On air with the biggest radio station in the world
WPKN-FM is a free-form radio station in Bridgeport, Connecticut; it’s, to be honest, the biggest radio station in the world. Its broadcast signal, at 89.5, can be picked up in parts of Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York State, including almost all of Long Island, and it can be streamed to anyone. with an Internet connection.
The station’s programming is the work of around 100 volunteer hosts, who typically spend hours researching and putting together their shows. “Some are weekly, others once a month, others the first and third week of the month, others the second and fourth week and others the fifth week”, Valerie Richardson, WPKN (volunteer) program director, said not long ago. Depending on when you log in, you may hear a Stevie Wonder song performed by an all-female jazz septet, or a dozen different covers of the same Bob Marley song, or twenty minutes of Tuvan throat singing, or a totally addictive cut by the group that the founder of Morphine founded before founding Morphine. (As Richardson spoke, another host, in the adjacent studio, performed Sturgill Simpson’s “Turtles All the Way Down.”) Since changes are staggered and playlists are not generated by an algorithm. company, you can be reasonably sure that if you hear a song you don’t like, you never have to hear it again. The station also offers talk shows that no one would mistake for “Fox & Friends.”
WPKN began, in 1963, as an extracurricular activity for students at the University of Bridgeport. She survived the nightclub, a rooftop fire that briefly threatened to turn its huge record library into a lake of molten vinyl, and the university’s takeover, between 1992 and 2002, by the Professors World Peace Academy, affiliated with Reverend Sun Myung. Unification Church of the Moon. The station became independent in 1989, although the university continued to give it free studio space, on the second floor of the student center. This relationship ended a few weeks ago, in large part because the university land had been acquired by two other institutions.
“Our position has become a bit tenuous,” said Jim Motavalli, who has hosted WPKN for almost fifty years, shortly before the move. “We couldn’t even be sure the power wouldn’t suddenly shut off. The new station home is in downtown Bridgeport, next to the Bijou Theater. “I remember when the Bijou was a porn cinema – and also when it was a family cinema, after that it was a porn cinema,” Motavalli said. Community-minded developer Phil Kuchma has attractively renovated the Bijou, the WPKN building and a number of other addresses in the neighborhood, which is now known as Bijou Square. He gave the station a huge break on rent.
In 1963, the WPKN staff made the unusual decision to keep all the files they received and organize them not by topic but in the order in which they were acquired. The result is an eccentric dendrochronological register of new and old music over the past six decades or so. (LP No. 1 is “A Star Is Born” by Judy Garland.) Ten or fifteen years ago, an alarmed home inspector arranged for the station to store a significant portion of the collection; the move to the city center required another slaughter. “We installed some really high-tech archive shelves in the new studio, but the total space is smaller,” said Richardson. The new storage units are also more expensive than the wooden boxes that contained many CDs. Donors can endow individual shelves, for eighty-nine dollars and fifty cents each.
WPKN is an important resource for people in radio-dependent professions: house painters, carpenters, kitchen workers, artists, procrastinating freelance writers, and others who can be driven mad by stations that seem to only play the same six. songs from Aerosmith, Journey, Bob Seger, and Yes. Steve di Costanzo, Managing Director, said: “We get a lot of calls from truck drivers who have discovered us in the nighttime radio desert here. Also delivery men and early morning gardeners in the Hamptons.
Another fan is Richard Kitchener, an auto mechanic, owner of Imported Automotive, in Trumbull. He recently repaired the muffler and air conditioner on the 28-year-old Saab 900 Turbo convertible from Motavalli. “It was the first time he worked on my car, and the bill was four hundred and seventy-five dollars,” Motavalli said. “But he recognized my name on the radio and said, ‘I only want three-seventy-five, and I don’t want you to give it to me, I want you to give it to the station.’ “When Kitchener repairs cars, he leaves the radios set to WPKN. ??
An earlier version of this article misspelled Steve di Costanzo’s last name.