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.