In November 1971 about a dozen people met in the offices of The Issue, an alternative newspaper in Columbia, Missouri, to discuss the need for a community radio station. Motivated by a mixture of 60’s idealism and the conviction that conventional media outlets were ignoring news, viewpoints, music and people vital to the Columbia community, these radio pioneers chose to call the station KOPN to commemorate its openness to all.
In deciding to establish a listener-supported public radio station for Columbia, KOPN’s founders drew upon a tradition that had begun in 1950 with Lew Hill’s creation of KPFA for Berkeley, California. Hill had concluded that the broadcasts of existing radio stations and networks were narrow and homogeneous and did not serve the varied needs of Berkeley’s diverse population. His ambition was to build a station that would be non-profit, non-institutional, listener-supported and would broadcast programming not heard elsewhere, produced by members of the community. Over the next decade, KPFA was joined by open-access, listener-supported stations in Los Angeles, New York, Washington and Houston in an affiliation called the Pacifica Foundation. In the late 60’s, former KPFA personnel Jeremy Landsman and Lorenzo Milam came to the Midwest to create a listener-supported, open-access station in St. Louis: KDNA. The Columbians turned to Landsman and KDNA for advice in order to get KOPN off the ground and on the air.
After a year and a half of meetings and fundraisers for KOPN, an application for a non-profit, educational radio station was submitted to the FCC. The station’s frequency was licensed to the New Wave Corporation, a not-for-profit, educational corporation, with an unpaid staff. On Saturday, March 3, 1973, KOPN began broadcasting a monaural signal at ten watts to central Columbia from a third-hand transmitter located in the elevator penthouse of Paquin Tower apartments. The studio was located in a cramped room rented from a crafts and food cooperative, upstairs at 915 East Broadway in the heart of downtown Columbia. The budget for March and April 1973 was $340.81, while $200 in subscriptions were received in March. Despite these humble beginnings, KOPN was only the eighth open-access, listener-supported station in the U.S. and the first to serve an audience of less than 100,000 people.
Since then, KOPN has grown in many ways, and in turn has helped Columbia to grow. Its studios have expanded; its wattage has increased; its audience has broadened; its expenses have appreciated. But more importantly, KOPN has provided Columbia with a wealth of programming not found anywhere else. It was the first source in Columbia for programming by and about women, African-Americans, seniors, children, rural citizens, environmentalists and many other populations often ignored by conventional local media. It introduced reggae, blues, bluegrass, Celtic, salsa, electronic and other music to a new audience in Columbia. Through its dedication to community voices, KOPN has trained more than 1,000 people in radio operations. It brings nationally syndicated alternative news and talk programs to Columbia. It has also resurrected radio drama for a new generation.
The station continues both to reflect and serve its community, and as for KOPN’s future, the possibilities remain OPEN.
Explore KOPN’s first ten years of history. We have had a lot of people, music, and voices pass into KOPN and onto the airwaves of Columbia.
In January, 1973, KOPN studio construction is finished, and on March 3, monaural broadcasting begins at 10 watts on 89.7 FM. The first sound that listeners hear is musical satirist Biff Rose’s “Evolutions.”
The station’s relatively low signal, beamed from a transmitter located atop Paquin Towers apartments, covers only a five-mile radius, and the station prints monthly Program Guides instructing listeners to make their own FM antennae for receiving KOPN.
In the first of many efforts supporting the cause of feminism, the station carries live broadcasts from the first annual Women’s Fair in October.
Radio Station KOPN Begins Broadcasting
|Columbia’s newest radio station, KOPN 89.7 FM, begins broadcasting Friday evening, Jeff Mintz, one of the organizers of the New Wave Corp. which runs the station, said.
KOPN, the only non-commercial, non-profit, listener-supported station in a community as small as Columbia, has been planned by New Wave Corp. for more than a year.
Mintz, who had the “Jethro” show on KTGR-FM in 1971, said the station’s regular programming is not scheduled to begin until Sunday. “However, we will be playing whatever kind of music we feel like and generally getting used to the station until then,” he said.
Regular programming will begin at 3 p.m. Sunday with a show for women featuring music, poetry and interviews. According to an article in their programming guide, KOPN’s women’s shows will not have the recipes and gossip hours usually allotted to women’s shows.
Programs for March include jazz music on Mondays, folk music on Tuesdays, blues on Wednesdays and rock and roll on Thursdays as well as news analysis programs, alternative living hints and a weekly three-hour program for community participation.
Harry Pearle, assistant professor of engineering at the University and chief engineer for KOPN, said the station’s philosophy will be to “give the individual (in the community) the opportunity to express himself…to be an incentive to people’s creativity.”
Mintz said they plan to have telephone calls by listeners as and integral part of the programming. He said thy will welcome anyone to call in (443-5611) or walk in anytime they are on the air and participate in or comment on the programming. The station, 915 E. Broadway, will be on the air daily from 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. Mintz said.
KOPN expands its offices after the closure of the craft and food cooperative whose space it shared. The station acquires more powerful transmitting equipment from the sale of St. Louis community radio station KDNA. KOPN co-sponsors its first film series and begins broadcasting the Columbia City Council meetings that are mostly ignored by the local media. During the summer, a controversy erupts over KOPN’s broadcasts of “Liberty Lobby,” an ultra-conservative program. While some community voices condemn the station’s choice, KOPN defends its commitment to freedom of speech.
KOPN to co-sponsor film series
|KOPN and the Missouri Peace Study Institute have set up a film series, for enlightenment and stimulation and possibly for KOPN’s financial aid. The series is designed not to convince you to buy popcorn and candy or be lulled into the safe shadow of the latest image, but rather to channel your life force into less self-destructive mare personally and socially creative directions.
All films are in color and most are considered artistically as well as politically important. The films will be shown at the Ecumenical Center on Friday nights at the University Missouri-Columbia and on Saturday nights. Both showings will be at 8 p.m. Admission is $1 or free if you have a food stamp identification card. The following is what will be showing:
Sept. 6,7 Lucia, directed by Humberto Solas. It is a film of women in different revolutionary periods in Cuba and just recently available after being banned by the U. S. Treasury Dept.
Sept. 14,15 Attica, directed and produced by Cinda Firestone. This is a documentary of the 1971 Attica prison rebellion.
|Sept. 20,21 Night and Fog, directed by Alain Resnais. A film revealing the nightmare world of the concentration camps. U. S. Techniques of Genocide in Vietnam. Vietnam People’s Army Films. A film describing the development of U. S. policies in Vietnam. Winter Soldier Investigation. Vietnam Veterans Against the War. A documentary film about the investigation held in Detroit in 1971 in which veterans testify about genocide in Vietnam.
Sept. 27,28 Murder of Fred Hampton. Mike Gray Associates. The purpose of this film is to refute the official version of the killing and show why the Chicago police wanted Fred Hampton dead.
Oct. 5,6 Tupamaros and Campamento.
We could really use some help with publicity, setting up the series and running the films, so if you can help call the station and volunteer.
With the benefit of its new equipment, in March KOPN begins broadcasting in stereo at 40,000 watts on 89.5 FM (its current bandwidth) and expands its range to fifty miles. This power increase initially brings some complaints about KOPN’s signal being heard on toasters and electric toothbrushes in the area, but the problems are soon resolved. In May, a program produced by and for local senior citizens is begun, and singer-guitarist Bonnie Raitt performs a benefit concert for the station. KOPN management reaches out to allied stations across the country by attending the National Alternative Radio Conference in Madison, Wisconsin in June.
New Wave TV Channel 56 is on the air
After revving up the engine of this comparatively massive rig–the television project–and letting it idle for several months in preparation, New Wave Corporation, about the first of September (1975) finally pulled away from the curb.
Now the shifting gears on the tractor-trailer is not quite the same experience as running through the four gears on the old VW bus. Similarly, getting Public Television rolling cannot justly be compared to raising the wherewithal for radio. In the first place, the inertia–caused primarily by the sheer financial weight of the hardware involved–was pretty difficult to overcome. But it was.
|Secondly, it became all too apparent that few of us knew even how many gears are involved in a project like this–let alone how one goes about shifting them. But we’re learning.
We are gratefully receiving public service announcements on KOMU-TV, which so far have generated a fair amount of interest and curiosity from people who otherwise might not have been reached in our mailings. We’ve also received and excellent 30 minute videotape program produced by Channel 19 (Kansas City PBS affiliate) highlighting the upcoming PBS season. This we’ve taken to several civic groups in order to acquaint people with what could be available.
We believe that New Wave Television can be on the air before this coming summer. But we have to raise the capital soon. If you can help, either financially or physically, let us know. If you belong to an organization that would like to see the half-hour program, please write us and we’ll set up a time to view it. We can also provide someone to answer questions you might have.
The New Wave Corporation is shifting into fourth gear (or is it fifth?).
Mark Roebuck, New Wave Television
The station improves its facilities by installing much-needed heating and cooling systems. The number of KOPN subscribers grows to 370. KOPN introduces the Columbia area to Celtic music, and “Dark Pulsations,” a program devoted to the voices and concerns of the local African-American community, has its debut. In July, KOPN staffers attend the National Federation of Community Broadcasters Convention in Telluride, Colorado.
Traditional Tunes Continue
|KOPN is proud to announce the beginning of a biweekly show devoted to the traditional and folk-derived music of Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales and Britain. In response to the growing interest in Celtic music, and in order to present recordings of music that are less generally available in this country, Lark in the Morning will explore the music and the people of the Isles, from the “pure” traditional and ethnic forms, to the “folk revival” performers and other music strongly influenced by the Celtic tradition. Glimpses into the pagan culture and ancient music of the olden tymes, their influences on the social and musical environments of modern times, and some of the finest tunes ever, many of which are available only as imports, or not at all, in this country. So join us for an evening’s pleasure–hark to the Lark in the Morning.|
Taken from an article written July, 1976.
KOPN’s subscription rolls now top 1,000. Grants totaling over $90,000 are received to obtain equipment and pay salaries to full-time staffers. Reinforcing KOPN’s commitment to underserved audiences, an annual “Women’s Day” schedule of programming is inaugurated, and the children’s show “Lullaby of Broadway” debuts.
Letter to KOPN 1977
Early this morning (Sept. 17, 1977), I received KOPN-FM from Louisville, Kentucky. The reception was fair to good and the signal was easy to identify as yours. I tuned in about 1:08 a.m. (CDT) and heard a female announcer talking about something called the North Village Auction, which was to be held today at 1 p.m. at a place called the Marketplace. The lady said that anyone with anything to donate could still do so by calling 449-0597. The announcement was followed by a male announcer who talked about the auction further and said, “You will benefit yourself and KOPN,” by taking part. The announcement was followed by music.
As I said, the reception was fair to good and the station was easily identifiable as yours. My receiver is a Technics ST-7600 with a Pioneer SA-6500 amplifier, Winegard SC-650 antenna mounted at 30 feet on my home, about eight miles from downtown Louisville.
I would appreciate confirmation of my reception of KOPN-FM if the fact about the auction and the phone number, etc., agree with the broadcast. I enclosed a stamp for my verification and hope you find my report useful in knowing where your signal is heard. I hope to receive the station again sometime soon and I also hope the auction was a grand success!
KOPN becomes the site of a federally-sponsored VISTA Community Outreach Project to involve seniors, youth, and low-income communities with radio production and programming. Chicago blues legend Koko Taylor performs the first of several benefit concerts for the station.
Queen of the Blues visits KOPN
|KOPN: How did you get into singing?
Koko Taylor: I’ve always loved singing. What really influenced me ever since I can remember was singing blues and gospel. I grew up singing in church. I also would listen to records, such as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Memphis Minnie and Sonny Boy Williams. When I moved to Chicago in 1953, I started sitting in with these people, going to clubs and learning about being a singer. It was definitely a dream come true.
KOPN: Did you have people supporting you? Going from a church in Memphis to Chicago clubs is quite a jump.
Taylor: It wasn’t really a jump. When I was in Memphis I was singing blues and gospel. Then I came to Chicago when I got married. Liking to sing I just kept going from place to place and meeting all the musicians I’d heard about for years.
KOPN: How’d they take you?
Taylor: They were really good about it. They thought it was nice to have a woman there singing the blues.
KOPN: Were there any other women in the clubs at the time, singing?
Taylor: No, it was just all men singing the blues.
KOPN: Who were some of your big influences?
Taylor: Sonny Boy Williams and Elmore James. Howlin’ Wolf was my big influence.
KOPN: What about Willie Dixon?
Taylor: Willie Dixon was the man who heard me and first started talking to me about recording. He was the A&R (artist and repertoire) man for Chess Records at the time. He got me started in the recording business.
KOPN: Where did he see you first?
Taylor: It was a small club on the Chicago south side. Willie said I had the voice to sing the blues. He was really interested in recording me for Chess because there were no women singing the blues at the time.
KOPN: When was that?
Taylor: The early sixties, I first recorded n 1964.
KOPN: For Chess?
Taylor: Chess was the only thing happening for the blues back then, just like Alligator Records is the only thing happening today.
KOPN: How long were you with Chess?
Taylor: Eight years.
KOPN: What were the royalties like?
Taylor: I don’t even know what that is, except for the meaning of the word.
KOPN: You wrote “Wang Dang Doodle” which was a million-copy seller. You don’t get anything for that?
Taylor: No, I just enjoyed singing and was glad to do so. I still get a chance to do what I want to do.
KOPN: How much time did you spend on the road?
Taylor: Not as much as I do now, which is nine months a year.
KOPN: It must be very tiresome working like that.
Taylor: Yes, but most of the places I go I run into such nice people–the beautiful audiences that I entertain are the ones that keep me out there. It lifts me up. Even if I’m tired I just keep going.
|KOPN: There is a price of being on the road. So many women blues singers did it, but it took its toll on them.
Taylor: It might take its toll on me in the future, but I won’t cross a bridge until I get to it. Right now I’m mot even close to the bridge
KOPN: In New York there were some big Chicago artists like Little Walter Horton and Sunnyland Slim playing and audiences not responding at all.
Taylor: Well they didn’t have me there. I say that for one reason. The people you mentioned are good, but the audience…well, if you put enough fire under them they’re going to move. The more they sit, the harder I sing.
KOPN: What were your tours like in Europe?
Taylor: The Europeans are really fantastic. People really dig the blues. I don’t really understand it. I often wonder how they communicate with our music; how do they know what we’re singing about, but I’ve learned on thing over there, that they know you’re doing a good job or not–if they’ve got an artist they really like, you can tell–they have them back.
KOPN:Audience changing. Middle class whites are now listening to the blues in Chicago.
Taylor: I’m glad. When I first started I was singing for all black audiences in black clubs, but in the last seven years my audience has been white and I’m glad it made the change. Today the black people go to discos and they don’t listen to the blues, they don’t like the blues…most of them are ashamed of the blues. They don’t want to hear it anymore. They don’t realize what they’re doing is running away from their own heritage. If it hadn’t been for the change, the way things are today, there wouldn’t be no bread and butter on my table.
KOPN: There is also a new area of women’s music and women’s lyrics. But I’m appreciating the singer, it doesn’t matter what they’re singing about.
Taylor: I don’t care if it’s a woman or man if they’re a good artist.
KOPN: Someone like you would be overlooked by women who see things through the lyrics. There are a lot of people offended by blues lyrics.
Taylor: Because of the themes you talk about in the music. But I think it’s all in digging the music and digging the artist.
KOPN: You’ve been in Columbia once before. Do you think tonight’s concert will be a good one?
Taylor: Oh yes. I’m not going home until they’re on their feet.
New Wave Corporation’s long struggle to make Columbia a home for public television as well as community radio culminates in the arrival of translator station Channel 56 on the air. Meanwhile, KOPN begins broadcasting a program for the Missouri prison population, “Zebra Sunrise.” The station also carries live studio broadcasts of local bluegrass musicians, and the program “Ionizations” airs live the specially commissioned work of avant-garde electronic composers. In August, KOPN staffers attend the National Federation of Community Broadcasters Convention in Olympia, Washington and in December, the National Conference on Feminism and Radio in Washington, D.C.
KOPN’s air room during pledge drive.
“I Like What I Hear”
KOPN presents its 3rd annual Fall Pledge Drive. It starts Wednesday September 19th through Sunday September 23rd. This year we are featuring Live radio, plus contests and request shows around the clock.
We want you the listener, to help make this Drive the best in KOPN’s seven-year history. We want you to come and see KOPN at 915 E. Broadway, here in Columbia, and be “live” with us. A booth and display will be set up on Broadway, when we take open-access radio to the streets.
Your participation and help is what, in the end, will make it a success! We want to see our listeners. Come up to 915 E. Broadway. You can help answer phones, hunt down record requests or just look around. Or call us (That number again–(314) 874-5676 and/or 874-1139) and chat, make a request, tell us what you like or dislike, and SUBSCRIBE!!!!
But most of all, we want you to listen. Find out how listener supported radio works. Set your radio dial to 89.5 FM KOPN.
Taken, in part, from a September 1979 KOPN program guide.
KOPN begins broadcasting a weekly program devoted to current issues facing the Missouri state legislature. The nation’s energy crisis inspires the station to produce a documentary series on Missouri’s use of its energy resources. The station continues its coverage of news outside the mainstream media when it carries its first live satellite broadcast, the National Citizens’ Hearings for Radiation Victims, from Washington, D.C. in April; KOPN is one of only 13 stations to do so. By now, 2,000 listeners are KOPN subscribers. Renown experimental music composer Laurie Anderson performs live on “Ionizations” in March.
|1980 Women’s Day Program Guide Cover
Letter to KOPN 1980
To the Crystal Set Feminist,
Thank you so much for broadcasting the “Women Take Back the Night” rally held at the court house on September 18th. Several AARCC volunteers were glad to have an opportunity to listen to the speakers. They all reported that your broadcast came through very well.
Over the year KOPN has been the most responsive radio station in addressing the problem of violence against women. From the League of Women Voters legislative issues to Community Periscope, from Kim Davis’ show on Rape Culture to your own work in getting our public service announcements on the air, KOPN has provided an invaluable service in helping us inform the community about our programs.
Kathryn A. Lowe
July 20, 1981 75 mph “Prairie Hurricane” topples KOPN’s tower from Paquin Street high-rise apartment building.
1981: On July 20, KOPN’s transmitter is blown down in a storm, but by dismantling the tower from the now-defunct Channel 56 and transporting it piece by piece from Callaway County, the station is able to resume broadcasting in just six days. In September, KOPN sponsors Columbia Jazz Week. “Caravans,” a program devoted to international music and discussion, debuts. Throughout the year, KOPN expands its literary efforts as well. Continuing its prison outreach work, the station assists in publishing the Journal of Missouri Prisoner Literature and Art. KOPN radio players Dead Air produce six radio comedies during the year. KOPN also helps to originate the American Audio Prose Library project, an attempt to preserve the art of oral storytelling by interviewing and taping some of America’s most famous writers reading their own works; Norman Mailer, Tillie Olsen, and Stanley Elkin are included.
KOPN Changes Format
Well friends, for the past eight years KOPN’s format has remained much the same. Our emphasis has been on variety and on bringing you alternative points of view. Beginning April 1, 1981, we will change formats.
June Palmquist, Station Manager, puts the change this way: “We want to keep pace with America. Everyone knows that the direction has changed, WE want to GET IT RIGHT, if you know what I mean.”
The first format change will come about as KOPN begins production of a four-year series of anti-Communist programs for free distribution to 1,000 Missouri radio stations. “We think there’s a great demand for this kind of programming,” says Phil Wax, Program Director. These programs will be funded through a billion-dollar grant from the Department of Defense. Each week, the program will focus on another nation that is threatened by a communist takeover.
The KOPN engineering staff will ask the FCC to permit a change in call letters from KOPN to either KIBM or KMX.
|The format will also change with a 50 percent increase in religious programming. “There’s a lot of money to be raised in this area and KOPN wants it,” says Arlene Seirfet, Development Director, adding, “Polls today show that God and Jesus are the two most admired men in America, and we want to give Americans what they want.”
New programs to be added include Hallelujah Missouri, The Right Way, and I’m Saved-You’re Saved.
Many current programs will be taken off the air, includingZebra Sunrise, Saturday’s Children, The Feminist News,and The Braze Hussy, which have been categorized as “immoral trash” by the Moral Majority, newly-acquired consultants to KOPN.
New personalities to be added to the program schedule include Paul Harvey, Phyllis Shlaffly, William Buckley and Jerry Falwell. Liberty Lobby will be aired morning, noon and night.
Taken from KOPN’s April 1981 program guide.
KOPN inaugurates Midwest Radio Theatre, an offshoot of the Midwest Radio Theatre Conference it also helped to organize. The Conference attracts the participation of famous radio comedy veterans from the Firesign Theater and “Fibber McGee and Molly.” KOPN’s Midwest Radio Theatre becomes the first live radio theatre transmitted nationally over the public radio satellite system, and plans are made to produce two plays monthly.
|KOPN’s First MRTW Live Broadcast October, 1982
Letter to KOPN November, 1982
I guess I believe in superlatives. I just wanted to say that in seven years of public broadcasting, MRTW was far and away the most exciting and beneficial learning experience I have had. The format, content, the dedication and discipline (and of course, the party) were PRIMO.
You all should feel very proud and satisfied with yourselves for this job well done. Naturally, Susan and Julie deserve a special credit for keeping things rolling as smoothly as they did.
Most importantly, however, was the spirit of MRTW. Of course, people like Peter Bergman, David Ossman, Tom Lopez, John Carrillo, Doris and Lee from Children’s Theatre, etc., made for a wonderful learning experience. You can’t find finer, warmer teachers. Now, Hi Brown– that’s another story. No, he was great, too. But let me get back to what I wanted to say. You, the people of KOPN, are some of the finest people I’ve ever met. I didn’t know what to expect. The Midwest to me is the unknown entity. Not any more. Your hospitality rivals ours. Your sense of purpose and dedication to this most worthy endeavor is abundantly clear.
Really, I could go on and on. This is an experience that will remain close to my heart for the rest of my life, and I mean it. Congratulations on a job well done. Hope to see you next year with more folks from the Southwest.
Here are scans of some of the many adds placed in KOPN’s 10th Anniversary paper written by John Poses. Enjoy the congratulations given to KOPN for 10 years of great public radio broadcasting.
Community Radio in Southeast Alaska
Folks from Philadelphia
Campus I & II
KANZ FM 91