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.

Patricia WatkinsAfter 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.