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Music sounds over the radio as it’s tuned to 89.5 KOPN, a community-powered radio station in Columbia which has been in existence for over 39 years.
From cultural music to local rap, the wide variety of genres guarantee that songs on the station are rarely played more than once. KOPN also includes individual and local talk shows hosted by various members of the community, however, it’s not only the music that powers the station; the man behind it all believes the radio station has the power to potentially bring families and friends closer together.
“In my estimation, it helps keep the place a more interesting place to live in,” M.C. David Owens said. “You can hear what other people like and what they care about because we have a place where your friends and neighbors can share the things they care about.”
The music the community selects and calls in by telephone is meant to attract a broad spectrum of listeners — bridging the gaps between age and race. KOPN not only plays several genres of music, but also provides programs for exchanging ideas with the community.
“I was listening to it last night, actually, and a guy was talking about the human conscience and how to increase people’s moral abilities,” RBHS English teacher Katherine Glover said. “KOPN is just enlightening; it contributes an easy access to freedom of speech that’s not dictated by corporation.”
The diverse genres of music are meant to reach out to the community and play songs and host talk shows that deal with the issues and vast amount of cultures that exist in Columbia, Owens said.
“In the past we’ve played music that you wouldn’t hear anywhere else that other radio stations are now playing, so we’ve introduced a lot of music in Missouri,” Owens said. “You can hear Spanish language programming. You can hear contemporary popular African music, singer song-writer music, classical music, music from Arabic traditions and Jewish, a whole two hours of the Grateful Dead, power-pop, local rappers, hip-hop and new releases that haven’t aired anywhere else in those genres.”
KOPN’s purpose is to give members of the Columbia community the tools and resources to communicate the things that are important to them and their city, Owens said. The sound booth, which is used to host talk shows as well as live performances, not only allows adults to express their opinions, but it also broadcasts the voices of the teenagers and children of the community.
“We’ve had various programs arranged specifically for young people. For quite a few years, we were doing a program called ‘Inside Radio’ that trained people from ages eight to 18 on technical skills, audio theater and audio production. The most recent thing that we had on a regular basis was having [Robert E.] Lee Elementary School’s second—third—and fourth-graders come over and read things that they wrote for us,” Owens said. “Of course, I believe everyone should give us a shot. You should actually put us on one of your presets so you can go ahead and go to it and move away from it then find it again because it’s always different. It’s free speech radio.”
KOPN attracts adults and members of the community to listen to its wide range of music and speeches, but it also invites teens to tune in and motivates their goals in life.
“Whenever I have free time, I listen to it occasionally to catch up on things going on around me,” senior Torie Deckert said. “I don’t know, it’s weird. I listen to it when I want to be inspired.”
The popularity of community radio rose with a large desire from many in Columbia to be involved. The 90,000-plus records at KOPN have been at the hands of teens in the community to let them choose their own collection of songs that express their musical knowledge to peers, family and citizens of Columbia’s frequencies.
“We have a couple hundred volunteers that do programming. Some of them do talk shows, and a lot of them do musical shows. They play from their own personal collection and they play their own personal favorites,” Owens said. “You’ll hear things that your neighbors and perhaps friends of yours have produced for the air.”