OP magazine was an independent music magazine published by John Foster ( and others) known as The Lost Music Network from 1979-1984. The twenty six issues of OP covered a lot of ground within the indie music scene of the time and also featured the first reviews of home recorded cassette music by home tapers. With the demise of OP came the birth of two publications, Option and Sound Choice which were to be highly influential among underground networkers in the 80s and 90s.
John graciously consented to responding to some questions of mine in a recent email exchange. My thanks to him for his time and his efforts within this movement.
How and why did OP begin? Did your time at KAOS-FM, a community radio station in Olympia inform the spirit behind OP?
I started working at KAOS in the summer of 1975 as their record librarian and their first full-time paid employee, albeit for the summer only. This was a total fluke. Before securing the job through CETA, a federal youth job program, I was a homeless, penniless 19-year old who had been hitchhiking around the country. I basically set the job up myself. CETA admin: “You have to work for a non-profit group.” Me: “Is KAOS a non-profit group? It’s licensed to The Evergreen State College.” CETA: “Hmm, yes I guess it is.” So they gave me the form to fill out, I had the KAOS Station Manager sign it, and I was in. It was as wonderful opportunity, as KAOS had many records on indy labels that had basically been ignored, and I got to play them all – including on the air, as the station wasn’t well established, ostensibly had a free-form format (my preference still), and, it being summer, had lots and lots of airshifts that needed filling. Though I had next to no on-air experience when I started, I was totally game, having been into radio since I was a little kid growing up in rural Connecticut without TV. Being KAOS record librarian turned me onto indy labels, got me curious about others I thought must be out there, and revealed to me that only a few labels received the lion’s share of airplay. As a non-commercial, educational station, I felt we had a responsibility to expose music of all genres that wouldn’t be heard otherwise. This led to me writing to all the labels I could track down and eventually writing the KAOS music policy, still in effect, which states that at least 80% of all music played must be independently produced and distributed. I founded Lost Music Network (LMN) at some point and OP (LMNOP, get it?) was originally (pre-A issue) sent to station subscribers, NFCB and college stations, small music publications and fanzines, hip record stores, and indy record labels as an insert in the KAOS Program Guide. After a few issues, we just outgrew the KAOS Program Guide and started the A-Z OP project with me continuing as editor, Dave Rauh selling ads, and (my eventual wife) Dana Squires doing the graphics and layout, all of which was much more time-consuming then than it would be today.
What does OP stand for? Olympia?
How did you get distribution of the early issues?
I researched hip record stores mostly, sent them free subscriptions, and sometimes was able to get them to buy issues wholesale.
Was there advertising in the first issues? How did it happen?
Dave called people up.
OP issues were sequenced alphabetically. Did that mean you knew there would be a final issue right from the start?
Yes, we knew we’d end it after Z, because it was so much work!
During the years of publishing did you feel that there would be a lasting legacy ? What do you think the impact of do-it-yourself/ cassette culture/ underground music has been?
Honestly, I knew at the time that it was something important, and, though I don’t know about a “lasting legacy,” it is the thing I’ve done, along with raising my kids, of which I’m most proud. I’m not sure about the impact, but I felt at the time that it was quite a cultural shift away from the corporate oligarchy. It also had a positive impact on people like Calvin Johnson (K Records founder), Steve Peters (non sequitur), and Bruce Pavitt (Sub Pop founder) who worked directly with me in Olympia and went on to fame and sometimes fortune!
As OP came to an end what do you know about the discussions to continue publishing with Option and Sound Choice? Did they ask you for advice or guidance?
We knew Op was ending and had an LMN conference in Olympia in the summer of 1984 with the hot topic, “What next?” That’s when a group of folks from all over decided to start a new magazine based in L.A. From there, as I recall, it quickly split into two groups, and I provided my mailing list info and contacts to both of them. The only thing we said they couldn’t do was use LMN or Op. They had to have their own organizations/name.
The split between these two factions seemed acrimonious. Was it?
Compare the spirit of those times with now. Did you feel part of a special community then? Is that type of community possible now?
I did feel part of something special, probably more of a movement than a community per se. I believe the internet makes all these social connections easier now, but I haven’t had much time to put into it personally.