Surf on the Radio: TJ the DJ and KDVS

During his feud with Geffen Records, Neil Young co-wrote “Payola Blues” for his Everybody’s Rockin’ album.  Its verse was:

“No matter where I go
I never hear my record on the radio”

That summed up my expectations when we recorded Into the Flow in 2011.  What radio station ever would play a song from a self-produced CD made up of original surf genre instrumentals performed by mostly non-professional musicians in a band named “The Lava Pups”?

Early on, those expectations were not too far off the mark.  But we did get to hear our record -- rather, CD -- on the radio.  Initially, connections helped.  A friend’s husband had a radio show, plugged one of our early shows, and played “Lava Tube.”  A record store passed local releases to a DJ, and over a couple of shows Into the Flow was played in its entirety.  One of the two shows included an interview with Sal Valentino -- a local icon who was the Beau Brummels’ frontman in the 1960s.  He was promoting an upcoming gig or new release.

With that we had achieved more than I ever could have imagined.  Emboldened, we submitted songs to Internet surf “radio stations” and podcasts -- cyber radio.  But it felt impersonal.  Find a “station”; follow the instructions to upload a song; wait to find out if your song is accepted.  Outlets for surf music seemed limited.

But sometimes things are not as they seem.  One night after a performance, an audience member came up and introduced himself.  “Hi, I’m TJ.  I have a weekly program on KDVS.  For one hour, I play surf music.”  

Surf music -- weekly -- on local radio.  Did I hear that correctly?  Wow, radio is no longer dead or impersonal.  It had a face.  I was talking to a real, live “DJ” who played surf music.  Standing there was somebody who loved it enough to pull together a weekly show with one hour devoted to traditional and modern surf.  And some radio program director was willing to give TJ the air time for his show.

KDVS may not be the equivalent of “XERB the Mighty 1090,” which blasted northward from Baja at 50,000 watts and bounced its way into Northern California on clear nights in the 60s.  Rather, KDVS broadcasts from Davis at 13,000 watts.  On a good day with a good car radio, you might pick it up almost all the way to Lake Tahoe.  Unlike commercial radio, KDVS is freeform and prides itself in its program diversity.

Freeform leaves programming control to a DJ or producer.  That freedom allows TJ to put on “Sub Zero” on Monday nights from 6 to 8:00.  The first hour is surf music; the second hour is an eclectic mix of indie, psychedelic, and whatever other music TJ pulls out.  During the surf hour, his self-programming ranges from classic first wave surf -- like the Sentinals or the Centurions -- to the later waves -- like Slacktone and Satan’s Pilgrims.  

In a return to the halcyon days of local AM radio, TJ plays local bands.  If you tune in on a Monday night, you might hear The Funicellos, The Pyronauts, The VibroCounts, or The Sneaky Tikis.  And -- hold on -- you might even hear The Lava Pups!  That, in turn, makes us think about recording again to capture how we sound now.

“Sub Zero” out.  Support TJ and KDVS.  After all, they support us and the music we love.

Thanks to TJ the DJ and KDVS, we need not sing the "Payola Blues" lament.  Instead, as long as we do not go too far down the road, we get to hear our record on the radio.


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