Field Notes

KOPN: The First 50 Years

In 1973, the Doobie, Allman and Isley Brothers all had popular records. Richard Nixon started his second term as America’s president. Also that year, a community radio station in Columbia, Missouri got a license to broadcast at 89.5fm.

In 2022 and 2023 – in the run-up to the 50th anniversary of KOPN, I organized current station volunteers to conduct oral histories with former and long-time station staff and programmers. These full oral histories live here.

For 13 weeks in early 2023, I hosted a live radio show on KOPN that drew from these oral histories, mined the station’s deep and wide archives and queried a live, in-studio guest about the week’s theme. I called the show KOPN: The First 50 Years. That’s a lot of work to put in to a one-hour show, so the shows live on as a predictably title podcast KOPN: The First 50 Years.

My goal with this podcast (and the KOPN Oral History Project broadly) is to preserve the story of our community radio station and give the listener (that’s you!) an idea of what it was like in the early, heady years after KOPN’s 1973 founding.

Episode 5 features oral history form lee Ruth plus poetry from the Chez Coffeehouse and archival recordings from Lee Ruth and Cathy Barton.
Episode 4 is about the ways the folk music found a radio home at KOPN.
Episode 3 features an interview with area fiddler and author Howard Marshall and KOPN programmer Margot McMillan, archival material from the Boone County Fair Fiddle Contest, Dear KOPN letters and more.
Episode 2 features an oral history with former KOPN children’s programmer Christine Gardener and current programmer Jackie Casteel, archival material from Inside Radio featuring Eli Burrell and Brother Blue plus live in-studio guests, including Ann Mehr, Sarah Catlin and Dante Dupuy.
Episode 1 looks at KOPN’s history with prison issues and features oral histories with James Robnett and Jim Austin, an archival feature about Renz Women’s Prison and guests Peggy Placier and December Harmon.

Mo’ Curious: Preserving the Disappearing Memory of Missouri’s Little Tuskegee

Madelyn Paine remembers getting weighed at the Dalton elevator. Diane Pippens feels her light skin helped her pass for white or Mexican when she integrated her town’s high school. William Payne recalls the town’s annual reunion where he met his future wife.

It was at Dalton, Missouri’s annual reunion in 2021 that I did my first interview for this episode of the Mo’ Curious Podcast. Throughout that summer and ending on Labor Day of the same year, my collaborator Jennifer Thornburg and I conducted six oral histories with alumni from the former Dalton Vocational School in Chariton County.

Here’s one story of the students who attended Chariton County, Missouri’s segregated Dalton Vocational School.

Dalton, now listed as a village by the U.S. Census Bureau, had an official population of seventeen in 2020. Nathanial Bruce started the school for blacks in Dalton in 1907. Between 1907 and 1956, Bartlett Agricultural and Mechanical School (later Dalton Vocational School) graduated young men with skills in farming and machinery. Young women learned how to type and cook in preparation for future work in offices and as house-keepers.

In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that separate-but-equal facilities like schools were unconstitutional. This led to the closure of the school perched on the hillside in Dalton. After the 1956 school year, active Dalton students attended now-integrated schools in their hometowns.

Now seemed like a great time to gather memories of Dalton Vocational School from the shrinking pool of aging alumni. This podcast tells the story of Dalton Vocational School—Missouri’s “Little Tuskegee”—in the former students’ own words.

Videos of these oral histories are planned for a future online and in-person display of Black education at Salisbury, Missouri’s Chariton County Historical Society Museum.


Mo’ Curious: ‘That American Ideal’

Almost as long as there has been a Missouri, there have been idealists in our midst. In 1844, “Doctor” Wilhelm Keil and his followers established the German Communal Society of Bethel in Northeast Missouri. They were followed by an Icarian outpost in 1858 near St. Louis.

In this episode of Mo’ Curious, you’ll learn about these settlements, what inspired them and how the lineage of radical rural cooperation continues into the 21st century.

This is the first part of a two-part episode on utopias and communes in Missouri. Here is part II.

This episode of Mo’ Curious is generously sponsored by Missouri Life.


Mo’ Curious: Bean’s Origins

During a career that lasted over five decades, tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins travelled the world. Born in St. Joseph, Missouri in 1904, the talented young man attended music school in Kansas. He left Missouri for good in 1921 to seek his fortune and fame.

Coleman Hawkins

Bean, as he was nicknamed, lived much of his adult life in Europe and New York. He died in New York in 1969.

This episode of Mo’ Curious explains the St. Joseph of Hawkins’ youth. Drawing on the oral histories of a community leader, an activist and a pair of scholars, this episode explores how racism locally and opportunity elsewhere led Hawkins away from his native Missouri.

Mo’ Curious is an occasional podcast about the history of our 24th state. Thanks for listening. Be sure to tell your friends and your grandma about Mo’ Curious. (They may even think you are cool for knowing about this here Missouri history podcast.)

Photo credits: / UMKC Dave E. Dexter Jr. Collection

Field Notes

Field Notes: ‘The Concept of One God Enthralled Me.’

Growing up in St. Joseph, Ramadhan Washington spent a lot of time at a local Church of God In Christ. Incarcerated as a young man in the Buchanan County, Missouri jail, he met fellow prisoners imported from Kansas City who were practicing Muslims. Over fifty years after his conversion to Islam, Washington is an elder of the Islamic Center of St. Joseph. On a recent balmy summer afternoon, Washington detailed his conversion from the front porch steps of the home he shares with his wife.

Field Notes

Field Notes: Creating a More Perfect Union

For 20 years, the Troost 39 Thrift Store has provided low-cost clothes, dishes, books and the occasional guillotine to shoppers. When the building was up for sale three years ago, Chuck and Toni Wurth bought it. Today, the couple maintains the space as thrift store with a mission.

Field Notes is an occasional series from the Recollection Agency. Contact us to learn more about the process of preserving your memories and creating shareable content.

Field Notes

Field Notes: ‘If they want me to give them two, I give them four.’

In each installment of my Field Notes from the Recollection Agency, I talk to someone with an interesting backstory. Here, Scott Lunceford* talks about government cheese, how re-enacting 1855 can be a family activity and why it pays to bring your harmonica to church.

Listen to other Field Notes and learn more about the Recollection Agency at and on social media.

*Scott says we “are always family”, but our official status is that of ex-step-cousins. -Trevor