Music makes KDNK DJs’ lives go round and round

April E. ClarkPost Independent Staff
Photo courtesy of KDNK

CARBONDALE — Gregory Benson has an alias — and so do most of his friends.

When wearing headphones, Benson is better known as KDNK Community Radio’s DJ Phathead. He’s been a volunteer disc jockey spinning hip hop, jazz, R&B and reggae records at the station for nearly a decade.

“They call me Phathead because I was out playing football in the street in high school,” he said. “Someone yelled, ‘Get out of the street, Fathead.’ Then people just started calling me that. I added the ‘ph’.”

Benson was born and raised in San Francisco, where music bridges the gap between the city’s various cultures. He was inspired to become a DJ after seeing his older cousin spin records in the early ’80s and sharing an apartment with a local spinner.”I was roommates with DJ Stretch,” he said. “It ended up he had me paying him to rent his equipment.”

Benson came to the area for a vacation that never ended, and a romance that never flourished, in the summer of 1995. He fell in love with the valley faster than a vinyl record melts in a sweltering car in August. His nine-year relationship with his girlfriend didn’t end up so hot.

“My heart will always be in San Francisco, like Tony Bennett’s,” he said. “But I love the mountains, the opportunity and the chance to survive away from my family’s nest.”

Not long after relocating, Benson was wooed by KDNK’s diverse, community-based programming. The station was founded 23 years ago in Carbondale by volunteers committed to stimulating, educating and entertaining local public radio listeners.

“Those people are like family to me. I just ended up going in on a Sunday and they trained me on the board,” Benson said. “They’ve always welcomed me with handshakes and hugs. They’re very tolerant and very real. They go beyond the call of greatness to serve the people of this valley.”

Underwriting director Wick Moses, KDNK’s first station manager, said volunteering at the station allows DJs complete creative freedom without the restraints of play lists. The station has around 75 volunteers in its pool of available DJs — full-time and substitute — and staffs only five paid employees.

“I think that for most of us DJs here, we communicate with our audiences our passion for music. All of us share a love of music. It’s actually very addictive,” he said. “I grew up in the ’50s and the ’60s, and music had an enormous impact on my life. I still play both records and CDs — I have quite a fondness for records.”

Volunteer coordinator Leslie McNamee-Johnson, a KDNK DJ who plays an eclectic blend of folk, bluegrass and rock during her Thursday morning shows, said dedication motivates the station’s volunteers — and listeners.

“I would have to say it’s the passion for community radio that drives us,” she said. “It’s community and local radio. People love that they know all the DJs and that they can come down here anytime. Our listeners support the local media because they know it’s something the corporate media could gobble up at any moment.”

For many years, Benson hosted a funky hip hop-inspired show on Saturday afternoons. He took a year break for personal reasons.

“I started fading out in the fall of 2004 and taking more time off,” he said. “I just didn’t have the passion or the energy.”

Benson still volunteers at the station — when he’s not working his day job at Glenwood Car Wash — as a substitute DJ and assisting with production work. He hopes to slowly work his way back into regularly spinning music again.

“I’m like a designated hitter coming off the bench,” he said. “I don’t want to push anyone out of the way. I’m getting back to doing small events. Taking a year layoff from DJing is almost like not doing math for a year. It’s technical and I need to practice.”

Benson has spent his life as a fan of music — he remembers his mother and grandmother always playing records — so returning to radio is a natural fit.

“Music is almost like coffee in the morning,” he said. “If you don’t have it, then something’s going to go wrong that day.”

Contact April E. Clark: 945-8515, ext.

We asked KDNK development director Amy Kimberly to go back way back — to the radio station’s beginnings nearly 20 years ago:

• Which KDNK DJs have been on the air 10 years or more? Art Ackerman, Peter Bock, Jeff Britt, Lynn Burton, Linda Criswell, Susie Darrow, Jeff Dickinson, Harlan Feder, Nancy Festa, Terry Glasenapp, Dan Hardin, Leslie McNamee-Johnson, Amy Marsh, Annie MacIntosh, Wick Moses, Luke Nestler, Roy Rickus, Bob Schultz, Joan Schultz, Randy Schutt, Steve Skinner, Nancy Smith, John Stroud, Felicia Trevor, Bill Wooley, Charlie Wertheim and Cheryln Tassos (Let us know if we forgot anyone)

• Which DJ has been on the air the longest? Roy Rikkus — he was on the air the first day we were (April 15, 1983).

• Who were some of the first few DJs on the air? Wick Moses was one of the founders, and Felicia Trevor and Amy Marsh

• Why the call letters KDNK? It’s for the Dinkel Building, where the station was first housed on Main Street in Carbondale.

• KDNK Community Radio can be heard at 88.1 in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale, Rifle, Silt and New Castle, 88.3 in Aspen and Snowmass Village, and 88.5 in Basalt and Redstone.

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