"KPIG's founder and program director, Laura Ellen Hopper, dies at 57"
By Wallace Baine
Santa Cruz Sentinel staff writer
ROYAL OAKS — Laura Ellen Hopper, the longtime program director and co-founder of KPIG 107.5 FM, died Monday from complications of lung cancer. She was 57.
Hopper of Royal Oaks was widely known to fans of KPIG as the mellow midday disc jockey who loved to champion emerging country/folk singer/songwriters, but she also was largely responsible for shaping both the sound and the public image of one of California's most idiosyncratic and beloved radio stations.
"Laura Ellen was the heart, soul and glue of KPIG," said "Sleepy John" Sandidge, a longtime KPIG on-air personality and friend. "Losing her is like losing an old-growth redwood tree"
After a persistent cough, Hopper had been diagnosed with cancer less than two weeks ago. It was then she learned that the cancer had spread to her liver, said her husband Frank Caprista, also KPIG's general manager. On Friday, her liver began to fail. She had suffered from rheumatoid arthritis for years. Caprista said that his wife died early Monday morning without pain.
In 1975, Hopper originally helped found KFAT in Gilroy, a free-form country station notorious for its rejection of conservative radio conventions. After KFAT went off the air, she re-emerged with local attorney Leo Kesselman in 1988 to found KPIG in Watsonville, finally making a success of the station's renegade format in the 1990s.
Under Hopper's direction, KPIG married KFAT's pugnacious country/rock programming with a more savvy business plan. Eventually, the station became instrumental in establishing a new radio format, Americana, which emphasized artists who were often ignored by mainstream country radio, such as John Prine, Jerry Jeff Walker and Peter Rowan. In the 1990s, KPIG's prominence in the Americana genre gave it the power to provide career-making exposure to such performers as Robert Earl Keen, Todd Snider and Iris DeMent.
Funeral services for Hopper are pending. Fans interested in updates on plans for memorial events can go to KPIG's Web site at www.kpig.com. The station is also setting up a forum for fans to reminisce and reflect on Hopper's career and influence.
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