Even if you’re one of the many music fans who has ditched terrestrial radio for a satellite or streaming service, KRSH (95.9FM) afternoon drive-time DJ Bill Bowker has probably remained on your radar if you live in or around Sonoma County.
Manning the mic at KRSH for 28 years this December, Bowker has established himself as not only an outstanding local personality, he’s also left an indelible mark on the area by championing new and overlooked musical artists as well as bringing them to the area for countless shows over the decades.
Thus, the news that Dec. 15 would be Bowker’s last day on the air at KRSH feels like a tough loss to the local music scene, even if his influence will remain county-wide.
Speaking from his home in Santa Rosa, Bowker, who’s daily “501 Blues” segment as well as his Sunday evening show “Blues with Bowker,” helped establish blues music in Sonoma County, says he recently realized it was time to move on after a career in radio that started in the ’70s in Los Angeles.
But a big question has always been, did Sonoma County have the blues before Bowker, or is he responsible for bringing the blues to Sonoma County?
“I got up here in 1979 with [fellow Sunday morning KRSH host] Bob Sala at KVRE, and at that time, before ‘Americana,’ there wasn’t really a name for what they were playing … maybe ‘Progressive Country,’ but nothing really bluesy,” Bowker says.
Soon after his arrival, he started playing much more blues and started the popular “Blues with Bowker,” which airs every Sunday night. “So, if I gave Sonoma County the blues, I can be proud of that,” he says, laughing.
After various local moves around the dial, including a stint on country radio, Bowker settled in at downtown Santa Rosa nightclub/radio station Studio KAFE in 1989. At that time, Studio KAFE was trying some innovative new things, such as a 3-channel cable radio station and a DJ booth near the front window of the club where passersby could see the on-air DJs.
One of those involved was the late Doug Smith, who Bowker soon partnered with in “Smith & Bowker Productions,” which started booking shows in the area.
When the Krush started broadcasting in 1994, Sala and Bowker moved over, and both were eventually joined by Smith—who sadly passed away in 2005—and Bowker settled into his permanent frequency, where he’s been until now.
It’s a testament to the many DJs over the years who all shared the mic with Bowker that KRSH, which has a fairly undefined and eclectic playlist, has been able to hang around so long.
While he would likely never call himself a tastemaker, Bowker’s long career in radio clearly influenced and educated many ears in the area. Even he seems taken aback that he “was allowed creative control of the programming over the course of three different owners” in his nearly three decades at KRSH.
Brian Griffith, former KRSH morning-radio host and current KRCB (104.9FM) Radio music director and on-air host, concurs. “Bill has always been a stalwart supporter of not just the blues, but of local artists as well,” Griffith says. “I have learned about tons of music because of the bearded broadcaster.”
While KRSH has yet to reveal how the day-to-day hosting will evolve, the stations Program/Music Director, Andre de Channes, is quick to give a heartfelt nod to his departing colleague.
“Bill is one of the original freeform FM DJs and has inspired KRSH to be the station it is today,” de Channes says. “He is truly one of ‘The Last DJs,’ [and] we are thrilled for him in this new chapter in his career.” De Channes concludes, “Bill is a treasure, and we will be excited to see what’s next for him.”
As to what the future holds, Bowker says, “I’m not done!” Potential projects include area shows with longtime local talent-buyer Sheila Groves, who recently returned to the area.
Bowker’s current ongoing work includes programming online radio station XRDS.fm out of Clarksdale, Miss., alongside longtime local buddy Charlie Musselwhite, who recently relocated to Clarksdale full-time.
Bowker’s final KRSH on-air show will broadcast live from the Hopmonk Tavern in Sebastopol on Wednesday, Dec. 15—his birthday—at 4pm. While details are still forthcoming, information can be found on the KRSH website.
As to his final words to KRSH listeners, Bowker stays true to form. “You know, I’ll think of them and say them on the air,” he says. “Tune in weekdays, 3 to 7, at 95.9 fm or KRSH.com.”