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24 Mar 2016

Coming to You Live From DHS: The Goal of Radio Station KDHS: Build Community and Foster Change in the Oft-Troubled City

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KDHS volunteers sort through materials at a meeting. KDHS volunteers sort through materials at a meeting.

Editor's Note: For a clarification and follow-up to this piece, go here.

The city of Desert Hot Springs has a reputation problem.

KDHS FM 98.9 hopes to be part of the solution.

The low-frequency, all-volunteer radio station is starting to garner attention thanks to community-outreach efforts being made by Michelle Ann Rizzio, who is currently running the station. She said her father started the station as a hobby back in 2006.

“I went off to college in 2009 at the University of San Francisco and immediately got involved with KUSF,” she said. “When I came back most recently, in September 2014, my dad was still operating his radio station, and still had it as a closed thing and a lot more hobby-oriented. He was getting open to ideas for having local shows and volunteers to get a little bit more of a formal radio station. I thought, ‘This is what I did in college, and I would love to get involved down here.’ He said, ‘Ok, take it over!’

“In December 2014, I started working toward revamping it and getting it branded for being an outlet for the community. Since then, I’ve been building our brand, throwing events and getting volunteers.”

Rizzio described the current format of KDHS as “free form.”

“It has in the past been a lot more alternative, reggae and metal,” she said. “In the past few months, it’s been transitioning more toward the community, and we’ve been having music meetings every week in Desert Hot Springs. There will be a handful of volunteers each time, and we’ll vote on vinyl records as well as MP3s and local bands. It’s definitely free-form.”

KDHS currently has no paid staff members. Rizzio said she is currently in the process of getting KDHS registered as a nonprofit, and she has hopes for the station to get a public space. It’s currently operated out of a studio at her family’s home in Desert Hot Springs.

“We’ve opened up our studio to volunteers and are really working to build,” Rizzio said. “I really want to get a public production space in Desert Hot Springs. I’ve been talking about it for the past seven months, and we recently just had some construction done on our private studio. It’s able to get the job done at this time, and we’re able to produce high-quality productions and put them on the air, and do trainings and one-on-ones with the DJs and volunteers, but it does have limitations. There are time limitations, and (we) can only seat one person at the computer. I want to have more spaces for the DJs to work at and have a larger facility so this can all take place.”

Running a local all-volunteer radio station is not without challenges, of course.

“As far as interacting with the community goes, I haven’t had any issue with that,” Rizzio said. “I have a lot of people who support us and a lot of people who want to get involved. I think the biggest thing has been getting our production tight and making sure everybody knows their expectations and what a volunteer radio station entails. For a lot of our volunteers, community radio, radio, production work and all that stuff is brand-new to them. It’s also about focusing and keeping my eye on the prize, which is getting a public production space.

“There are so many opportunities that come my way, and I’m like, ‘Oh my god, that’s amazing!’ But then I have to remind myself to focus and build the word, continue to fundraise and train volunteers. It’s just me, and I’m training everybody and trying to build a team that can train other volunteers.”

Another issue is the station’s signal.

“We’re currently working on raising our antenna so we can be heard clearly all throughout Desert Hot Springs,” Rizzio said. “Right now, you can’t hear us in certain areas like Mission Lakes. Once we get that a little higher, we should be able to be heard toward Ramon (Road) and Vista Chino, and hopefully to Morongo. I know that some people have complained about some static on the radio station, but there’s a lot more than meets the eye when it comes to raising the antenna, especially with the wind out here.”

To get the word out, KDHS has started producing various events, including a recent benefit show for the station at Playoffs Sports Bar that featured Monreaux, The Hive Minds, The CMFs and Higher Heights—bringing some of the valley’s top local bands to DHS. In other words, being part of the solution.

“With how much marginalization that goes on in Desert Hot Springs and all the communities built around the void in this city, radio can create radical social change, and help with social justice issues as well,” Rizzio said. “I grew up in Desert Hot Springs, so I’m very well aware of our reputation throughout the years and how we currently are. In my opinion, there’s a lot of opportunity, and I think a radio station could serve the community quite well.”

For more information, visit www.kdhsfm.com.

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