The Doctor Is On
Eclectic Doug DeSalles is a physician,
but he doesn't play one on his 'Radio Parallax' show
Author: Sam McManis
January 9, 2007
Edition: METRO FINAL
Index Terms: BIOGRAPHY
This article was originally published at: http://www.sacbee.com/127/story/104700.html
Circling outside the deserted UC Davis student union in the gathering dark, searching for an unlocked door to gain entrance to the campus radio station, Doug DeSalles was struck by a strange feeling.
Not so much gauzy nostalgia as a spectral visitation by his younger self.
"It's pretty weird to have been here in the Nixon era," says DeSalles, 53, "and now to still be here."
Things certainly have changed in the intervening years.
Decades ago, as an undergraduate biology major, Desalles never gave much thought to KDVS (90.3 FM), the university's eclectic 9,200-watt station. He'd tune in, but he was laser-focused on getting into medical school. So focused, in fact, that he couldn't drag himself away from his studies long enough to attend a coffeehouse gig by some new British band called the Police.
"How stupid was I?" he recalls. "They were playing right behind where I used to live."
To paraphrase another rock icon, DeSalles was so much older then; he's younger than that now. With hair shorter and grayer but with a late- blooming youthful enthusiasm, Dr. Doug DeSalles returns to Davis each Thursday at 5 p.m. for his weekly public affairs show, "Radio Parallax," on KDVS.
On air, this unassuming family practitioner hides behind the snarky radio persona "Douglas Everett." After all, you never know -- his patients in Roseville and Stockton might be listening.
"And it's not a good way to start off a medical exam with the patient saying, 'I heard you on the radio and, boy, are you full of it,' " he says, laughing.
But this is no midlife-crisis fling by a doc who'd rather spend his free time cracking wise into a mike than swinging a 5-iron on the golf course.
It's serious business. DeSalles estimates that he and his friend Paul Malelu -- his producer, who goes by "Edward MacMillan" on air -- spend 20 hours a week preparing the program, which features current-events analysis, a 20-minute interview segment and some of the sharpest satire on the radio.
And for that, DeSalles gets paid ... er, nothing.
"I must be spending about $10,000 a year on the show," he says. "I could write it off some years, but you know how the IRS is. If you're not making money, like, ever, then they consider it a hobby."
Some hobby. In the nearly five years "Radio Parallax" has been on KDVS -- the station's signal is strong enough to be picked up in most parts of Sacramento County -- the show has featured prominent guests not normally heard on college radio:
* Media legends Walter Cronkite, Molly Ivins, Bill Moyers and Daniel Schorr.
* Political figures such as Joseph Wilson (husband of outed CIA agent Valerie Plame), former EPA chief Christine Todd Whitman, Watergate figure John Dean, former Sen. Eugene McCarthy.
* And off-the-wall figures such as porn star Christy Canyon, reformed bank robber Mike Parsons, and Joe Garden, a writer for the satirical newspaper the Onion.
But guests, no matter how compelling, always take a back seat to the quirky insights of "Douglas Everett." "Radio Parallax" is free-form programming at its best. Armed with a quick wit and a slightly nasal voice that always appears to be on the verge of breaking into laughter, DeSalles takes the show in whatever direction his eclectic, autodidactic interests lead.
He once did a show -- admittedly, not his best -- on the Crusades. Telling listeners about his recent trip to Costa Rica, he busted eardrums by doing an imitation of a howler monkey. (Imagine hearing that on KFBK.) He'll take some obscure date in history, say the 164th anniversary of the first use of anesthesia in surgery, and riff on it. And once, he read Joyce Kilmer's poem "Trees" in the voice of Sylvester Stallone.
Satirical segments such as that one can be hit-or-miss. DeSalles routinely makes sport of Joe Lieberman -- his friend Donald Rose provides a dead-on voice of the Connecticut senator -- and has recurring characters such as Republican operative "Arch Dexter," religious right leader "Ed Vigilanto" and "Col. Skip Klondike" reporting from Iraq.
When it works, the satire both stings and amuses. DeSalles' two-minute sendup of telemarketers -- given a wider audience by airing on KXJZ's "Insight" show -- won a national radio programmers award in 2003 for major market stations.Except for an occasional guest-host stint for Jeffrey Callison on "Insight," DeSalles has yet to gain a wider listenership. But he's popular on campus, even if students wonder "who's that old guy" hanging out.
Malelu says the show appeals to young and old for one reason. "Doug's still a kid in a lot of ways," he says. "He likes to stay current but draws on these extraordinary experiences he's had. And he's always been able to just talk."
Callison, who hired DeSalles several years ago to do occasional commentaries for KXJZ, says he's a fan of "Radio Parallax." "It's a true reflection of Doug's personality and interests," Callison says. "He's pretty much interested in everything, and that's an indispensable quality in a program host."
Friends marvel at DeSalles' encyclopedic memory. As Steven Valentino, a former KDVS general manager and DeSalles' nephew, says, "he's got a carnivorous knowledge." DeSalles' retention skills came in handy when he won $1,700 on the Comedy Central game show "Win Ben Stein's Money."
Malelu remembers walking into his family room in Fremont one day years ago and watching his older brother open a thick trivia book and start quizzing his college buddy, DeSalles.
"He said, 'OK, Doug. Name the losing vice presidential candidates from Day 1 to the present,' and Doug paused only a second and then slowly repeated the correct names, in order," Malelu says. "I thought, man, either this guy's a genius or he needs a new hobby. He's a unique guy."
A visit to DeSalles' east Sacramento home bears out Malelu's assessment.
A world traveler who has ridden elephants in Thailand, hang-glided in Rio de Janeiro and climbed Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador, DeSalles has wallpapered one room in foreign currency. Another part of the house is dubbed by friends, "Doug's British Museum." It features an assortment of curios such as a meteorite chunk from the piece of iron that blew that mile wide hole in the Arizona desert 50,000 years ago and a 1.8 million-year-old hand ax he unearthed in a Tanzanian gorge.
"He truly is a genius and the most well-read person I've ever met," says Steven Alexander, who went to UC Davis with DeSalles and now is a lawyer in Sacramento. "You've never seen so many books in a house. He's the quintessential guy questing for knowledge."
It wasn't always that way. When DeSalles was at Davis, he gave no thought to getting involved in radio. He took the minimum two English courses and no history classes. He was simply a science geek.
"I figured you learn that other stuff on your own," he says.
And he did, while still managing to graduate from UC Irvine medical school in 1984 at age 30. But DeSalles was never the type to settle into a steady medical practice and live a conventional life. He's been married only once, for a short time in 1997, and has no children.
For someone employed in the medical field, he lives frugally. He drives an $18,000 Subaru, risks life and limb to trim his own trees and hangs his laundry on a line to dry to conserve energy. He practices at an urgent care clinic in Roseville (filling in at a Stockton clinic) and chooses to work only 20 to 30 hours a week.
"I do urgent care because I don't want to carry a beeper," DeSalles says with typical bluntness. "When I was a resident, I took over a guy's practice in Turlock for two weeks. He gave me his beeper. I'd get calls at 1 in the morning, 'I still have constipation, doctor.' Geez, now I know why all these docs are alcoholics.
"I don't aspire to live in a 5,000-square- foot house in Granite Bay. I'm happy to work eight- or 12-hour shifts and go home."
And that leaves time for his numerous endeavors -- adventure travel, piloting light aircraft, completing the Alcatraz triathlon, riding his motorcycle and being a Kennedy assassination theorist.
A Kennedy theorist?
"It's true," DeSalles admits, sheepishly. He has a frame-by-frame familiarity with the Zapruder film. He's studied President Kennedy's autopsy reports to trace the trajectory of the bullet. Once, he shot up watermelons with a high-powered rifle to test a theory explaining why Kennedy was thrust backward after being shot.
Lately, though, radio has been his grand passion. DeSalles and Malelu have set up a home studio with a 16-track hard disk recorder and three microphones. DeSalles records his shows to CD and plays them back at the KDVS studio, adding live cut-ins. (An archive of shows can be found at www.radioparallax.com.)
The two occasionally will pull all- nighters to write and record the show. Sometimes, that means altering his work schedule to be available to tape interviews with prominent figures.
But that's the exception. Mostly, he's able to separate "Dr. DeSalles" from "Douglas Everett." And, at least until he agreed to this interview, hardly any of his listeners have heard much about his real job.
The two worlds did meet once, though. A Lebanese woman happened to come to his clinic and mentioned in passing that she had just returned from Beirut after the most recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict. DeSalles put her on the air for a firsthand account of the bombing.
That's not the only scoop DeSalles has had. He said he tried for nearly a year to land Cronkite as a guest. When he finally got him early in 2005, he didn't lob softball questions at the TV news legend.
"Early in the interview, Doug asked him about (President) Bush and the war in Iraq, and Cronkite stops and asks, 'What is the purpose of this interview?' Malelu recalls. "Doug told him he thought they were valid questions, and (Cronkite) was eventually OK with that. He answered the questions and was very critical of Bush's policies."
DeSalles says his outsider status in the media world gives him license to ask pointed questions of his guests. That was one motivation for going on radio.
"I kept complaining about how the media wasn't doing a good job," he says. "And considering how low the bar is set for talk radio with (Rush) Limbaugh, I thought, 'I may know nothing about radio, but I can do this.' "
When the show debuted on Access Sacramento-sponsored low-power KYDS (91.5 FM) in 2000 -- DeSalles moved it to stronger KDVS in 2002 -- it was a little rough. His first interview? The leader of a Star Trek-loving punk band. They talked about politics, naturally.
Over time, DeSalles learned to slow his delivery, to be more concise, to explain scientific concepts in terms lay people could understand and to work the phones to land marquee guests.
He acknowledges that, if he's serious about radio, the next step is to reach a larger audience. He's not sure "Radio Parallax" fits into the narrow confines of commercial radio, but he aspires to be syndicated.
"I don't think I'm leaving my day job any time soon," DeSalles says, chuckling. "But if I could make a living doing radio? Oh, yeah. This is way too much fun."
Media Savvy by The Bee's Sam McManis runs Tuesdays in Scene. He can be reached at (916) 321-1145 or smcmanis@ sacbee.com. For more on local media, read McManis' blog postings at 21Q (www.SacTicket.com/21q).
Sacramento Bee / Carl Costas
Douglas Everett (that's his radio name) at the controls of his weekly KDVS public affairs program, which has been visited by interview subjects ranging from legendary newsman Walter Cronkite and Watergate figure John Dean to porn star Christy Canyon and former bank robber Mike Parsons.
Dr. Doug DeSalles (his real name) examines Erin McKinney at MedCare medical center in Roseville. Broadcasting isn't his only hobby -- he's a world traveler, collector of artifacts and may be an unequaled trivia buff.
Sacramento Bee / Carl Costas
Above, the humorous streak in much of Douglas Everett's work on "Radio Parallax" is hinted at on the label affixed to his chair in the KDVS studios. Left, medicine is a serious matter for Dr. Doug DeSalles as he gives a prescription to patient Erin McKinney. McKinney's daughter Carly watches.
Copyright 2007 The Sacramento Bee
Record Number: SAC_0405125406
This article was originally published at: http://www.sacbee.com/127/story/104700.html