The word gamut is defined as an entire range or series of something. It’s overwhelming to begin to think about the massive number of tracks that make up the gamut of recorded popular music. It’s infinitely more staggering to try to compile a playlist of tracks that represents the best of hit music from decades past and today.
But Dave Kolesar is making every effort to do that.
Kolesar, a transmitter engineer for a cluster of radio stations owned by WTOP, including the local Frederick station on Mount Phillip Road, is now DJ and host of “The Gamut,” his own music program that, just about a month ago, was first broadcast on the Frederick-based 820 AM radio station. Of what he plays, Kolesar, 35, said in a recent interview that “anything in the history of popular recorded music is fair game. ... I tend to favor music that is medium to up-tempo,” Kolesar added. “It’s hard to describe a ‘vibe,’ but it definitely has a groove. It’s as much an art as it is a science.”
Kolesar began to practice his art at a young age, interested in radio from the time he was about 5 or 6 years old. While growing up in Prince George’s County, Kolesar got a small, basic radio kit from Radio Shack from his parents. “I would torture my parents with a stack of 45s,” Kolesar said, laughing. “I would listen to them and talk over the mic and DJ ... . From that point on, I had the radio bug.”
As a student at DeMatha Catholic High School, Kolesar launched a campus radio station that he proposed as a freshman, he said. It was a small operation, he said, for which about 30 students volunteered to air shows. He then obtained his bachelor’s degree in physics from the Catholic University of America in Washington, where he was the chief engineer of the college radio station, WCUA, and also hosted a music show on the air. Kolesar later earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering.
“I learned electronics to be able to build radio stations,” he said. “And DJing got me into being such a music lover. I always knew radio was my calling.”
Kolesar thinks of the show he hosted on WCUA as the beginning of “The Gamut,” in a sense. “I learned how I could mix genres, tempos, different ages of music, and still make it sound good,” he explained.
After graduation, Kolesar worked as an electronics engineer at the U.S. Naval Research Lab in Washington with radio frequency systems for about five years, before “the calling came back,” he said.
He had been working at his present full-time job, as a transmitter engineer for WTOP for more than six years when the general manager of WTOP, Joel Oxley, got wind of a small, just-for-fun, radio operation he was producing from the basement of his home in College Park, he said.
“As a hobby, I had just set up this little Internet radio station ... just to entertain myself,” Kolesar said. “I didn’t really have any specific idea for it; I just said, I have this computer, let’s program it (the station) and see what I can do with it. And it just so happened that people liked it.”
Once Oxley was on board, they repackaged it, renamed the program “The Gamut” and launched it in on the WTOP HD radio station, 103.5 FM, a WTOP sub-channel that can be heard only on HD radios, Kolesar explained. In order to come up with the name “The Gamut,” Oxley sent an email to all the administration employees at WTOP and said, essentially, “have a listen to this Internet radio station and let me know what you would call it,” Kolesar said.
“After we edited out everything we couldn’t use ... we came up with this very simple name that is quite literally very truthful,” Kolesar said. “(It’s) for people that are tired of just listening to one station or one variety. ... I like to play an eclectic variety. It’s kind of like an experiment, so that makes it exciting,” he added.
Making it local
On March 20, “The Gamut” launched on 820 AM to give it wider exposure and to specifically introduce it to the Frederick area, Kolesar said.
In addition to playing a wide variety of music, Kolesar also hopes to build the station’s local presence by giving airtime to a lot of local bands. When the program originally launched in December 2011, Kolesar had built a playlist of about 4,500 songs, many of which he converts from his vinyl collection to a digital format from his makeshift basement studio at his home, he said. At this point, “The Gamut” has a playlist of more than 11,000 songs in rotation, and that number is growing, Kolesar said. Currently, 500 of those songs are by local musicians or bands from Frederick, Washington, Baltimore or Northern Virginia.
“To me, it just seems natural that local music should be on local radio,” Kolesar said. “It’s one of the things that local radio streams can do that national ones might not be able to.”
Kolesar continues to contact local bands and musicians in the area to encourage them to submit music to the program. “People really can submit their music here and hear it on the radio,” he said. “If it has a good groove and sounds great, we’ll play it.”
Plans for expansion
As a Washington Nationals and Washington Capitals affiliate, the station broadcasts sports programming on evenings and weekends and airs brokered or paid programming, including public service programming, on Saturday and Sunday mornings. The station recently signed on a few music shows that air Sunday evenings, including a swing music show, a show called “Anything Anything With Rich Russo,” a free-form radio program produced in New York and sent down to the Frederick station, and a show hosted by E Street Band musician “Little Steven” Van Zandt called “Little Steven’s Underground Garage.”
In the long term, however, Kolesar hopes to “change the conversation of what’s on music radio,” Kolesar said. “I hope it can help people remain in love with radio, or maybe, for some people, reintroduce them to radio.”
And although he said he will most likely stay, full time, in the technical side of radio, Kolesar said he has enjoyed the rush of “turning on a radio and hearing what you’ve put on the air. ... When people ask me how I like my job, I always say, ‘well, it beats working.’”
Musicians can submit their music to firstname.lastname@example.org.