Bill Bowker: it's a name that's fun to say, and one familiar to residents across Sonoma County. His voice is just as familiar, and contributes to the longevity of his show, Blues with Bowker, celebrating 40 years on the radio March 16.
Bowker has been involved in radio longer than that, though. "As a young kid with my folks, I came out to Southern California, and in 1961 is when I went to radio school," he says. "I heard Howlin' Wolf do a song called 'Evil,' and it was pretty scary to me as a kid, but what was crazy was that a song could affect me so much."
It was after hearing this rough, gravelly blues song that Bowker really began delving into the world of blues and radio. After getting his license from broadcasting school, he went to work for a country station in 1969. "That weekend was Woodstock, that weekend when I first got hired," Bowker laughs.
During this same time, FM radio was developing as a creative space. "What we called 'freeform radio' was emerging. It allowed us to play whatever we wanted, because it was so new and unexplored," he says.
In 1979, the station he worked for expanded to KVRE in Sonoma County, and Bowker traded Los Angeles for Northern California. "When we came up here it was like freedom again, it was a place where we could make something happen. It gave us a chance to do something here," Bowker says.
What he did was take part in a radio show that has kept from succumbing to the world of mainstream music. Bowker eventually moved from KVRE to the Krush, 95.9-FM, where Blues with Bowker broadcasts weekdays from 3pm to 7pm and Sundays from 7pm to 9pm.
"Blues music is initially how I realized my affection for music," Bowker says. "The music is so free—I like that freedom." Though he has a fondness for the blues, what he really has an affection for is the song. "It's about quality, not genre," he says.
This is evident on his weekday show, which plays music stretching from rock to Americana, and often features local artists. "I just think, this is something I like, and I hope I can expose it and I hope it works," he says.
Forty years later, it's safe to say it does.