Permit me to go off-topic for a moment and pay homage to a Central California radio icon that deserves special mention. Laura Ellen Hopper, a founder of KFAT and then KPIG and a station programmer with a halo rather than horns, passed away on Memorial Day of cancer.
My colleague Wallace Baine of the Santa Cruz Sentinel wrote an outstanding tribute to Laura Ellen here. Go ahead — it’s well worth straying from this blog to read Wallace’s tribute, and I certainly wouldn’t hold it against you.
I never met Laura Ellen, as she was known to everyone within an earshot of the KPIG broadcast range, but I’d spoken with her on the phone and exchanged various e-mails with her, all regarding either requests for songs, or “Thanks for playing . . . ” (in one interesting and humorous exchange, I thanked her for playing Lyle Lovett’s “If I Had a Boat,” one of the songs I sang to my daughter as a lullaby when she was an infant, and she sent back an e-mail she had received just before mine from an irate listener saying, “I hate ’If I Had a Boat’ — there are a lot better Lyle songs to play.”). But she was a very friendly person on the line or on e-mail.
Speaking of my daughter Mirano (who has an affinity for chickens, as it turns out): On her sixth birthday a few years ago, I asked Laura Ellen to play the Ozark Mountain Daredevils’ “Chicken Train” during the all-request show “Out to Lunch,” and if possible to play it as late as possible since I was picking her up from kindergarten. Not only did Laura Ellen play “Chicken Train” as the hour’s final song, but she also gave her an unforgettable birthday greeting on the air, which Mirano talked about for months. It was her best gift that year.
Every year since, we’ve requested a song for Mirano on her birthday (last year, it was Dana Lyons’ “Cows with Guns,” since the “chickens in choppers” come to the rescue), and Laura would play it and give a birthday greeting. It was a present Mirano never tired of.
Laura Ellen guidance in the programming of KFAT (which predates my arrival to the Central Coast of California) and KPIG (which doesn’t) is the thing of which legends are made. See for yourself by listening here. Yet it’s seemingly insignificant things like our annual birthday request that make such a profound impression on the lives that Laura Ellen reached through the airwaves, and I join a wide range of “Piggies” (also known as KPIG listeners) who will miss her.