In walked a shirtless guy in cycling shorts with a bike over his shoulder, followed by a man in a Brooks Brothers suit, then an elegantly dressed woman and a Rastafarian, among others.
“It was this incredible composite of everything I believe in — diversity and authenticity,” said di Costanzo, who is now the station’s general manager. “You want to be a part of it.”
And fiercely loyal listeners across Fairfield County and beyond have been a part of it for 53 years, diving into the melting pot of music, pointed commentary and call-in shows that make up this truly community radio station.
They’ll be calling in Monday and Tuesday, in fact, for the last two days of the station’s fall fundraiser, a crucial part of how di Costanzo and his band of 130 volunteer DJs and programmers keep the lights on and the turntables in motion.
Though based at the University of Bridgeport, the station receives no funding from the school and prides itself in not running ads. That means there are no restrictions on WPKN’s eclectic programming, which runs the gamut from “Sometimes Classical” to “Antique Blues,” Bill Nolan’s baby that’s been broadcast for 40-plus years, to “Mikki’s Room,” a program focused on veterans and those doing time.
Though DJs don’t get paid, some said it’s worth the effort to be able to peruse the shelves that hold the station’s massive record and CD collection, which is rumored to number about 140,000 albums.
There are about 75,000 records alone, di Costanzo said. In fact, UB once asked the station to get rid of some of the collection — and not just because the music had gone out of style.
“It was a weight issue,” di Costanzo said. “They were too heavy.”
Recent years have brought some changes to WPKN’s outlook. The advent of satellite radio and the Internet means people can find other outlets for acid jazz or Asian World music.
Di Costanzo said the station is marketing itself more actively through outreach events, such as its wildly popular March Music Mash used record/CD sale and the “Music on Film” series it hosts at the Bijou Theatre, both in downtown Bridgeport.
One of its best draws is its DJs. On Friday, Rob Silber of Norwalk was preparing his lineup for a Saturday show called “Guitar Gods & Goddesses.” He was listening to Sister Rosetta Tharpe, saying he hoped to turn a few listeners onto this 1940s R&B legend.
“I just love radio,” he said. “I get to play whatever I want. I get to be creative.”
In another room, a woman who goes by the on-air name “Mystery Girl” — she wears shades and won’t even reveal her hometown — stopped by to record an interview. She’s on many Saturdays, too, but she favors house, hip-hop, rap, funk and pop.
“I play everything,” she said. “I love it.”
Volunteers range from a 17-year-old high school student to 80-something John Corvino, who might tempt you with “20 Great Truck Drivin’ Songs.”
“It’s, like, every day there are multiple plays opening and closing here,” di Costanzo said. “It’s like a timeline of music.”
To learn more about WPKN or to donate to its fall fundraiser, visit www.wpkn.org. Or to listen, turn to 89.5 on your FM dial.
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