Community radio station in Columbia, MO. reflects on past while preparing for future

KPON-FM hosted a station event Saturday that was open to community members and volunteers to assist in organizing their material. Volunteers sifted through film reels to hopefully digitize their content. (Gabriella Nuñez/KRCG13)

After decades of collecting vinyl records, CD's and film reels, the volunteer-run radio station in downtown Columbia is making a great effort to preserve their material and go in the digital direction.

KOPN-FM is a listener-supported station that aired its first show in the 1970's. Since then, it's become known for it's variety programming and has a volunteer staff that's expanded to about 50 people. They hosted a station event to clean-up and sort through their material that they've accumulated over the years.

"You can just really feel that it's a grassroots effort," Sarah Catlin, an underwriter for the station said. "It is local and it's done out of love and there are a couple of employees and all the rest of it is run by volunteers."

Catlin has been volunteering for the station for 10 years and said that though her day-job changes she comes back to KOPN. She's seen a lot change, but the station stays true to it's purpose of providing a variety of on-air content while evolving with media.

"It's kind of trying to bridge that, trying to respect the past and kind of keep that flavor of the things that we do that are really unique," Catlin said. "Like playing vinyl but then also be able to go clear forward to be doing pod-casting and everything in between."

About 25 people showed up to the clean-up, most of them volunteers. They sifted through boxes of film reels separating KOPN material and scanning music and information to save digitally on drives.

"We're in the process of starting to digitize that music to preserve it... because there is such a thing as digital rot and CDs can go bad, and to make it more accessible," General Manager Tao Weilundermo said.

He stood in a room with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, filled with CD's and vinyl records organized by genre and alphabetically. He said that the content ranges from African music to Swedish rap, with music that one can't always find on a commercial station. Weilundermo wants to keep the material that makes KOPN unique and preserve what's kept it going for so long.

"You know, vinyl records get dropped off here," he said. "There's just kind of clutter built up over the years so we're kind of doing a sort of fall cleanse."

Weilundermo said that he is trying to make good changes at the station, promoting teamwork and helping build an internal community as they take risks and try new ventures. He is personally attached to KOPN and wants to see it continue to grow.

"This place is very important to the community," the general manager said "It's very important to me, my parent's actually met here as programmers."

The general manager emphasized that what helps the station thrive and what makes it so special is the service it provides and the people who provide that service.

"KOPN is run by volunteers, that's the major difference," he said. "You can't get this anywhere else, this kind of local news. You know, you can just call in request a song, any kind of genre and you get it. It's a very unique kind of cultural jewel of mid-Mo I think."

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