Remember, if you can, the last time your new boss approached you with an exciting project, something you'd never even dreamed yourself capable of doing. Imagine the disappointment, then, when you discovered that your company had hung you out to dry, had asked you to do a job it didn't have the resources to do itself. What if the realization came live, on-air, in front of a few thousand people? And, better still, what if you loved every second of it? Like, in the way that it changed your life?
That was Steve Salevan, then an N.C. State freshman from Delaware, in early 2005. He'd been hosting a weekly radio show called Altered States—a two-hour Thursday block of rotation tracks and 20-minute prog rock epics—for a few months when the station's general manager asked him to interview a local band, The Prayers and Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers, on air. Steve had never heard the Chapel Hill band, and the station only owned the band's two-year-old EP (burned to a CD-R, to boot), not the new record the group would be promoting on air. Still, the band would be at the station within the hour.
"I'd never done an interview before. I was still kind of afraid of talking over the air," remembers Salevan, now a 22-year-old senior, telling the story with the same enthusiasm that defines most everything he does.
But, as he's done for the four years hence, Salevan made the best of what the modestly funded WKNC, now in its 50th broadcast year at N.C. State, could supply. Three weeks later, the same general manager offered Salevan the position as local music director, a post he's reinvented over the last four years. Through the first third of this decade, WKNC 88.1 FM was known mostly as a heavy metal syndicate, largely uninvolved with the Triangle music scene at large, even as Raleigh clubs like Kings and The Pour House grew.
Among the college stations in the Triangle, though, WKNC is now the most active and influential in local music. A stream of new personnel for the last five years enabled the transformation, but none has been as vocal or, dare say, visionary as Salevan. Given an inch and one program, Salevan—or "DJ Stevo," as he's known on the air—took most of a music scene. Under his direction, the station has added several thousand tracks spanning three decades of local music to rotation, plus a one-hour local music show five days each week. Salevan helms a fledgling program for taking new college students to rock shows in faraway lands like Durham and Chapel Hill, and he hosts his Local Beat every Friday at 5 p.m. with DJ Hand Banana, one of several WKNC additions Salevan helped lead to local music. Thanks to a grant Salevan secured from Red Hat, WKNC now records high-quality, in-studio, fully mastered sessions with its favorite local acts under Creative Commons licenses (not unlike Ross Grady at Durham's WXDU).
"For the longest time, KNC hadn't been giving as much of a shit as it should have. I came in and I found these awesome bands, and I said, 'Why aren't we doing anything about this?'" Salevan says, sitting beside the bar at Cat's Cradle on a Tuesday night as a free bill of three local bands enters its second hour in the next room. "We had rather lackadaisical music direction, and CDs were put in with relative infrequency. The rotation of KNC would get stale. We had such good music and such a powerful transmitter. It killed me."
After all, the possibility of accomplishing something through radio—namely, inspiring people to see and appreciate bands—is what excited Salevan about WKNC in the first place. Salevan's five-year stint with WKNC is the hope of every college program that's ever attempted to involve freshmen with their new environment. He'd grown up in Delaware, attended a private school and been disappointed by more privileged peers who didn't feel the need to leave the state.
"I needed to get out of there because, to say the least, it was cramping my style," Salevan laughs. "I thought, 'Everyone who stays here is going to stay here 60 years and die—probably from cancer or credit card debt or wearing too many condoms or something.'"
Lured to N.C. State by its electrical engineering program, an uncle who led part of the school's electrical engineering program, and a strong scholarship offer, Salevan was as eager to interact with this new campus as he'd been ready to leave Delaware. He attended one of those club fairs that all schools have, where the campus newspaper, radio station, intramural sports and international organizations vie for recruits. Salevan, who says the hours he spent with his Walkman from about 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. each night were among the best of childhood, was drawn to WKNC.
"Here's this giant, powerful station, saying, 'Do you like music? Come and be a part of our organization,'" remembers Salevan. "That was damn near irresistible to me."
Salevan also joined the Inter-Residence Council, a coalition of campus residents that plans activities for the school's 20 dormitories and voices their concerns to school administrators. That fall, Salevan helmed Wolfstock, a free concert series he hoped would let recent Raleigh arrivals, just like himself, discover their new city's cultural terrain and would unite the school and the city.
Those chimerical words—unite and discover—may be what makes Salevan so distinguishable among other Triangle entertainment personalities. Though he certainly has tastes of his own (Genesis' 1974 The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway remains his favorite album) and though he refuses to play plenty of Triangle bands (he's a DJ, not an aggregator), Salevan seems open to listen to anything, and he pursues new music relentlessly. He can now reference songs by Prayers and Tears—that first band he interviewed back in 2004—that haven't been released. He adds the latest tracks by the Triangle's newest rock bands to the station's playlist, as well as a few hundred songs from late '70s and '80s Triangle favorites.
He doesn't want the young music to remain just for the kids, or the old to remain just for the adults. Salevan wants to entice as many people as possible into listening to the sounds that surround them. He hopes to share his addiction.
"About a year or so ago, I went home, and I was raving about local music, and my sister went, 'Steve, I think Triangle music is your girlfriend,'" he says, laughing. Almost unnecessarily, he adds, "You know, that's a pretty apt way of putting it."