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
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 by clicking through the years below.
We have had a lot of people, music, and voices pass into KOPN and onto the airwaves of Columbia.