Campus DJ shared love of bluegrass music on air

David “Uncle Dave” Kiser had a passion for music, but it wasn’t until he reached his fifties, after working most of his adult life in the Fayette County jail, that he got to showcase his love and talent for singing and playing bluegrass music.

“He loved the music, there’s no doubt about that,” said friend Zeke Buttons. “He had a real passion about bluegrass music.”

But his musical career was cut short. Kiser died in his sleep yesterday after battling cancer. He was 62.

Kiser began as a DJ for WRFL, UK’s independent radio station, in November 2002. Every other Saturday he hosted “Blue Yodel #9,” which features the music of local bands as well as live performances and interviews with bluegrass musicians.

He was also the leader of the band “Uncle Dave and the Dixie Drifters.” He had a talent for playing jam sessions and a sense of time “just like a metronome,” said Bob Gregory, a local musician who played with Kiser.

When Kiser began playing live shows, he loved the experience.

“He couldn’t believe it was all happening — he was on stage,” Gregory said.

He had looked forward to playing the music he loved after retiring in January, Gregory said, but one month later he was diagnosed with cancer, which eventually prevented him from talking and playing the guitar.

“He always loved music but never got the chance to do anything,” said Gregory, an industry extension specialist in the UK Center for Manufacturing. “But he was so natural.”

Even after he was diagnosed with cancer, friends said Kiser was a soft-spoken, easy-going man doing what he loved.

“He was just totally into it,” said friend Joe Takacs. “You could just see his eyes light up when he talked about it.”

When he wasn’t working as a musician or DJ, Kiser worked to promote local bands and bluegrass music. Known for his organizational skills — “Kiser-izing” events — he coordinated jam sessions and connected local musicians.

Kiser publicized local bluegrass events by hanging posters, talking to people and writing in a weekly e-mail newsletter called “More Playing Out.”

“Every place you went in Lexington they would be like, ‘Hey, it’s Dave,’ ” Gregory said. “Even the people he locked up seemed to like him.”

Kiser’s work in the community was recognized at the J.D. Crowe Bluegrass Festival in September. J.D. Crowe and Bobby Osborne founded a scholarship in honor of Kiser at the Kentucky School of Bluegrass and Traditional Music, which is based at the Hazard Community and Technical College in Hyden, Ky.

“All he could say was, ‘I appreciate the award, but I thought I was just having fun,’ ” Takacs said. “He was that kind of guy.”