In 1975, David Owens left his home and family on his grandparents’ farm to join a fledgling community radio station in Columbia. He wanted to make a difference in people’s lives by fostering communication through diverse voices. Owens spent the next 18 years at KOPN/89.5 FM, watching it blossom in the late 1970s and then suffer through harder times in the 1980s.
After nine years at Lincoln University in Jefferson City as program director of KJLU, Owens returned to KOPN on Monday as the new station manager.
“It’s like I did my undergraduate work here, then my graduate work at KJLU and now I’m back,” Owens said.
As station manager, Owens will oversee general operations, direct the other four paid staff members and dozens of volunteer programmers, recruit volunteers and raise funds. He sees the station as a labor of love.
“I really think KOPN helps keep mid-Missouri a thoughtful and creative community,” Owens said.
KOPN board member Shelly Croteau chaired the search committee that sorted through 17 applications before choosing Owens. Qualified applicants from out of state were interviewed, she said, but the committee thought Owens’ roots in Columbia and understanding of community radio gave him the edge.
The station celebrated its 30th birthday this year. But listeners, members and volunteers know it hasn’t always been easy to keep the station going.
Ryan Kind, board president of KOPN, said the station is doing better financially than it has for more than 10 years. At one point, he said, the station was $128,000 in debt but was able to pay it all off last year.
“It’s a real indication of the volunteers who have been active at the station pinching pennies to come up with the extra money to pay off our debt,” Kind said.
Part of that frugality meant going without a station manager for the better part of four years and using the $30,000 salary to pay off debt. The station was also forced to cut down on programming to avoid expenses. Kind attributes the station’s financial recovery to “an upward trend in community support.” With the debt paid, Kind said, there’s money available to hire a station manager and add programming from Public Radio International, including “BBC World News” during the noon hour.
The station also received a grant of about $30,000 this year to improve its local news operations. The bulk of the money will be spent renovating and buying equipment for a third production room dedicated to local news.
In addition to the current volunteers, Kind said he hopes more KOPN members as well as local high school and college students will get involved with the local news broadcast.
Instead of worrying about funding, Kind said, the station can focus on doing things to make the community better.
“It’s been really rewarding,” he said, “and it makes being part of the station a lot more fun.”