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40 years of KAOS

The Evergreen State College radio station hosts a shindig

KAOS 89.3 FM: The radio station has done broadcasts at The Evergreen State College's Red Square. Photo courtesy of evergreen archives

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It was 1973 when student Dean Katz applied for the call letters KESC and opened the commercial-free, independent broadcast radio station on the campus of The Evergreen State College in Olympia. Katz quickly turned around and claimed the letters KAOS, a seemingly more appropriate metaphor for the cross-cultures that inhabited the college's dorms and seeped from every coffee shop and tavern in the surrounding South Sound.

Since then, a variety of friendly voices have crossed the air waves, sharing political insights, broadcasting local up and coming musicians, crossing borders through world music and offering plenty of cheap futons from the community billboard.

This Saturday, KAOS 89.3 FM celebrates their big 4-0 at the Olympia Ballroom with AfroMassive and Kasata Sound, two groups that will get into your bones with their funk, jazz and rhythm.

Christopher Gray, AKA DJ Roomba, hosts the Thursday afternoon "Lunchbox" show and reminisces about time spent at KAOS.

"I've got my own personal history of hanging out up there when they were still on the third floor back in the early '90s when I first moved to town," he says. "Lots of drunken adventures at the station when they still spun vinyl and there was no campus police - just security officers. Go ahead and let your mind wander on that and you'd probably not be too far off."

KAOS has been long been know for their fun, and continue to bring new and refreshing topics to their worldly discussions. Introducing folks to cutting-edge music and old classics is another knack KAOS has perfected.

A handful of programs have been on the air more than 10 years, including "El Mensaje Del Aire" (Spanish language), "Retroactive" (roots rock, R&B and soul) and "Excuse All The Blood" (metal).

KAOS has an independent music policy that states at least 80 percent of the music broadcast must be from sources other than the four major label companies and their subsidiaries. 

"I think as programmers it's great," says Gray. "It allows you to dig a little deeper and see what's happening currently - around the world, and locally. It's about getting the music we're hearing to a bigger audience."

Noteworthy notches in KAOS' hemp belt are the rise-to-fame musicians and entrepreneurs that spent time in the studio, such as Nirvana, who played their second public appearance ever in 1987, and other experimental musicians such as KARP and Beck.

A handful of former DJs that went on to success include Calvin Johnson of K Records, Arrington de Dionyso of Old Time Relijun and Steve Fisk, who recorded and produced many albums in the height of the grunge era. 

It won't be a surprise to see some of those faces, among other Evergreen alumni and KAOS faculty at Saturday's shindig. And a shindig it will be. AfroMassive and Kasata Sound will break out their best jazz riffs, their funkiest beats and their shiniest horns.

P.S. I couldn't get away with writing this article and not plugging KAOS' spring fund drive - through April 17 - because after all, it's community supported radio. If you would like to learn more and/or become a member head to Here's to another 40 years!


LINK: KAOS 40th Birthday Blog

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