Dallas Observer: Keeping Loud: After 40 Wild Years, KNON Has No Plans To Fade Into Radio Silence

To celebrate its anniversary, the station is hosting a concert at the Granada Theater with artists Jay Perez, R.L. Griffin and Igor and the Red Elvises, among others.

On Nov. 8, 1963, an episode of The Twilight Zone, “The Old Man in the Cave,” premiered on CBS. Written by the show’s creator Rod Serling and based on a short story by American playwright Henry Slesar, it told the story of a small group of survivors from a nuclear apocalypse who rely exclusively on an old man whom they’ve never seen or met to check scavenged cans of food for radiation contamination. One day, after the old man decides that a batch of recently found food is bad, the hungry survivors angrily break into his cave to find that he is not a man at all. He is a computer. The mob destroys the computer and then all perish after deciding to eat the poisoned food.

The American viewers watching that episode sat snugly in their homes on that fall night, eyes glued to their televisions. What was widely considered The Golden Age of Radio had ended a decade before. Yet radio stations were still pumping out entertainment and producing shows that would be talked about for decades to come. It was the era of disc jockeys when names like Wolfman Jack emerged and gained significant followers by keeping loyal listeners hip to the latest tunes. Audiences deeply bonded with their hosts and trusted their jockeys to play the perfect song for life’s perfect moments. Since then, that special touch of humanity in commercial radio has dissipated, to say the least.

As we continue to place our trust and taste in algorithms, few radio stations are left in the U.S. that still subscribe to this kind of bespoke experience. Dallas happens to be home to one such station. On July 30, Dallas’ 89.3 KNON-FM will celebrate its 40th year on the air. To mark the occasion, the station is hosting a concert at Granada Theater with artists Jay Perez, R.L. Griffin and Igor and the Red Elvises, among others.

On July 30, 1983, KNON was born with just 10,000 watts of power and airtight ideals about what makes a great radio station last. Barely out of the gate, KNON almost lost its frequency to First Baptist Dallas. But what doesn’t kill you … Over the past four decades the station has called four different locations home, survived a direct hit from a tornado and spawned a plethora of local musicians and disc jockeys who have gone on to help shape the way Dallas listens to music and perceives culture.

The entirely listener-funded radio station, known as “The Voice of the People,” hosts some of the most diverse shows on FM radio today. Blues, salsa, world, local, gospel, rock and Latin are just the tip of the iceberg among the station’s ocean of varied sounds, which range all the way to the most sub of subgenres. With the recent launch of KNON Now, the 24-hour streaming online station, KNON is set to expand even further by playing reggaeton, Celtic and even Gospel hip-hop.

For longtime station manager and radio personality Dave Chaos, the success and lasting power of the station can be credited to one simple but essential ingredient.

“It’s the people,” he says. “All the people involved with the station — from the musicians to the DJs, the listeners and small businesses — all came together over the years to make it happen. It truly is about the people.”

Chaos has made quite a name for KNON by helping turn the station into a cultural lifeline for those tired of listening to the Top-40-sap of Dallas commercial radio. In fact, Chaos has done such a great job over the past four decades that David Bowie once gifted him a signed poster inscribed with a personal note, praising Chaos for his work at the station. It hangs proudly in the station lobby along with a slew of other framed posters and mementos from famed musicians.

Chaos came to the station in 1987 after moving to Dallas from Madison, Wisconsin, and playing bass in a cover band. At the age of 19, he opened his own record store and initially worked as a volunteer for KNON’s pledge drives. Within three months, he secured his first radio show, from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. on Sundays, playing punk-rock, blues and later local bands. Hanging out with the Dallas-based Loco Gringos introduced him to much of the flavor in a thriving 1980s Deep Ellum music scene.

Chaos was so impressed with this introduction that he has since dedicated his work to giving hundreds of Dallas artists their first crack at FM radio play.

“I played local as much as I could get my hands on, and Loco Gringos was the first Dallas band I hooked up with,” Chaos says. “Later on, I played stuff by Rigor Mortis, and then one day Pantera showed up to give me a cassette. They were great. We’ve always had a local scene as good, if not better, than any scene in the U.S.”

Both Pantera and Rigor Mortis went on to mint themselves into legends by securing major label recording contracts, followed by other Dallas favorites such as Erykah Badu and Tripping Daisy. Chaos fondly remembers how those successful Dallas musicians supported the station after finding commercial success.

“Dimebag [Darrell Abbott] made a pledge and dropped off a check right as Pantera’s career was taking off,” Chaos says. “Our highest donation was from Erykah Badu. She sat in my office to give a $5,000 donation to Eddie D’s Knowledge Dropped, Lessons Taught, which is the longest-running hip-hop show going.”

EZ Eddie D’s Knowledge Dropped Lessons Taught has garnered attention from musicians all over the world and continues to do so. Throughout the show’s 35 years on the air, KNON has provided D with a place to say what he wants and play what he wants, something no other hip-hop DJ in any city has been able to do.

“I think that since it’s KNON, it sometimes goes under the radar, but what maybe people don’t understand is the magnitude of being on the air that long,” D says. “Radio is a very hard thing, and I always thought of my show as a platform for social consciousness, to both play music and ask questions.”

The show originally aired in 1987 from KNON’s first studio, playfully nicknamed The White House of East Dallas. The house was located at 4415 San Jacinto St., which is now an empty field, far before the streets of East Dallas started to become gentrified. Chaos remembers the neighborhood as rough. He also remembers one group being surprised at the studio’s location after hearing so much about KNON and D’s show in particular.

“One time this band kept reaching out to get airplay in Dallas,” Chaos says. “Their manager called on a Saturday to see if they could stop by the show, and Eddie was willing to do it. Eddie’s show was always Rappers Central, so everyone would hang out in the front yard. This giant tour bus pulls up and we start sizing it up. Then all of a sudden, we get a call from the manager, and he says, ‘This really isn’t an area a radio station would be.’

“That bus took off like a bat out of hell and we never heard from them again. As it turned out, the group was Insane Clown Posse!” he concludes with a laugh.

Although Insane Clown Posse got the “ick” when pulling up to KNON, many Dallas startups saw The White House of East Dallas as their opportunity to get on the radio. Singer and solo artist Joe Grah of Jibe, Loser, and South of Earth recalls the house being quite charming.

“Inside there was music and records everywhere,” Grah says. “[We] did an on-air performance and Dave Chaos was really cool, so we established a great relationship. I think Animal House is the perfect analogy for the vibe there and us being on the road; we were used to that shit.”

Robert Smith of The Cure once showed up to the house after hours just to hang out and sift through the hallways and rooms of music with longtime disc jockey Charlie Don’t Park. Smith had just finished a show at the late, legendary Arcadia in Lower Greenville.

“He went through our records and just hung out,” Park says of Smith. “The coolest part was I really didn’t know exactly who he was. He just wanted to be part of it and what we were doing.”

Like Chaos, Park started at the station as a volunteer in 1984, just one year after KNON came on the air. Park’s opportunity came after he repeatedly called in requesting interesting and obscure music.

“I was driving my VW by White Rock Lake and they started playing, ‘Tattooed Love Boys’ by The Pretenders,” Park says. “I kept calling and making requests until they just called me. Back then labels didn’t send us albums, we’d just play our own shit.”

When Park started, hair metal bands of the 1980s were dominating the radio airwaves, and major record labels started sending KNON CDs of RATT, Poison and Dokken to play on the air. Park had other ideas about what was good music.

“I looked at that stuff and I said, ‘The [New York] Dolls did it first, and The Dolls did it better,'” he says. “I took those CDs and traded them in for stuff by The Clash and B-52’s. I took that bad metal we were never going to play and built our library out of it.”

KNON’s staple rock show, Reckless Rock Radio with Lee Russell and Greg “Spicoli” Reneau, plays all the classic hair metal offerings alongside locals Joey C. Jones, Sweet Savage and Salinger. In true KNON fashion, the hosts also mix up the show with recent DFW rock bands such as Rosegarden Funeral Party, Royal Sons and Van Damme along with celebrated thrash, metal, alternative, new wave, glam and everything-in-between-rock acts.

“All of this music is really good, and regardless of its age, it deserves to be played,” says Reneau, who earned his commercial radio wings working for both 97.1 The Eagle FM and 93.3 The Bone FM before being asked by Russell to co-host the show. He cites the success of Reckless Rock Radio to the no-barriers programming.

“KNON lets FM radio be the way it was supposed to be when they started FM radio in the 1970s, when disc jockeys were their own directors and played interesting music,” he says. “When it comes to radio personalities, you either start at KNON or end at KNON, and I’m happy to end here. It’s the greatest, and I love it.”

Blue Lisa, another jockey, whose specialty has been spinning blues artists for KNON over 24 years now, has an experience similar to Reneau’s.

“I’ve been here so long because no one tells me what to play on my own show,” she says. “That’s the beauty of KNON. Being a DJ is a lot of work and all of us here are volunteers. We ask our listeners to keep us on the air every three months, and it’s their hard-earned money that consistently comes through.

“I think it’s the diversity we offer. Where else can you get blues, gospel and world music on the same station?”

Besides receiving gifts and pledges from famous musicians and rock stars, KNON relies solely on its listeners for the station’s income. Christian Lee, who’s been with KNON since 1998, pulls triple duty as DJ, music director and pledge-drive coordinator. After being kicked out of school for having blue hair in the 10th grade, Lee started volunteering at the station. Chaos brought him into the fold after meeting Lee at a wild afterparty.

“Dave and I met at one of these massive appreciation parties he threw for the bands that did shows with us,” Lee says. “We got in trouble with some skaters. Dave got busted in the head, and I instinctively took off my shirt and wrapped it around his head. We’ve been at it working together ever since.”

Just like Lisa, Lee’s commitment to the station is validated by the listeners. When pledgers from all over the world contribute to the station every three months, Lee knows the station is really doing right by its audience.

“When doing a pledge drive during my own show, The Friday Morning Blend, I’m always amazed, humbled and grateful for every single pledge,” Lee says. “They’re giving us their hard-earned money for something they are already getting for free via their radio and other devices.”

In 2019, KNON’s studio — in the 11000 block of North Central Expressway — was destroyed by a tornado. It was sheer determination and grit that delivered Chaos and crew through the rubble. In the wake of the incident, staff members raced to the wreckage with the intention of saving any equipment that was still usable. After keeping what they could, the KNON crew agreed to start meeting at the radio towers of Cedar Hill to run their shows. The station was still several months and a pledge drive away from moving into a new studio, and for D it was an interesting time to say the least.

“I wasn’t there when it hit, but right after the building was condemned and we all had to get our stuff that night to keep it from getting rained on,” D says. “After we were all making sacrifices to keep it going, driving to Cedar Hill because our antenna was there. Through that time, whatever came up, we did what we had to do to keep things going.”

Eventually moving into a new studio on Coit Road, the station again gratefully accepted help from listeners through an all-important pledge drive that helped them get back on their feet. Chaos still remembers standing in the rubble with station engineer and jockey Jesse Gonzales, trying to figure out what to do next after the tornado.

“Jesse is a really great overall station guy. He really gets it done,” Chaos says. “After the tornado, we were back on the air within 36 hours. Once again, like I said, all the people came together and it’s about the people.”

Through their 40 years on the air, the KNON family has been through it all. Beyond crazy parties with violent skaters, booking Pantera, scaring Insane Clown Posse and impressing David Bowie, the station has stuck it out with class. Many KNON alumni have moved on to intricately mold Dallas culture: Kessler Theater talent buyer and Decadent Dub Team founder Jeff Liles, portrait artist Cabe Booth and famed radio personality Thrashin Allen all help keep Big D on par with coastal cities. Throughout this journey, KNON has always prioritized relationships and listeners. That’s what keeps the station thriving according to the music director with once-blue hair.

“The only way KNON stays on the air is all about the DJ, the audience and how the two connect with one another, and true grit,” Lee says. “It’s also an honor, as I take great pride in the stewardship of KNON and DFW’s community radio airwaves.”

In the year 2023, most radio stations exist in a single room, atop a commercial building, all bunched together down a single hallway with an IHEART logo. Today, a single computer plays the Top 40 singles over and over, many times without the presence of a single human in the room. Today, most radio stations rely on their own version of Rod Serling’s “Old Man in the Cave” to run the whole show, and AI is just now showing up for the singles party. KNON and its 40 years of success are proof there are still dreamers out there doing things with integrity and a touch of humanity. For Charlie Don’t Park, his dedication and appreciation for KNON has been entirely reciprocated.

“At the end of the day, I get to program and produce my own show in a top-five market,” Park says. “That’s pretty rare and a great honor, and I take it very seriously. At KNON we have dedicated listeners.”

SCOTT TUCKER has been a regular contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2019 and fronts bands The Orange and Aztec Milk Temple. A longtime resident of Deep Ellum, he collects vintage toys and rare books in his free time . Read the original article here.