Is this the most dangerous man in radio?
Doug DeSalles’ KDVS show plays to a small audience, but what it lacks in Arbitron numbers, it makes up for in brains
Doug DeSalles sits at a desk in a back room of his East Sacramento house, fidgety yet focused. A wiry, compact man with salt-and-pepper hair and a restless demeanor, the physician adjusts his headphones and leans into the microphone to ask another question of his guest, former KFBK personality Phil Cowan.
The room, converted into a radio station in miniature, is the home base for DeSalles’ weekly show, Radio Parallax, which airs every Thursday at 5 p.m. on KDVS 90.3 FM, and the topic at hand is Cowan’s short-lived stint with Fox’s 1980s-era late-night talk show, The Wilton North Report.
DeSalles and Cowan exchange questions and anecdotes at a fast but loose, conversational clip until, suddenly, a cell phone sounds a shrill ring. DeSalles leans back, shuts off his phone and looks up at his sidekick and engineer Paul Malelu.
“How are we on time?”
“We still have 17 minutes,” Malelu says from behind his nearby post at a small soundboard.
“This man can do three hours [of radio] in a day,” DeSalles says, nodding at Cowan, incredulous that an hour has not yet passed. “I don’t know [that] that’s even conceivable.”
That much live airtime might seem unfathomable to DeSalles, but after the two end their on-air conversation with, of all things, a quick and dirty discussion on the future of the estate tax, Cowan sits back, happy.
“It’s so satisfying to talk about stuff that has meaning,” Cowan says. “It’s even more satisfying to talk about stuff that’s fun.”
Substance and fun: It’s at the crux of the radio show DeSalles and Malelu have produced for UC Davis’ student-run KDVS since 2002 under the guise of their alter egos “Doug Everett” and “Edward MacMillan.”
Covering a range of topics as varied as history, literature, science, politics and current events, DeSalles, Malelu and Radio Parallax play to a relatively small audience in the world of talk radio, but what the show lacks in Arbitron numbers, it makes up for in brains, in-depth commentary and a roster of big-name interviewees such as Walter Cronkite, Bill Moyers, Ray Bradbury and Molly Ivins.
In his 10-year quest to find interesting guests, focus on beneath-the-radar subjects and uncover oddball bits of trivia, Doug DeSalles has emerged as perhaps the most dangerous man in local radio.
Of course, in a world populated with the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Dr. Laura, Doug DeSalles would be the first to tell you that’s not a particularly difficult feat.
“Look at what’s out there—look at how low the bar is set—you don’t have to be very good to be better than what’s out there.”The pursuit of knowledge
Doug DeSalles didn’t hit the airwaves until 2000, but it seems as though the 56-year-old East Bay native was always on the path that led there.
He grew up in Niles, a tiny agricultural town now incorporated into the city of Fremont. Here, learning was always a part of his makeup; both parents were elementary-school teachers and in the first grade, DeSalles received a gift from his teacher, a complete Golden Home and High School Encyclopedia set.
DeSalles still owns that faux-leather bound, multivolume collection set; still considers it a treasure.
“I read or looked at every page of it,” DeSalles says. “I learned more from that set of encyclopedias than I did in high school.”
Upon graduation, DeSalles moved north to study at UC Davis, where he pursued a medical degree. Then, in 1988, after finishing an internship at the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, DeSalles packed his bags and spent 11 months traversing the globe—New Zealand, Australia, Asia, Africa and South America.
After his journeys, DeSalles settled down in Sacramento where he worked mostly at various urgent-care clinics. It was a fairly routine existence punctuated by more expeditions, a brief 1990s-era marriage and, always, the pursuit of knowledge and experience.
He got his pilot’s license, bought an antique wooden boat and indulged in an obsession with the conspiracies surrounding President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, reading anything and everything he could find on the subject. Then, in 2000, a lawyer pal pitched an idea, and DeSalles finally discovered the ideal outlet for his myriad interests.
“Let’s do a radio show,” the friend said. “You be the doctor, I’ll be the lawyer, and we’ll play off each other.”
The idea intrigued him—anything they did, DeSalles reasoned, had to be better than what already cluttered the dial.
“I’d never done radio, but [what I heard] just had a complete lack of any kind of analysis—no one gives you any kind of data, they just give you what’s off the top of their head.”
DeSalles knew just the guy to help with the technical aspects, longtime friend Paul Malelu, who owned a cache of recording equipment.
Malelu also loved the concept—and when the lawyer eventually dropped out of the picture, the pair took their idea to Access Sacramento and launched Reality Radio, a two-hour show that mixed “news of the day” segments with scripted comedy bits, informational odds and ends and lengthy interviews.
DeSalles seemed born to the airwaves. Coupled with his exhaustive search for off-kilter headlines and trivia, his voice, slightly reedy in person, deepens into a pleasing, radio-ready tone on the air—even when it breaks, every so often, into peals of laughter or pitchy excitement.
The show was broadcast weekly on KYDS, the El Camino High School student-run station and lasted a year and a half before programming changes ended its run—but not before another Access Sacramento deejay put DeSalles in touch with Jeffrey Callison, then working in the news department at Capital Public Radio. DeSalles and Malelu recorded a sample commentary for Callison, who quickly worked them into his regular rotation of contributors. DeSalles and Malelu even won a PRNDI (Public Radio News Directors Incorporated) award for their work, nabbing a Best Public Radio Commentary nod in 2002.
Still, DeSalles longed to get back on the air in a regular, weekly time slot, and when he learned that KDVS would give up an hour of air time in exchange for a $100 fund-drive contribution, he and Malelu burned an hour’s worth of Reality Radio’s “greatest hits” including a “celebrity poetry reading” bit that featured an impersonation of Sylvester Stallone reading Joyce Kilmer’s “Trees.”
“I think that I shall never see, a poem lovely as a tree,” DeSalles says by way of demonstration, lowering his voice several octaves into a meaty, brutish “Adrian!”-worthy imitation.
The June 2002 show was an instant hit with Dr. Andy Jones, a UC Davis English lecturer in writing and host of his own KDVS show, Dr. Andy’s Poetry and Technology Hour.
“Doug came in prepared with a well-produced and funny hour of prerecorded commentary and interviews,” says Jones, who shared his impressions with the station’s general manger who, in turn, offered the pair a weekly hour-long slot.
And so Radio Parallax was born. Now, KDVS general manager Kevin Corrigan says the show is an integral part of the station’s public-affairs programming.
“One of the great things about Radio Parallax is that it covers aspects of the news and local events that are left out elsewhere,” Corrigan says. “Doug covers it all and also gets the weird stories—the odd things that don’t fit elsewhere. And he does it all in a wise, funny and witty way.”[page] Radio free Davis
Every Thursday, Paul Malelu delivers two CD copies of that week’s Radio Parallax to DeSalles, who in turn drives them over the Yolo causeway to the UC Davis campus, armed with a stack of notes. You’d expect no less from a man who makes his living as a doctor—exhaustive groundwork, research and preparation are key, even a decade into this weekly ritual.
“I wish it were three CD copies,” DeSalles says as he sets up camp in the KDVS control room located in the bowels of Freeborn Hall.
Here, dressed in a black sweatshirt, gray slacks and black Nikes, DeSalles is an unusual figure among the baby-faced music deejays milling about the campus station, knee deep in rare jazz LPs and posters advertising gigs for relentlessly hip bands.
If DeSalles feels out of place, it’s not apparent. Swiveling in his chair behind the soundboard, he turns up the volume to listen and laugh at one of the show’s recorded bits:
“It was a good week for equal opportunity employment after a British government-run job center rejected an ad from a company specifying that applicants must be ‘very reliable and hardworking.’ Apparently a government official told the company it could get sued for discriminating against unreliable people—yes, I’m glad that’s not from the ‘only in America’ files.”
Very little of Radio Parallax is recorded live in the studio—the very thought of going hot behind the mic makes DeSalles nervous. Both he and Malelu prefer the luxury of recording interviews and commentary throughout the week then editing it all down to a polished and concise hour.
“We have a limited amount of time on the air, so we try to get as much out of it as possible,” says Malelu, who also serves as the show’s announcer.
“You can eliminate a lot of the fat in the studio.”
It’s a process that serves DeSalles well, giving him plenty of time to read up on subjects, sift through possible stories and craft questions. If he’s interviewing an author, DeSalles will read the writer’s entire book, and his weekly customs include scouring local papers as well as numerous magazines and then arranging an arsenal of article clippings in his living-room command station.
DeSalles also invests a considerable amount of cash into his hobby; he estimates that he spends as much as upward of $1,000 a month on travel and recording expenses.
“When you get a chance to interview Ray Bradbury at his house, you’re going to do it, because an opportunity like that comes up only once in a lifetime.”
Many of DeSalles’ interviews come via the usual publicist route, but the radio host also pursues many of his guests on his own time. His most impressive score is Walter Cronkite, whom DeSalles interviewed in 2004.
DeSalles got the interview the old-fashioned way—he asked for it.
“His assistant told us that Mr. Cronkite was taking the summer off but we could try back in the fall,” DeSalles says. “So we did.”
The get was easy, but the resulting interview proved to be something of a challenge for DeSalles and Malelu.
Cronkite was amiable but hard of hearing and, sometimes, answered questions DeSalles didn’t ask.
The solution was simple enough, they decided; they’d just record DeSalles asking the question that the veteran newscaster thought was asked and edit that into the interview to match up with Cronkite’s answer.
That some ethicists might frown upon such post-production editing surprises DeSalles.
“We listened to what [Cronkite] said and tried to make the best of it,” DeSalles says. “If you’re honest and have integrity, then I think you’re doing the best that you can.”The Cary Grant School of Journalism
DeSalles will be the first to tell you he’s a “fake journalist” who ascribes not to an industry standard on the profession, but rather the “Cary Grant Theory of Journalism.”
While this movie-star school of thinking probably won’t show up as part of a college curriculum anytime soon, DeSalles says it’s helped him navigate his way through the treacherous world of research, interviews and editing.
“[The idea is] to posture as something until you become it. Cary Grant started out as cockney Archie Leach. Eventually he really became Cary Grant,” DeSalles says. “I thought if I pretended to be a [journalist], maybe I’d become one.”
Andy Jones, the UC Davis lecturer and radio host, says despite any protests to the contrary, DeSalles is a real newsman.
“Nowhere else can you find a local journalist who is so widely read, so independent in his thinking, so outspoken in his views on such a broad range of subjects,” Jones says. “[Doug] is adept at his craft of researching and presenting stories.”
For DeSalles, it’s just about cramming as much knowledge and meaning and goofy fun as possible into a 60-minute format.
“The question is, ‘How do you string things together in the minimum amount of time and make your point and maybe be a little amusing?’” he asks rhetorically one afternoon over a portobello mushroom burger.
“How do you decide the thread? How do you decide the story that you’re telling? That just takes practice over and over—I suppose they teach that in journalism school, [but] that’s the question we ask ourselves each time.”
Paul Malelu thinks his longtime friend has the skills down pat.
“Doug is Mr. Factoid, and he has a great voice,” Malelu says. “He was made for radio.”
Just as important, Malelu adds, DeSalles is likeable, thoughtful and always hungry for knowledge.
“Doug is interested in so many things, he’s just very curious about everything—he’s also well-connected with a big network of friends who [help] him get guests.”
Well connected, yes—yet there’s one area of DeSalles’ life that rarely intersects with his radio gig. In his decade spent on the air, DeSalles has rarely drawn on his experiences as a doctor to talk about the field of medicine or, even, the sorry state of the health-care industry.
In his other life, DeSalles puts in four days a month at a Roseville urgent-care center. Most of his time, however, is spent running a Midtown clinic that specializes in treating erectile dysfunction.
It’s supposed to be a part-time gig, but DeSalles estimates he’s logging at least 40-50 hours weekly in the small office which is decorated with, in a nod to the doctor’s off-kilter sense of humor, oversized framed photographs of skyscrapers and foamy, erupting waves.
DeSalles, who opened the clinic in May, finds the specialization rewarding.
“This is an undertreated problem, but a lot of doctors aren’t interested in it because not having a sex life isn’t going to kill you,” he says. “But when you think about the research that the last quarter of a century has produced [in this area]—it just makes me sad to imagine guys thinking it’s all in their head when really it’s in their plumbing. It’s appealing because people are being undertreated and it makes them so happy when we do help them.”
But isn’t it odd that Doug the Doctor doesn’t intersect with Doug the Radio Guy?
DeSalles hesitates at the question, tapping his fingers lightly on the desk in his clinic office before finally answering.
“I don’t talk about medicine on the air, but you do have to analyze data in the same way.”
And, he reasons, being good on the radio makes him a better doctor.
“On the air, you’ve got to be succinct and to the point, you’ve got to develop the ability to have good communication with your subjects. It’s the same in the medical world—the sooner you can get in and develop a good rapport, the better.”On air
Doug DeSalles is a ticking time bomb of nervous energy behind the microphone at Capital Public Radio. He squirms in his seat, repeatedly shuffles his notes and talks fast—very fast.
“I guess there’s no drinking coffee,” a control-room engineer says with a laugh after he’s momentarily caught off guard by DeSalles’ ever-fluctuating voice levels.
DeSalles is guest hosting for Jeffrey Callison’s daily Insight radio show, and his segment includes several prerecorded bits as well as a live interview with the author of a book about the 1960 Winter Olympics, which were held in Squaw Valley.
Callison says he has no reservations about entrusting DeSalles with his show.
“Doug is very smart [and] a very curious person,” Callison says. “Those qualities add up to be the qualities that really help you host a radio program and interview people.”
DeSalles’ natural talent belies his lack of professional training, Callison adds.
“There isn’t a whole lot that prepares you for this—his experience comes from being someone who’s traveled the world and read a lot and thought a lot.”
Insight producer Jen Picard agrees.
“Doug is a journalist—he’s a social journalist, because he has a point of view and that’s important,” she says, watching DeSalles from the control room.
“There are topics that he has his mind made up about and he doesn’t try to say that’s he’s objective—but he also understands the importance of being balanced.”
At one point, Radio Parallax, which DeSalles estimates reaches approximately 1,000 listeners during its weekly KDVS airing (the Radio Parallax Web site, he adds, gets heavy traffic), was once rebroadcast on as many as seven stations, including the local Air America affiliate. It’s currently rebroadcast on Chico’s KZFR 90.1 FM.
Now one of the benefits of guest hosting on Insight is that it brings Doug “Everett” DeSalles to a wider audience. As such, DeSalles says he’s considered the possibilities of building his show, marketing it for wider exposure, or even attempting to sign with a network such as National Public Radio.
Still, he admits, he’s not entirely sold on the idea of ditching the medical profession and going national.
“That’s the beauty of doing free-form radio for KDVS—they don’t expect you to do anything, there’s no constraint whatsoever,” DeSalles says. “The folks at NPR—they tell me how lucky I am to have that freedom.”
It’s not a bad gig if you can get it, he says.