KOPN Reel-To-Reel Project

09 Jan 2012


KOPN 89.5 fm, a community radio station in Columbia, Missouri, began in 1973 to give voice to groups not well represented in traditional media outlets. As a volunteer run organization, KOPN has had its share of success and struggles over the years but has persisted as an outlet for independent and creative voices.

The Reel-To-Reel Project began in 2004 as an effort to preserve KOPN's early broadcasts. These broadcasts were stored on reel-to-reel tape, which has a limited lifespan (30 years at the higher end). Grant money was secured from state and local agencies and numerous individual donors to reformat over 500 tapes to CD. Once reformatted, the CDs remained at the station and the tapes were sent to the Western Historical Manuscript Collection at the University of Missouri. KOPN volunteers listened to and created descriptions (title, producer, summary, etc...metadata!) of the programs and created a searchable database for people to view information about the collection's holdings online.

I began volunteering at KOPN in September 2009 and quickly gravitated toward the Reel-To-Reel Project (which had been dormant for two years since everyone initially involved with the project had moved on) because it seemed like an excellent way for me to apply some of the ideas and practices I was learning about as an LIS student at Mizzou. My idea was to create mp3 files of the collection's items, attach the mp3 files with their metadata, all in a new website (since we're still testing the new site the old one is still live - you can see it's outdated), which would make the collection accessible to a much wider audience.

Technical Details

I started by investigating software that could embed audio files alongside text description. Fellow LIS grad student Sean Burns introduced me to Omeka, which he was using at the time on the POYi Archive. KOPN volunteer Eric Brown was generous with his time installing Omeka and troubleshooting the hanging CSV Import Plugin issue (resolved in our case by lfarrell's post). I used iTunes to create mp3s from the CDs, and to conserve server space I changed the import settings to:

  • Import using: mp3 encoder
  • Stereo bit rate: 32 kbps
  • Sample rate: 11.025 kHz
  • Channels: auto
  • Stereo mode: joint auto
  • Smart encoding adjustments: check
  • Filter frequencies below 10Hz: check
This resulted in lower quality audio files (which is fine since most of the content is spoken voice), but the entire collection takes up less than 5GB and benefits from quicker streaming times.


Many readers have probably already spotted the elephant in the room: copyright! Can I legally put all this content online? (I feel obliged to note the obvious: nothing I say here, or anywhere for that matter, should be misconstrued as legal advice) I began my search for an answer at Mizzou's Law Library (thanks to reference librarian Steve Lambson for putting me on the right track) and found Nimmer on Copyright and the Westlaw database to be the most useful resources. I discovered that volunteer work counts as a work for hire, which means that KOPN owns copyrights to its in-house produced programming. The more ambiguous question is who owns copyright to the concerts the station recorded at venues around the area (like Charles Mingus at Jesse Hall!). Emeritus law professor Peter Davis provided critical direction for my inquiry with two questions:

  1. Were any contracts signed between musicians and the station?
  2. If not, has KOPN rebroadcast these concerts over the years?
The answers are clear - no for 1 and yes for 2 (rebroadcast dates are written on the case of each tape). Prof. Davis said that given these circumstances, it could be argued that KOPN has copyright through an implied license. However, such a case has not yet been tried in court and thus any interpretation is ambiguous to some degree. While this is a good lead and I feel secure enough to move forward on other aspects of the project, I don't feel this claim provides a strong enough foundation to put online the collection of music concerts. I am currently in contact with the Intellectual Property Clinic at Washington University to try to get a clearer answer and I eagerly await their response. Please share if you have any insight to pass along!

I am also indebted to the work of Brain Cain, who created a controlled vocabulary for the collection in order to provide additional and more consistent access points to the collection. Brian researched controlled vocabularies and created a customized version for the site, using both Dublin Core's subject element for a more traditional model and Omeka's tagging capabilities to facilitate more efficient browsing. See our slides from a presentation at the Missouri Library Association in October 2011.

In the meantime, I have worked on customizing the Rhythm Omeka theme (much thanks to Brian Grinstead for helping to work out the kinks in the code). I also uploaded some of the KOPN-produced programming using Omeka's CSV Import Plugin - see my previous post for tips on using the plugin. Assuming the project moves forward, I'd like to further develop the site by adding a poly-hierarchy to the controlled vocab (Brian's wish), more content, a contributions page detailing everyone's work . Do you have any ideas for how the site can be improved?

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