The search for answers at Live in Studio A
Here’s what we know about Live in Studio A: The show saturates KDVS’ 90.3 FM frequency every Thursday at 11 p.m. During that time, a local or touring band performs, without a host and without interruption, for one hour.
Beyond that, things get hazy. Given the limited institutional memory of UC Davis’ college-radio station, where employment is measured in semesters and posters on the walls last longer than music directors, even the people directly responsible for LISA cannot say how it began or why it has endured for more than 20 years.
Witness Karen Carchidi, a professional-radio veteran who has orchestrated LISA since September. Driving across the causeway to catch the January 4 show with punk quartet Throckmorton, Carchidi rejoiced in the informality of volunteering for LISA. “There’s no budget. I don’t have to clean up,” she boasted. Half the time she just listens in from home.
“We don’t even have an official contract,” she continued. “No one gets paid, but everyone seems to take it seriously.”
Carchidi frowned when asked to clarify her official title. “Um, I think I’m just the booker. There’s not a whole lot to do. All you do is make sure there’s a band playing every night.”
Since she receives more requests to play than she can hope to accommodate, Carchidi’s challenge lies in selecting the right acts for the station’s notoriously diverse programming. “Whether I like them is the first criterion,” she admitted. A band’s size and instrumentation are never limiting factors. “Anton Barbeau had, like, 12 people in with him last month,” she said.
Yet Carchidi discovered the four members of Throckmorton crammed into Studio A’s foam-padded walls upon her arrival. Dodging cables, two KDVS sound engineers and each other’s guitar necks, the band set up among shelves, boxes and an upright piano. Satisfied with the chaotic order of things, Carchidi headed to the lounge where KDVS publicity director and LISA photographer Elisa Hough unpacked her camera. Hough, who booked LISA for six months before Carchidi, was joined by her LISA predecessor, Jeremy Newton.
Together, they attempted to pinpoint some facts about the show. Though unable to decide whether LISA began in the ’70s or the ’80s, they were certain about its value to the Northern California music scene. “We consider ourselves a community resource,” Hough said. “Bands become better known on our Web site. They’re heard over our airwaves. They get a recording they can put out.”
The trio agreed it’s an honor to provide a band with its first recording. After all, Pavement made its radio debut on LISA. Part of that legendary performance likely will appear on KDVS’ upcoming Live in Studio A compilation album. Just don’t ask when the release date is.
A young male voice came over the speakers in the lounge: “Welcome to Live in Studio A! This is my first time engineering this thing.”
“Noooo …” everyone in the lounge groaned.
“So, if the bass is too loud,” the voice continued, “call and tell me.”
“Never tell on yourself on the air,” Carchidi said, laughing.
Throckmorton began its guitar-heavy rock and the conversation turned back to the seemingly indecipherable age of the show. Someone suggested a trip to the LISA archives might be helpful—if anyone knew where they were.
Ben Johnson knew. The KDVS studio technician led a small party to a dusty storage room containing the storied archives. Or some of them, at least. There were rumors of a “mystery guy” who keeps the best shows—including the Pavement performance—in his climate-controlled garage, but no one knew his name or his whereabouts.
Johnson dug through the leftovers and quickly discovered the LISA shows were mixed with off-site concert recordings. He read Sharpie labels—“Willie Nelson at the boardinghouse 1976,” “Suspects and Specials 2/14/80,” “Jello Biafra 1986”—on battered boxes of reel tapes.
As the LISA staffers marveled at the station’s poorly organized but undeniably inspiring music history, Newton summarized all that can be known about Live in Studio A: “It’s controlled chaos, but somehow it all comes together and some really cool stuff happens.”