30 years of KJHK: Donovan Finn

Monday, October 10, 2005

Like many volunteer DJs at KJHK, Donovan Finn was primarily drawn to the station as by the progressive music bursting from the broadcast waves.

"I was always a big music fan, but I became a much bigger music fan at KJHK," Finn explains.

Finn, music director during the 1991-1992 school year, has fond memories of the music during his time at KJHK. Local bands like Zoom, Paw, Kill Whitey, The Wilmas and The Homestead Grays were hitting their stride while national acts like Buffalo Tom, Ned's Atomic Dustbin, 11th Dream Day and Darling Buds established themselves on the college radio circuit. Albums of note that were released during Finn's tenure include Nirvana's "Nevermind"and "Lawn Boy" by Phish.

"The debate over an early Phish album was pretty heated," recalls Finn. "Music staff was split evenly over whether or not we should play the album. We ended up playing it and it got a good response."

Some of Finn's best memories are of interviewing bands when they made a stop through Lawrence. "Mike Watt (Firehose and The Minutemen) refused to do an interview without beer. We explained that we weren't supposed to have alcohol at the studio but he didn't seem to care. We interviewed Evan Dando (of the Lemonheads) and after the interview a DJ accidentally drove off with his guitar in the back of her car. These were the days before cell phones and nobody could find her for hours."

Another memory centers around one of 1991's biggest albums of the year. "One time we got some random CD in the mail so we took it to review. Turned out it was mis-pressed and it was actually the REM 'Out Of Time' record six weeks early. We made fliers like crazy and promoted the fact that we were going to play the whole thing before it was released to the public. We did it one night as the Dinner Hour Album Playback, but Warner Brothers found out and was, as you might imagine, pissed, and threatened to not ever send us another record. Of course, they didn't follow through, but we were a little worried for a while."

Finn started with KJHK shortly after the Journalism School made efforts to increase professionalism, following incidents in 1988 that led to an FCC investigation of the station. "The 1988 incident was always in the back of our minds. We operated under a microscope for a while, and things weren't so happy-go-lucky." Despite the recent waves, Finn and other students in the early '90s proved to the university that students were capable of operating KJHK professionally while programming avant-garde music.

Following his experience at KJHK and KU, Finn's interest in music embarked him on a journey that included stints at numerous record labels and promotion companies. Eventually he landed at Matador Records where he worked in radio promotions and, later, as product manager. After five years with Matador, Finn left the music industry for another passion: urban planning. He is currently in the second year of an urban planning PhD program at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana. In addition to the hours spent on campus, Finn is also assisting with WRFU, a new independent community radio station scheduled to go on-air from Urbana on Nov. 13.

"My experience with KJHK has especially helped with getting WRFU up and running. The reason I'm involved with WRFU is because I miss the experience of independent radio."