground for our current community to elevate their creative passions, as well as a supportive space for new KDVSers to cultivate their own.”

Both alumni and current workers, however, are visibly frustrated by the downsizing and say that the move will do more harm than good.

Their primary objection lies in the significant downgrade of space compared to their current home in Freeborn, as the station contains several physical libraries worth of recordings and multiple live recording studios.

Many alumni and former general managers of KDVS, for instance, have stated that the station’s huge archive of previously recorded shows and music will not be as easily accessible with the move, even if new space is provided to store them.

Save KDVS was formed shortly after the April announcement, and claims, “The space reduction implies up to an 80% reduction of KDVS’ historic library moved outside of the station into inaccessible storage,” which would mean less accessibility to archives for everyday radio workers. Such archives have been useful not only in referencing older music and previously recorded public affairs shows, but also hold historical value, as KDVS has recorded content for over 50 years.

In another interview, Noel Fernandez attempted to quell some concerns and clarified, “As both a student-funded and community-funded radio station, we’re taking all of these various influences into account in order to make sure that this new station meets the needs of KDVS.”

Save KDVS’ goal is to ultimately sway the university to communicate further with the expert KDVS relocation group, which was formed in 2020 for consulting purposes and made up of KDVS alumni with knowledge of KDVS operations, broadcast business, and civil engineering. The university disbanded the group in late 2020 and made conversations surrounding relocation private.

In a letter signed by over thirty former KDVS general managers, Save KDVS argued, “This plan will be extremely harmful to the function of the radio station, its historic and ongoing mission, and the wider community KDVS serves…We urge the University to abandon its disastrous plan…”

Save KDVS also claims that the university has been too focused on solely academics to the detriment of social events and the arts.

They state on their website, “With the continued monocentric take on education, collapse of social venues from coronavirus, and the gentrification of the Davis community, areas for art, music, and community, student-incubated cultural experiences have been cut or marginalized.”

The anonymous source the Vanguard spoke to stated, “[Freeborn Hall] is supposed to be for student services, for student concerts and the like, because not everyone can afford to go to the Mondavi Center…Now KDVS has been like a stepchild like ‘You’re nothing. You get no respect.’”

The station is currently set to be moved to a room across from the former Coffee House in the Memorial Union, a location that Fernandez claims will put KDVS in plain view for more students to discover and interact with. The move, in the university’s eyes, will also give the station the chance to introduce technical upgrades and comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act access guidelines.

Save KDVS maintains that renovating Freeborn Hall is still the best option, and states on their website that “The most comprehensive renovation of Freeborn — including seismic, ADA, internal and external re-design, and landscaping — is estimated to be $37 million.  While that number is larger than a simple seismic upgrade, it is less expensive than a new auditorium.”

The community remains concerned about the potential loss of space and accessibility to the station’s libraries. The anonymous source maintains that the university has already begun to “demoralize” the crew, stating, “They’ve already downsized it, and put it in a little box.”

The plan to relocate KDVS and tear down Freeborn Hall remains in place, and the station is set to complete the move to the Memorial Union before the end of the 2021-2022 school year. The university has yet to respond to comments from Save KDVS.

It is unclear whether the Memorial Union will become KDVS’ permanent home, or if the radio station will have the opportunity to relocate to the new building that takes Freeborn Hall’s place. The university has yet to comment on what the proposed new building will be used for.

About The Author

Allison is a rising senior at UC Davis, majoring in History and Political Science. She is originally from Clovis, CA, and is pursuing a career in civil rights and/or constitutional law.

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  1. Ron Glick

    It is sad that UCD doesn’t appreciate the educational resource value of KDVS. Many students who cut their teeth in radio at KDVS have gone on to related careers in broadcasting. Its not about Freeborn Hall. That facility has long been slated for redevelopment. The problem here is that a plan for a future KDVS radio station that builds on its past and is provided with the resources it needs to continue its educational mission in the 21st Century is not a facility that is one third the size of its current operation. If this was an interim move it would be one thing. The question remains what is the University’s longterm vision for KDVS and how does it need to be modified?

  2. Hiram Jackson

    I posted this article on the FB group for KDVS alumni, and the new current station manager (different from who was mentioned in the article) posted comments that the reporter of this article had not contacted current station core staff, and that as a result, some information in this article is incorrect.

      1. Alan Miller

        OK, well I gave it two days, so here’s what I know and my opinion, as the founder and host of the original KDVS Heavy Metal Hour, 1983-84.

        I’ve spoken with members of Save KDVS, another person who is trying to save Freeborn Hall itself along with KDVS, and the current general manager and some current/recent DJs.

        As I understand it, despite what it says in the article, Save KDVS is not set on saving Freeborn Hall as the only option, but one possible solution.  The group’s main goal is to keep the station’s 3000′ footprint, archive and recording studios in a single location.  Save KDVS includes almost every KDVS general manager from the last several decades!

        The person trying to save Freeborn Hall believes the architecture is worth saving as well as the function, including KDVS at its current location.

        The current general manager struck me as very concerned about the spirit of the station and seemed very much a “KDVS type”, despite being painted to me by one “Save KDVS” person as a shill for the chancellor.  I found her very much looking out for the good of the station.  I was told there was already a location for the archives and that they would be easily accessible, if not immediately adjacent.  The new location would add visibility for KDVS which she considered a plus.  The other DJs there seemed to agree with this sentiment.

        My view is that I’m not so concerned about Freeborn hall about the ground.  I’ve always thought it was about the worst indoor stage I’ve ever encountered with acoustics designed by Satan himself and they can’t tear the place down fast enough.  I would love to see the current KDVS location, along with two exits and an elevator, be preserved with the rest of the basement filled-in, and the new building incorporating the old KDVS side of the basement.  I love the old classic space and it works.  The ADA argument is a ruse along the lines of why we don’t have a Dairy Queen in town anymore (hint:  “wheelchair Nazi” lawyer scam).

        There is some argument to be made that being at ground level would give the station more visibility, especially if the DJ booth were visible to passers by.  Another truth is we aren’t spinning records like back in my day.  Most radio shows are now compiled in digital form and can be stored whole on one’s phone.  While having the archives in one place is optimal, a functional nearby space could still serve the station if everyone understands the value of those archives.  I am more concerned that, being detached, the value of physical stock may be lost on the digital generations.  I do believe the current GM has root in the good of the station, and I would like to see the current student management team up with Save KDVS and find a mutually favorable solution for all.

        But instead the University will probably just get what it wants.  Leaving yet another vestige of the great years of student-run enterprises at UC Davis from the 60’s and 70’s to turn to dust and by largely forgotten.

  3. Keith Y Echols

    Maybe it’s time for the broadcast radio station to move further into the 21st century?  Can’t the old archived stuff be digitized and brought back to be stored locally?  Most students listen to internet radio and podcasts anyway.  Creating those things doesn’t take up a huge physical footprint….so maybe if KDVS moved more towards an internet broadcast and podcast medium (which they’re liking already doing anyway to some degree)…maybe losing the square footage won’t be so bad?

    If KDVS needs to raise money and awareness; Thanksgiving is coming up….there’s always the traditional radio station turkey drop give away!

      1. Keith Y Echols

        Nah!  WKRP copyrighted the Turkey Drop!

        They couldn’t have copyrighted it.  That story was based on two other real life radio station accounts.  One was simply throwing turkeys off of the back of a truck.

        According to an interview with Classic TV History [link], an associate of Wilson at WQXI, Clarke Brown, told the story:

        The turkey drop was actually a real incident.  It was at a shopping center in Atlanta; I think it was Broadview Plaza, which no longer exists.  It was a Thanksgiving promotion. 

        We thought that we could throw these live turkeys out into the crowd for their Thanksgiving dinners.  All of us, naïve and uneducated, thought that turkeys could fly.  Of course, they went just f—–n’ splat.

        People were laughing at us, not with us.  But it became a legend. In reality, the turkeys were thrown off the back of a truck.

        But the other was possibly out of a helicopter or a plane.

        Another claim to a real-life turkey giveaway that could have also served as an inspiration for the WKRP episode is the unearthing of audio from a 1976 NAB convention in Illinois, where radio exec Stephen Bellinger told a story about dropping turkeys from a plane. The WKRP episode aired in 1978.

        In the audio clip from the convention, Bellinger said he was working for a radio station in Wisconsin that attached $100 bills to the legs of a live turkey and dropped it from an airplane over thousands of listeners. The turkey didn’t flap a single wing and crashed through the roof of a store; he explains.

        Gary Blum acknowledges the similarities between the Wisconsin promotion and his father’s Dallas turkey giveaway, but believes Wilson got the original idea from the elder Blum, as the two were close friends.

        Meanwhile, the AJC cites a 2016 posting on CBR.com that says the city of Yellville, AR was dropping live turkeys from airplanes for decades as an annual event held before the Thanksgiving holiday. The city discontinued sponsoring the event in 2018 after complaints.

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