CMC Pioneer Koning Dies

February 10, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — Dirk Koning, founding executive director of the Community Media Center, died this morning during routine surgery.

Koning suffered from atrial fibrillation, a condition where the top chambers of the heart beat in a rapid and chaotic manner, resulting in a variety of problems including rapid heart rates, stroke, shortness of breath, fatigue and palpitations.

He underwent a procedure this morning at Spectrum Health’s Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center to correct the condition. The procedure, atrial ablation, has published complication rates of only 2 percent, with most complications easily managed, according to the West Michigan Heart Association.

Headquartered on the second floor of the Grand Rapids Public Library’s West Side Branch, the CMC is a national model for integrated radio, television and Internet applications for community development purposes through public television station GRTV, radio station WYCE, non-profit ISP GrandNet and the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy.

The CMC had recently announced its acquisition of the Wealthy Theatre to continue that organization’s mission and to establish a second CMC location, CMC East, in its Wealthy Street facility.

“We’re the kind of organization where we will continue with our mission,” said GRTV Director Chuck Peterson said. “Dirk is a missionary, that’s his job. One of the things he’s done is always hire mission-oriented people and we all carry on that mission.

“No way we could replace someone like Dirk, but the work will continue.”

Peterson said that all the structures are in place for continued operation. The CMC board of directors will meet tonight to begin restructuring the organization.

“He was a giant of a man in many ways,” Peterson said. “He was so charismatic. He set you at ease, whoever you were. You just felt like you were his best friend.”

When the CMC moved into its new location in 1997, Koning could have spent an additional $10,000 to have doorways through which he could walk without ducking his head. But the 6-foot-9-inch Koning opted to save the money for other needs.

When it came to dealing with the CMC and a host of international communications issues, however, Koning never ducked. While others only talked about communications issues, Koning practiced what he preached.

In the 25 years that Koning directed the CMC, he created a world-class operation, which became a prototype for media centers around the world.

“In reality, we just built the first integrated media center with radio, television and computer technology owned by the public,” Koning said in 1997.  “This is the first one in the states. There are 1,000 community TV stations, 800 community radio stations, and there are about 300 civic networks throughout the country.”

He edited the national magazine “Community Media Review” and was president of the Washington, D.C.-based Alliance for Communications Democracy.

He consulted on facilities design, wireless networks and fund development and was an invited delegate to the United Nations World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva, Switzerland. He wrote and spoke internationally on social applications of information technology.

“He had a huge national reputation,” Peterson said. “E-mails have been pouring in from all over the world. In the community media movement he was an icon. If you go anywhere they have community media in the country they’ve heard of Grand Rapids and Dirk Koning.

“He’s responsible for Grand Rapids having an enormous reputation for excellence in community media in the country. He communicated to bring communications technology to each and every individual in the world.”

Recently, Koning’s interests moved toward the proliferation of broadband Internet and his preferred Internet medium, Wi-Fi. He had been leading the city of Grand Rapids’ initiative to develop a citywide Wi-Fi network.

Koning was born on the Zuni reservation in northwestern New Mexico, which he once attributed to his prolific nature.

“Part of it is the Zuni. It’s all about perception of time,” he said. “I don’t wear watches, and I really kind of think of time in spans of months and years or I get too wound up. There’s a certain balance that I’ve been comfortable with. The crazier it gets, the more mellow I get.”

Koning was a graduate of Michigan State University.

He is survived by his wife, Ginger, and two children.       

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