'Tis a golden spring evening, and barefoot undergrads sling Frisbees through sakura petals on the UW campus. The scene is idyllic. But there is a missed opportunity: None of the students is banging the crucial cuts streaming on Rainy Dawg Radio. This student-run college station is not well-known in Seattle. It is, however, underrated and awesome.
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Rainy Dawg was born in 2002 and is broadcast from recently built studios in the Husky Union Building (HUB). It represents radio at an amateur level, meaning nonprofessional, and for the love of it—students who show each other the ropes. Several current programs are worth listening to (tune in at rainydawg.org). For instance: U Know What It Is, with cohost Vladimir Sepetov—a shrewd hiphop selector and key figure in the future of arts and entertainment on campus (more on him in a minute)—the Slow Show, where everything is slow in tempo, and HUA-Voice, which is all-Mandarin and one of Seattle's very few Chinese radio programs.
The major Rainy Dawg news at the moment is the knockout show on campus on Thursday, May 15, which was booked by DJs and is free and open to the public. That would be the 11th Rainy Dawg Birthday Fest, a trippy, rappy, poppy (and other words that end in Y) bill featuring Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Vic Mensa, ILLFIGHTYOU, Dude York, Nice & AO, and Mister Lies performing in the mystical Sylvan Grove outdoor theater.
The coolness of these programs and shows aside, Rainy Dawg has grown to serve a nobler function: propelling young adults to positively impact music and the business of music in Seattle and beyond.
In volunteering at the station, a DJ learns how to use a mixing board, how to run cables, and how to mic a live concert during the frequent in-studio performances. Various audio-tech skills are developed. Volunteers also learn that they belong somewhere and that a community will support them. They learn to leave childhood behind and talk to people who have real jobs in the industry: publicists, managers, agents, talent buyers, and the musicians themselves. Developing this way, students gain skills that will serve them going forward into "the biz," and evidence suggests they are served well.
Consider this: The band Beat Connection was a Rainy Dawg radio show started by two student DJs a few years ago. Now they're Seattle's biggest electronic dance act, co-headlining the 2014 Capitol Hill Block Party. They had booking agents and played international tours while still in school. Seattle independent labels Help Yourself Records and Hush Hush Records—both of which had breakthroughs last year, with punk and electronic music respectively—are made up of people who began their music careers as Rainy Dawg DJs. Places like KEXP, Sub Pop, Hardly Art, Light in the Attic Records, The Stranger, the local Grammy chapter, the Seattle Office of Film + Music, the Vera Project, and Cairo have all hired on Rainy Dawg alums.
The common bond among the station's participants is a focus on moving forward in the music industry and defining success differently than simply "getting paid." Vladimir Sepetov is 20 and has already done internships for Interscope Records and Top Dawg Entertainment and, through connections made while interning, has done graphic design for rappers Schoolboy Q and Vic Mensa. Sepetov will also be next year's ASUW (Associated Students of the University of Washington) arts and entertainment director. For that job, he will manage a five-figure budget for performances on campus, and he hopes to focus on Parnassus shows—a campus cafe and venue. He looks forward to a year of poetry slams, theater, dance, improv comedy, and "all types of music that everyone will enjoy."
I met up with Sepetov and a few former Rainy Dawg DJs and managers on campus at the HUB.
"As soon as I graduated from here, I immediately got an internship at KEXP. I interned there for four and a half years and then became a DJ," says Morgan Chosnyk, a Rainy Dawg DJ from 2006–08 and the station's general manager from 2007–08.
Sepetov's Rainy Dawg mentor, Matt Kolhede (station DJ 2010–11, general manager 2012–13), is currently busting his ass playing in a band (Ubu Roi), running one label, and working at a different label. "Literally everything I have going on in my life, a year after graduating, you can trace back to Rainy Dawg," he says. Kolhede is a model of hustle. Through connections at Rainy Dawg, he got an internship at Sub Pop, an internship at Light in the Attic Records through that, and eventually a job in the Light in the Attic warehouse (Chosnyk works there as well). His own label, Help Yourself, consists of him and three other station alums. LITA now distributes his label's catalog. He's no mogul, but he's making his way cleverly. "You make an impression, and people vouch for you," he says.
Sepetov finds that inspiring. Having already forged relationships that are paying off, he sees Chosnyk and Kolhede as role models. "Matt is doing what he loves. I respect that he's a self-starter. Working in music really is its own reward, but I'm trying to do bigger things—I believe that working at Rainy Dawg gives you a card to play," Sepetov says. "I can't play it yet because I haven't graduated. But I will."