Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
Some markets we get to only once, and we’re pushing ourselves to see everything in the space of just a few days.
And some markets we see in little bits and pieces over the course of many years. So it is with southern Connecticut – we’ve been visiting stations there on and off for a long time, one or two each visit, often with an “apizza” break in New Haven along the way.
In the spring of 2018, we took a couple of days before the NAB Show to add a few more notches to the list, including a prominent site we’d often seen from down below but never up close.
That site shown above and at left is “West Rock,” the stony outcropping that rises above the Wilbur Cross Parkway just northwest of New Haven.
It’s been a broadcast site at least since the late 1980s, when the Yale-affiliated WYBC-FM (94.3) moved up here from its original site atop the Yale gym.
That’s the original WYBC-FM antenna (I think) from 1987 on that center tower, later replaced by a newer one-bay antenna on the tower to the right. This compound in the middle of West Rock State Park is also home to several translators – the “Bomba” 102.3 relay of Full Power Radio’s Spanish hits network, iHeart’s “100.9 the Beat” (fed by WKCI 101.3-HD2), a Connecticut Public Radio relay on 89.1 – and the one we at Fybush Media helped do for WFIF (1500), W270DL on 101.9.
From West Rock, we headed down the Wilbur Cross (looking up again at West Rock as we passed through the tunnel that runs beneath it), chasing the last bits of daylight as we pulled into the University of Bridgeport campus near the edge of Long Island Sound.
The parking lot provides a nice view across to the power plant whose smokestack carries the antenna of WEBE (107.9), at least for now; WEBE has a CP to move off this unusual site and up to Booth Hill in Trumbull, and we really need to get there for the tour before that happens.
Booth Hill is the transmitter site of the station whose studios we’re here to see: WPKN (89.5), which began in 1963 as the University of Bridgeport’s station.
WPKN went independent more than a decade ago, though its studios stayed right here on the university campus, where they’re something of a time capsule – as well as a staging ground for some of the most diverse, creative, engaging freeform community radio anywhere out there.
The hallway outside the WPKN studios is a typical blocky example of 1950s campus architecture; inside, it’s a long warren of studios and offices where every available flat surface appears to have been colonized by CD and LP shelving.
The main air studio anchors one end of the complex, and it kind of looks exactly the way WPKN sounds – a little dimly lit, surrounded by music, and always with someone live at the controls.
There’s a meeting room in the middle of the complex that can also be used as a live music studio (with adjoining control room), and I think that’s a board meeting that was getting started in there this particular evening.
At the other end of the line of studios is what’s still labeled on the door as the “AM Studio,” a relic of the early days when the university had a carrier-current AM station alongside the noncommercial FM; these days, this room is used for production and pre-recording. Beyond that are station offices and a crowded record library. You never know just what might be getting pulled from these shelves and getting spun on the 89.5 airwaves (and these days, on the stream that has a worldwide following…)
And we close with one more community station, on a smaller scale: in the heart of downtown New Haven, up a steep flight of stairs from Elm Street, WNHH-LP (103.5) operates from studios in the bustling offices of the New Haven Independent and La Voz community news organizations. The “Independent” operates WNHH in English for most of the day from the small studio shown above, but there’s also programming from La Voz in Spanish, coming from a bigger studio at the end of the hall.
Thanks to WPKN’s Alec Cumming for the tour!
The 2022 Tower Site Calendar – PREORDERING OPEN NOW!
This is a special year for our calendar – it’s the 20th anniversary for us, and the 100th anniversary of America’s radio boom in 1922, when the industry really took off and stations erupted all over the country. This special edition of the calendar will showcase the survivors from the Class of 1922, which grew into some of America’s biggest radio stations.
Though it’s not off the presses yet, don’t wait or risk shipping delays – you can order it right now.
And check out our other great merchandise!
And don’t miss a big batch of southern Connecticut IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: From Hartford to Willimantic