WWPT Rocks 40 Years: The Prequel

This morning’s post previewed Saturday’s WWPT-FM 40-plus anniversary celebration.

I noted a bit of the Staples radio station’s back story. But folks who were there have a much better perspective.

Mark Potts goes back to the summer of 1971. He writes:

I remember playing frisbee against a concrete wall with crappy 45s … the night we raised the FM antenna tower at the Bayberry Nike site by the light of car headlights … zillions of copies of albums in the record library (like Big Star) that later turned out to be major collectors’ items … learning to bleep out certain songs in exactly the right places … cutting classes to mess around in the studio in the basement of the 7 building … good, good times!

Big Star

Dan Chenok says:

My introduction to WWPT was through my older brother Dave, the program director. The station was in a spacious suite on the southern end of campus, with direct entrance from the outside and a large common area. The fact that my brother played music that included ’70s complex rock like Yes, Traffic and of course the Dead made me want to follow suit when I got to Staples 3 years later.

Well, 3 years later was the middle of Staples campus reconstruction. The cool studio became a hole in the exposed wall of the cavernous fieldhouse, which was either cold or hot and a bit scary — especially for a 10th grade DJ given the Friday night 9-12 slot. Friends came by, but mostly I talked to the occasional caller. I was always amazed when listeners from across the station’s coverage area, who had no idea we were a high-school operation, called because they liked a song.

Things got a lot better when as a junior the construction was completed. PT moved into a new and (at the time) modern studio just off the front entrance of the building. I secured a sought-after spot in the weekly lineup, thanks to a friendship with the prior occupants. The renowned Marc Selverstone and Mike Walmark bequeathed it to me.

The next two years were phenomenal. Each show included a tour of ’60s-’70s-’80s music, but never disco, pop or other music deemed inferior. Regular guests included Todd Weeks, Greg White, and Rob Hagebak.

Dan Chenok, Greg White and Todd Weeks, the summer before senior year.

Dan Chenok, Greg White and Todd Weeks, the summer before senior year.

Consistent with the long tradition of Thanksgiving weekend marathons, I joined the ranks of the midnight-4 a.m. shift both weekends. There were visits from current and former PTers in those shows.

No recounting of PT in that era would be complete without a tribute to Chuck Elliot, the general manager and a good friend. Chuck was intensely talented as a radio person on and off the mike, no doubt inspired by his famous radio father Win Elliot. One evening Chuck called the station during my show to compliment the music and commentary, which I still remember as Chuck was not one to praise radio prowess lightly.

Tragically, Chuck developed cancer shortly after we graduated. He left a bottle of champagne to Todd, Greg and me on a visit shortly before he died. I still have it. He left WWPT a stronger station, and its success over the years since owes a great deal to Chuck.

At the end of 3 years at PT, the station management came to my last show — still recorded on cassette tape at our home in Bethesda, MD, along with the hundreds of albums from which the music came — with a goodbye cake and party.  It was a great way to go out. And it’s great that PT is still a place for music and memories, over 3 decades later.

This photo was on the Class of 1981 website.  It has nothing to do with WWPT, beyond showing the kinds of students who were there then, listening to music -- on the radio, and at outdoor  concerts.

This photo was on the Class of 1981 website. It has nothing to do with WWPT, beyond showing the kinds of students who were there then, listening to music — on the radio, and at outdoor concerts.

Jeff Ruden adds some more thoughts.

I started out at WWPT during my 1st year at Staples back in 1978. We were in a pretty poor space. The student leaders of the station at that time included Jay DeDapper, who went on to become a newscaster on WNBC in New York. One guy had a job at Baskin-Robbins. There were several station meetings “after hours” in the store’s back room.

During my sophomore or junior year, the station moved into a brand new facility at the front of Staples. as part of major construction at the school. The new space included a control room and several offices.

However, we were in need of some newer equipment. I was finance director. I cold-called Mortimer Levitt, requesting $20,000. We met at his house, and while he was not prepared to write such a large check, he had an idea for a show.

Mortimer Levitt helped Jeff Ruden with WWPT, and individually.

Mortimer Levitt helped Jeff Ruden with WWPT, and individually.

It was to highlight how the same two hands could produce amazing rock as well as classical music, contrasting one song against another. He wrote us a check for $5,000, and we produced a few shows. This led to long-term friendship with Mortimer. He provided me a summer job during my senior year and college breaks at the stores he owned, the Custom Shop.

We also got local stores to become “sponsors.” While many retailers wrote checks to sponsor shows, at times we bartered. The B&G Army Navy store housed the Ticketmaster outlet, which led to an opportunity for concert tickets.

Happy Anniversary to WWPT!

 

 

9 responses to “WWPT Rocks 40 Years: The Prequel

  1. WILLIAM C RYAN

    Two things within this that you might find of interest….note from Dan Chenok with a picture of him with Todd Weeks, Chin’s bro.  Also in the letter  from Jeff Ruden, further down, there is reference to Jay DeDapper.

    ________________________________

  2. Judy Luster

    Fun read. I was faculty advisor for two years and enjoyed my time with exceptional student leadership. Loved hearing Dan’s tribute to Chuck. Many members of the station were also members of Players including Dan, Todd and Chuck. As for Chuck, he didn’t always know his lines but he always had something to say. He was a remarkable young man and is still sorely missed. Hats off to all of you.

  3. Mark Potts

    One more WWPT memory: In the summer of 1975, the station sponsored a fundraising concert at Staples auditorium starring the James Gang and a terrific up-and-coming English guitarist-songwriter. A couple weeks later, in San Francisco, that guitarist recorded a live album you may have heard of: Frampton Comes Alive. We had a sneak preview!

  4. So many wonderful memories of working at WWPT. A few highlights – first the amazing job Marta Flannagan did in organizing Westport election coverage in 1978. She got students out at every polling station calling in with the results, so PT had the election results a good 20-30 minutes before anyone else – Brilliant!

    Second – the amazing autonomy we had as students back then. Of course we were in the basement of building 9, with an entrance off the back fields. We had a supervisor, but he wasn’t there often, which meant that we as kids could create our own vision of what we wanted the station to be.

    Third – back then (for me that was 1977-79), the station required a 3rd class FCC licensee to be on hand in the station whenever it was on the air. I remember the physics teacher putting on a study class so we could learn what was on the test – then taking the train in to NYC to take it. Of course they did away with that requirement a few years later, but I remember how there were old guys taking the test at the same time (they were probably 30) sweating bullets because if they didn’t pass it, they wouldn’t get hired. At PT – if you got a 3rd class license, you were guaranteed to get a show! I was lucky enough to also get a small job at WEZN in Bridgeport where the GM Dick Ferguson took me under his wing and gave me great advice.

    Fourth – I just have to give a shout out to the cart machine we used for a 7 second delay. That poor tape being recorded over and playing back every 7 seconds whenever we took calls – you can just imagine the quality!

    David Schaffer said it well on another comment – WWPT is what gave me my high school “identity” in the late 1970s. I fell in love with radio and went on to work at my college radio station (WTUL New Orleans). After graduating, I went into the business selling radio ads first in Houston, then Dallas, then radio sales management, and finally ended my career selling for the ABC Radio Networks and Premiere Radio Networks. While I am no longer in the business, I cherished the time I spent at all of my radio homes, and it all started in the basement of building 9. Congratulations to all of us for 40 years, and especially to the students who are there now making it there own and winning such fabulous recognition!

  5. Valerie Ross

    As one of the few female DJ’s during my years at Staples (’80-’82), I can add to Dan’s memories of scary evening shows alone in the makeshift studio during construction, and creepy callers who requested “good make-out songs,” as well as the challenge of carrying a heavy crate of my precious vinyl LPs for my evening playlist, through veritable “snow, sleet, and hail” — and up two flights of stairs when the studio was on the second level of the old auditorium! Many thanks to Dan, who encouraged me to be a DJ, and for coming to visit me during my show on many a lonely night. He always had the best albums too. : )

  6. Douglass Davidoff

    Thank you, Sabrina Bunks, for the lovely compliment to Marta Flanagan.

    Marta (Staples ’79) and I are among the several WWPT alumni/ae couples. We are probably among the oldest, age-wise, and the newest, tenure-wise. We’ve been partners only since 2009! We live in Arlington, Mass. Marta is minister at First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in Arlington Center. I am a solo p.r. consultant working in both Connecticut and Massachusetts.

    We each worked at WWPT News, four years apart. Likewise, we each attended Long Lots Junior High and Staples High. Given our age difference, we had the same teachers in many cases but were never in classes together.

    — Doug Davidoff, Staples ’75

    • Hi Doug – are you John’s younger brother? Please say hi to Marta for me!

      • Douglass Davidoff

        Not quote. I’m John’s *older* brother … went to Staples with Carey. Marta saw your post and was really pleased with the unexpected compliment!

        • LOL – I guess I could have figured that out by seeing your graduation date! Glad to have connected – Marta should be really proud of that election coverage – I’m sure if they had offered awards back then, she would have definitely won one!

          FYI – I live in Texas, and my brother Carey lives in London. A bit removed from our days in CT!