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Obituaries

Laura Ellen Hopper, 57; helped establish Americana radio format

June 11, 2007|Valerie J. Nelson | Times Staff Writer

Laura Ellen Hopper, an early broadcaster of Americana roots music who co-founded a Central California radio station that was a pioneer in Internet programming, has died. She was 57.

Days after being diagnosed with lung cancer, Hopper died from complications of the disease May 28 at Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz, said her husband, Frank Caprista.

"She absolutely was a visionary and was just determined to stay true to her beliefs of how radio should be, particularly the Americana format that is truly her legacy," Ed Monroe, KPIG's marketing manager, told The Times on Friday.

Hopper had an ear for irreverent and eclectic programming that was showcased at KPIG, an FM station she helped start in 1988 in Watsonville, Calif. KPIG is heard on 107.5 FM in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties but also has outlets in the Bay Area and San Luis Obispo.

She was the longtime program director and a midday disc jockey at the station, known for its freewheeling deejays, absence of playlists and category-defying mix of music that includes country, bluegrass, Hawaiian and zydeco.

The station had its roots in a previous Hopper endeavor, a small radio station she bought in Gilroy, Calif., in 1975 and called KFAT.

She spotlighted alternative country music, which would become known as "Americana," sometimes defined as "music that twangs." After eight years, a new station owner instituted a top-40 format.

KPIG is credited with helping to establish the Americana radio format by spotlighting lesser-known artists often ignored by mainstream radio, such as folk-country songwriter John Prine, country-folk artist Iris DeMent and Texas troubadours Joe Ely and Robert Earl Keen.

"You'd have to say she started the genre," KPIG deejay "Sleepy" John Sandidge told the San Jose Mercury News after Hopper died. "She was the first to play Americana music on the radio."

In 1995, KPIG became one of the first radio stations to simulcast on the Internet when it broadcast a local "No Nukes" concert.

It has streamed continuous content over the Web since, said Caprista, who is also KPIG's operations manager.

Hopper was born April 29, 1950, in Illinois and grew up in St. Louis.

At 18, she started out in radio at a classical station in St. Louis and moved to Morgan Hill, Calif., in 1975. On weekends, she often showed her horse.

"She was quiet and shy, that's why she got into radio," said Caprista. "But she was also extremely focused and knew what she wanted the station to sound like -- and she always searched for emerging artists to latch on to."

In addition to her husband, Hopper is survived by a daughter, Elsie Lansman of Watsonville, who is a KPIG deejay; her parents, Gordon and Dorothy Hopper of Las Cruces, N.M.; and four sisters.

valerie.nelson@latimes.com

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