Tag Archives: Richard Epstein

WPKN: On The Move, With Richard Epstein

In 1961, Federal Communications Commission chair Newton Minow called television a “vast wasteland.”

Sixty years later, the same could be said about radio.

Up and down the FM dial, there are a few tired formats: pop, classic rock, rap. NPR spices things up a bit — though every affiliate sounds similar — while on AM talk radio, angry citizens and overworked sports fans ramble inarticulately.

Which is why WPKN is such a breath of fresh air.

The 10,000-watt station — broadcasting at 89.5 FM, and streaming online at WPKN.org — offers 1.5 million listeners in Connecticut and Long Island an eclectic mix of live and recorded music, news, public affairs, spoken word, arts and culture, and other free-form programming.

It’s listener-supported, commercial-free, community-driven radio. Just this week, the New Yorker magazine called it “the greatest radio station in the world..”

Though based in Bridgeport, the station has flourished thanks to many Westporters.

Some — like Richard Epstein — have been there almost since its founding in 1963. A bassoonist and choir member in Staples High School’s Class of 1968, he discovered the joys of alternative radio at Brown University’s WBRU. Starting with a 4-hour show Sunday nights, he played everything from “Blonde on Blonde” to Babatunde Olatunji.

Then — because making a living as a musician or radio host was not the most secure career path — he followed his father’s footsteps.

He became a Westport dentist.

But Dr. Epstein was not through with music. Or radio.

He joined the Norwalk Symphony and a chamber group, and coordinated classical and jazz events for the Westport Arts Center.

In 1977, he started playing classical music on WPKN.

Richard Epstein on WPKN, in 1980.

For the past 44 years, “Sometimes Classical” has been a Wednesday staple. True to its name — and his radio background — Epstein stretches normal boundaries. A show could include Frank Zappa’s variations on Igor Stravinsky, Bach played by a jazz trio, or an interview with Wynton Marsalis.

Several years ago, when the station’s transmitter was failing, Epstein led a fundraising campaign. It raised $75,000 — the biggest fundraiser to date.

Now WPKN is raising nearly 3 times as much. Once again, Epstein is in charge.

For nearly 60 years, the station has been located at the University of Bridgeport. It started as a college station (the call letters refer to the Purple Knights, the school’s mascot).

In the early 1990s, when an affiliate of the Unification Church (aka “Moonies”) took over the school, a group of WPKN aficionados bought the radio station license from UB. They established it as a non-profit, and paid rent for their studios.

In 2019 — after years of peaceful co-existence — the school said it wanted to renegotiate the lease. A committee began searching for new space.

They looked at dozens of places, all over the area. They did not have to remain in Bridgeport.

But they found a perfect site: right above the Bijou Theater, downtown.

“It’s the cultural hub of the city,” Epstein explains. “There’s the theater, restaurants, arts spaces and co-working spots. The landlord (Phil Kuchma) was gung-ho about having us.”

They signed a 25-year lease. They look forward to being more visible, accessible and technically capable.

They’re adding a third studio, with opportunities for community members to participate in educational and cultural programs.

It will cost $400,000 to move. Epstein pledged some funds. Fairfield County’s Community Foundation has been a great help. An anonymous donor kicked in $40,000. Donations have come from all over; thanks to the internet, WPKN can be heard around the globe.

The campaign runs through the end of the year. It’s about 3/4 of the way to the goal.

“When I was a kid, I’d go to the Record Hunter. Jay Flaxman would turn me on to new music,” Epstein says. “Sally White did the same,” first at Klein’s, then at her own Sally’s Place.

“There are no more record stores. Radio today is so homogeneous. There are very few places where you can be exposed to Zydeco, African music, real jazz. The landscape is so narrow. PKN offers a fiercely independent, real alternative for music and news.”

The station also publicizes local events and community organizations, providing platforms that no longer exist on radio or in print media.

Richard Epstein at WPKN in 2015.

Epstein is just one Westport WPKN supporter. The list is long. Staples graduate Jim Motavalli mixes up long, carefully arranged sets in multiple genres (including live performances), plus interviews with musicians, authors and others.

Former Paul Butterfield Blues Band member Mark Naftalin, writer Ina Chadwick, musician Robin Batteau and Martha Nachman are on the air. So is Chris Frantz of the Talking Heads, who lives a few yards away in Fairfield, and Eric Cocks of Weston.

Mike Zito, who taught radio production for years at Staples High School, is a PKN alum.

Epstein’s own show has local roots. In 1977 he took over from fellow Westporters Kathy Geisler.

He’s been heard on WPKN ever since. Thanks to his hard work — and the generosity of loyal listeners — he and his very diverse group of volunteers will continue to keep 89.5 anything but a “vast wasteland.”

(For more information on WPKN — and to donate — click here.)

Charlie And Will Capalbo: Goalies Try For An Amazing Save

Two years ago this month, “06880” reported a heart-breaking — yet inspiring — story.

Charlie Capalbo – Fairfield Ludlowe High School senior and star hockey goalie; grandson of Westport writer Ina Chadwick and Westport native Richard Epstein; son of Staples grad Jennifer Wilde Capalbo — was battling cancer. A tumor near his heart and lungs had spread to his lymph nodes.

Charlie’s Fairfield teammates and classmates rallied around him. So did his parents’ and grandparents’ Westport friends. A GoFundMe page raised nearly $200,000.

It took a year, but after grueling treatment Charlie’s cancer went into remission. He gained weight, felt good, and went off to Fairfield University. It was one of the greatest days of his family’s life.

Charlie Capalbo (Photo/Dave Gunn)

Charlie’s brother Will — now a senior at Ludlowe, and also a hockey goalie — says that being a cancer survivor is like playing that demanding position: “You have to always be prepared.”

But no one was prepared for the news just a month after Charlie started college. He was diagnosed with a new, aggressive form of cancer: leukemia.

Despite the devastating news, Charlie fought as strongly as he had the first time. He kept his sense of humor. He kept smiling.

He was hospitalized for 4 months. He underwent chemo, and radiation on his spine and brain. The goal was to prepare him for a bone marrow transplant.

Family members and friends all wanted to donate. Finding a match is not easy. Finally, at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Charlie and his parents FaceTimed his brother Will with the news: He was a 90% match.

From left: Will and Charlie Capalbo, and their parents on the ice.

Will was thrilled. At last, he thought, he could do something for his brother. The boys were always close, Jenny says. But that kind of closeness is unbelievable.

“Goalies are a special breed,” Will says simply.

Indeed. For Will, being a bone marrow donor meant enduring needles in his back — and missing the end of his senior hockey season.

The procedure took place on February 4. Charlie, Will, his family and friends are all waiting now to learn whether it worked.

Meanwhile, Charlie remains upbeat. He’s been buoyed by the love of his family, the support of countless friends and strangers, and messages of encouragement from NHL stars.

He’s still fighting. This courageous goalie’s goal is to get back on the ice.

(Click here for Charlie Capalbo’s GoFundMe page. Click here for last Sunday’s NBC Sports video story on Charlie.)

Westport Stands For The Troops

When an all-star cast — James Naughton, Leslie Orofino, Robin Batteau, David Buskin and Chris Coogan — takes the stage at the Unitarian Church on Friday, March 15, they’ll do more than sing and entertain.

SFTT logoThe “Spring Fever” concert (plus auction, gourmet food and wines) is a fundraiser for Stand For The Troops. The organization does great work nationally — helping soldiers and veterans through Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, traumatic brain injury and suicide prevention programs — but next month’s event has strong local connections.

The family of Tyler Hicks — the Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer who has spent years covering wars across the globe — is on the Honorary Committee for Spring Fever, and will attend. Tyler’s sister Darcy spoke last year on his behalf. This year, her son’s band will perform.

Leslie Orofino’s father served in  World War II. He returned home with PTSD, a condition that had a profound effect on his family.

Dr. Paul Epstein — a Westport naturopath, meditation teacher and therapist — works with PTSD. He’s on the Westport chapter’s medical task force and honorary committee. His father, too, suffered from PTSD in World War II — and it too impacted his family.

James Naughton and Leslie Orofino

James Naughton and Leslie Orofino

Eilhys England — Stand For The Troops’ co-founder — has seen Westport’s outpouring of support. The wife of co-founder Colonel David Hackworth (America’s most valor-decorated soldier), she hopes to make this town a base for their organization. She will attend this year’s Spring Fever.

The March 15 event is for troops returning home. Some are local; many are not. Wherever they are, Spring Fever provides one more example of Westport meeting the world — and doing it with talent, passion, and plenty of action.

(For ticket information, click here or call 203-629-0288.)