Tag Archives: WPKN

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.)

COVID-19 Roundup: Bells, Seders, Easter, Entertainment, Saugatuck Island, More

Yesterday marked one month since the Westport Public Schools closed — and the full impact of the coronavirus hit home.

The original “2-week” period has been doubled. Though there has been no word from the governor, it looks increasingly likely that schools will remain shut through June.

Four weeks ago, we could not imagine being out for 2 weeks. Now, we realize we can do this. And we can do a lot more, in all facets of our lives.

Human beings are remarkably adaptable creatures. But it takes an enormous amount of support and collaboration to adapt. Here’s a shout-out to all who have done whatever they can, to help us through that very tough first month.


It’s still too early to get a handle on the financial impact of COVID-19 crisis on Westport. When Board of Finance chair Brian Stern sat for an interview with Rob Simmelkjaer yesterday, he noted that it is too early to know about its effect on the mill rate, which will be set in mid-May. Click on the app for the full interview; download it here.

Brian Stern and Rob Simmelkjaer.


Yesterday marked Westport’s 2nd Wednesday of bell ringing. Churches, businesses, families — all got together at 5 p.m., to show support for medical personnel and frontline workers.

One of the special ringers was Rebecca Schachter. Her bell came from her dad Seth’s World War II collection. It was used by British wardens during air raids.

Eight decades later, we’re in a different war. But the bell is as important as ever.


Like many Westport families last night, the Aders and Yormarks celebrated Passover — commemorating the Israelites’ escape from slavery when God inflicted 10 plagues upon the Egyptians — in the midst of a plague. Here’s their “virtual” Seder:


Also yesterday, Governor Lamont ordered all flags lowered to half staff statewide, mourning those affected by COVID-19. Flags will remain lowered throughout the emergency.

Reader Brendan Byrne spotted a firefighter at the Saugatuck station responding immediately:


Posted without comment (though there undoubtedly will be some from readers):

“SISTD” is the Saugatuck Island Special Taxing District. It was established in 1984 to tax island property owners on the land just beyond Harbor Road for local costs — mainly road maintenance. (Hat tip: NextDoor)


St. Luke Church will livestream all Holy Week masses and services. That’s Holy Thursday (tonight, 7:30 p.m.); Good Friday (8 a.m., 3 p.m.), Holy Saturday (8 a.m., 8 p.m.) and Easter Sunday (7:30 a.m.).

After livestreaming, they’ll be available on YouTube. Click here for details.

(Photo/Julie Mombello)


Aspetuck Land Trust’s 44 preserves are still open. They’re great places to walk, de-stress, and leave the coronavirus world behind.

But — unless people start obeying the well-marked rules — they won’t be open much longer.

There is a clear “no dogs” policy. The reasons make sense: the COVID-19 virus may be spread on dog fur just like on other surfaces. Plus, the heavy volume of dogs harms wildlife.

Yet people still bring dogs. And recently, people who did not want to follow the rules went further, and ripped up signs.

Beaches and athletic fields have been closed. Aspetuck’s preserves are still open. But some entitled morons may soon put an end to that.


Just in case you haven’t gotten the memo that Westport sports facilities are closed: There are new electronic signs at Staples High School. They rotate 3 messages: “No Trespassing.” “Athletic Fields Closed.” “Area Patrolled.”

(Photo/Jennifer Kobetitsch)


With Westport’s schools and town buildings shut, the Westport Public Art Collections presents 2 new online exhibits. They feature artwork that’s part of the new Learning Galleries — spaces at each school for displays responding to teacher requests.

Click here for “Face to Face: Looking at Portraits from the Westport Public Art Collections.” Click here for “Ties that Bind: Westport and Yangzhou.”  For more, click on the WestPAC website.


If you’ve been de-cluttering your house like crazy: Good news! Goodwill donation centers are open.

Goodwill’s career centers are open too — virtually. That’s a great resource for people looking for work. Click here for more info, and/or to make an appointment with a job counselor.


John Richers spent 40 ears in corporate finance. He owned a couple of guitars and harmonicas that were gathering dust, but for the past 5 years he’s attended a weekly jam group with “musicians of a certain age.” Now also done open mic shows, covering Dylan, Tom Petty, Neil Young and the like.

Now — in the new normal — John has started writing songs. H ejust began posting them on YouTube. Who knows? With a push from “06880” readers (and perhaps a nudge from Weston’s Keith Richards — see why below), the Westporter may soon be a pandemic star.


Richard Epstein — the Westport dentist who moonlights as a WPKN programmer — wants everyone to know that the 89.5 FM station is livestreaming a “Global Dance Party” tomorrow (Friday, April 10) from noon to midnight.

All hosts are live — from their homes. Among them: Talking Heads drummer and Sturges Highway resident Chris Frantz playing disco, house and funk, and Westonite Eric Cocks (surf, garage, psych).

Other genres include big band, swing, bluegrass, American and roots, Middle Eastern, ska, dance hall, hip hop, salsa, Latin, Afrobeat, blues, rockabilly, Bollywood, new wave, punk, and unclassifiable.


Stew Leonard’s has changed their minds. They will be open on Easter: 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.


And finally, because this is our new reality: