If you’ve switched on a radio in the Central Valley during the last five decades, there’s a good chance you’ve heard Kent Hopper’s voice. It’s deep, mellow and resonant–a lot like the man who owns it.
These days, Hopper, 66, is headman at KTIP in Porterville, a 24-hour news and talk station broadcasting at 1450 on the AM dial. He spends his mornings hosting Hopper in the Morning with PK the Redhead, while the rest of his workday is taken up with running the station as its operations manager. He couldn’t be happier.
After 30 years of keeping up the patter between songs, he was ready for a change. The move to local news and politics 15 years ago was a perfect fit, the cure for a creeping burnout. Pretending excitement for songs he’d played countless times had lost its charm, and deejays were no longer the local celebrities they were when Hopper got into the business.
“I think the good thing about this station is I worked all those years doing music, rock at KIOO, and 13 years before that in the same building at KSEQ,” he said.
The move to KTIP seemed natural, part of the evolution of Hopper’s career. Playing song after song with little feedback from his audience had become dull, and he’d lost his taste for the repetitive chatter deejaying has become. “So my point is that with age comes, like, I just don’t want to sit through the, you know, ‘What’s up?!’ and doing all that funky stuff, and ‘Here it is!’ and ‘That was. …’”
Once upon a time, deejays were some pretty hep cats. When there was no cable TV and the Internet hadn’t been invented, those disembodied voices were the smooth gatekeepers of youth culture, especially in small, rural communities, and Hopper was captivated by the spells they wove. Early on, he knew that was what he wanted to do with his life.
“I remember telling my dad I want to be in the entertainment business of some sort; I think I want to be in radio,” he said. “I used to listen to jocks, and back then I was in high school. I just thought that was cool.”
Hopper’s father, the Hon. George Hopper, who was appointed to the 5th District Court of Appeal by Gov. Edmund Brown, reacted as one might expect. He freaked out a little bit. He also had some solid advice for his son.
“And, so, my dad said to me, ‘You what?!’” Hopper recalled. “I said, ‘I would like to be an entertainer, maybe do radio, because I really like the radio business, and I think that would be fun.’ And, he said, ‘You’re gonna starve. But, if that’s what you want, you better be the best one around.’ That always stuck with me.”
Hopper, who was born in Shafter, is a lifelong Valley resident. His first job in radio was at the venerable KNGS in Hanford. Its iconic art-deco studio building, once featured on the cover of an album by the rock band Journey, still stands on Highway 198 just east of town.
“It must have been about 1970,” Hopper said. “Now, it’s Portugeuse radio. That station is way old. It was country music, and we actually spun vinyl.”
Hopper moved on eventually, working at radio stations up and down the San Joaquin Valley before settling for a long spell in the Modesto area. It was there he got into making his own music, fronting the Kent Hopper Band as a lead singer and guitarist. The band’s name, he says, was intended to play on his popularity as a deejay, and not to feed his ego. For a man who makes a living being the center of attention, Hopper is very down to earth.
In the ‘90s, Hopper hired on at KSEQ in Visalia, where he worked for more than a decade. Unlike many in the industry, Hopper counts himself lucky to have always had an on-air job. His talent and personality may also be a factor.
“Most of my good career, I think, was Visalia and up north in Modesto-Turlock area,” he said. “I spent a lot of time there and made a good name for myself, with the band and I was the morning guy on KMIX at that point. It was FM. It was cool.”
As he’s matured, Hopper’s outlook has changed.
But, he’s still where he wants to be, on the radio.
“I like it behind the mic and I like it on stage, so they kind of jived together really well for a long, long time,” he said of his early career. “And, then of course the last 15 years I really kind of got into politics, local politics and all of that. This radio station has a lot of appeal now.”
‘I’m Just Me, Man’
Hopper’s voice is robust and full, even rich, so when people first meet the man who wields it they’re sometimes shocked. He has bright blue eyes that shine, smallish elfin ears that narrow to a point, and he stands about 4 feet tall. He’s made all those features work for him, especially his height.
“I have a standard line for that, which is: ‘I’ve made a career out of it,’ out of being this stature or whatever,” he said. “When I first got into the business, I wasn’t thinking about that at all. Then people started saying, ‘What the hell?! You’re just a little bitty guy!’ or whatever. So then I started using it as a schtick, you know, as part of the act or whatever on the radio. If you make fun of yourself, you’ve got it made.”
His stature even won him his wife, Kathy.
“We (his band) were playing the Holiday Inn Mission de Oro, which is over in Santa Nella. She came to see me,” Hopper said. “Actually, I’d met her dad. He went home and said, ‘You gotta come out and see this little bitty [explitive]. He’s about this high and he sings great,’ and she said, ‘I don’t wanna.’ So, she came, and she goes, ‘OK,’ and … one thing led to another.”
The couple has four children. They celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary this month.
Kathy’s positive attitude about his stature coupled with her quick wit are part of why she and Hopper chose each other, he said.
“My wife is the best wife ever, man. You go into a restaurant, and (the server asks) ‘Um, seating for two?’ (She’ll say) ‘Yeah, and I need booster for my baby over here and one for my husband.’ Swear to God. I think that’s maybe why we’re attracted, because she would bust out in things like that all the time with friends and stuff like that: ‘Did you play (sports) in school and stuff?’ And she’d say, ‘Yeah, guess what position he played in baseball? Short (he pauses) stop.’ Right? All that stuff kept going around. She still does it to this day.”
Being short is also one of the reasons he’s in the radio business.
“Unfortunately, there’s a lot in this world that won’t allow you to do it if you don’t look the part, and hence comes back around to being short and all that,” he said. “And, it did bother me at times, because it was ‘What?!’ I never really thought of it like that. I don’t have a problem with any of that. People still do it. Now, the truth, I think most people know me, so they’ve either gotten over it or they like it. I’m just me, man.”
In the Middle of the Road
As host of a show dealing daily with local politics, Hopper says he has to maintain a centrist attitude. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have an agenda.
“Going down the middle of the road is what I usually do, keeps me out of trouble,” he said. “But, when … an opportunity affords itself to let me say a little something, I would tell you I think people ought to work together.”
While our leaders give cooperation lip service, Hopper questions their sincerity.
“I mean really deep down inside, don’t you agree, man, that (politicians) don’t work together? ‘Oh, and if you vote for that, I’m going to vote for that!’” he mocked. “Like in the Assembly it’s just ridiculous. But, that’s what it’s all based on, isn’t it? I just wish it wasn’t that way.”
Even those who mean well, who take office to serve their communities, often don’t get it, he says. Hopper, who served a two-year appointed term on the Farmersville City Council in the early 1990s, tells a frustrating story that illustrates his point.
“My main theme is you’ve got to come together, these people,” he said. “I’m not going to say a name, but when you’ve got a mayor sitting there, because they were talking about a library–they needed a library at that point and they just didn’t have anybody to man it or anything like that–and the mayor says, pretty much of a quote, and I can’t remember exact words, but it was pretty much like, ‘Well, I think them little wetbacks need a place to go and read.’ Hello?! What’s going on?! Can you believe that? He said it just like that, and I just looked, and I… (rolls eyes). You know, what do you do?”
Sometimes in his business it doesn’t matter what you do. You still end up in trouble. Hopper said someone from Porterville City Hall once tried to get him in trouble with the station’s owners because of something he said on the air. Recently, the Tulare City Council has been a source of strife.
“This just happened last week when (Tulare City Council member) Craig Vejvoda called me, and he goes, ‘Do we have to have Carlton Jones on the air?’ He’s (Carlton) the vice mayor, right?,” Hopper said. “And I said, ‘Why?’ ‘Well, we don’t like some of the things he’s saying.’ I said, ‘Here’s a problem. You know, you don’t like what he’s saying. Maybe your conversation should be with him, not me.’ Then he said, ‘Are you in charge of all that or…?’ And, I wrote him a note back. I said I’m in charge of all programming here. ‘Well, who makes the decision on who’s going to be on?’ I do.”
It’s this kind of behavior that makes Hopper want people to work harder at working together.
“A lot of it’s pretty sad, because, and I hate to say this, but I question why they get into it,” he said. “Are they doing it because they think it might further their career, or are they doing it because they, you know, they got a heart? And, I don’t know the answer to that, and everybody has to answer that themselves.”
Strumming His Six-String
Hopper doesn’t play in a band anymore. He tried it again a few years ago, but it just took more energy than he could give it. But, he still plays on his own at home. When he’s not talking politics, cracking jokes or making music, you might find him watching football, if the season is right.
“I’ve been a Raider fan forever, man,” he said. “Fortunately, things are turning around a little bit. They’re starting to build a really good football team now after all those years.”
He has no plans to restart his political career, though he won’t rule it out entirely. He gets an awful lot of that at work, and that’s what he really enjoys, entertaining folks on the radio. He’s got no plan to stop.
“As long as I feel like I can still do it. I still enjoy it. I get a lot of satisfaction in this end of the business, the news thing, the politics, all of that,” Hopper said. “Anything on the air is my fault. It’s a lot of work. It just keeps building. It’s so fun.”