By Andy Piascik
Ask regular listeners what they like about the Bridgeport radio station WPKN-FM and you will likely get many different answers. Many listen because of the wide array of music played by the station’s many knowledgeable hosts. Others listen because WPKN features hours of progressive public affairs programming that is noticeably lacking from mainstream media. Then there are any number of others who simply turn WPKN on and leave it on over the course of the day, evening, and night.
The beloved station has received many accolades and honors in its decades on the air. For example, Connecticut Magazine once named WPKN the best radio station for music in the state of Connecticut. More recently, The New Yorker took their praise even further, declaring WPKN “the greatest radio station in the world.”
WPKN’s Beginnings and New Location
WPKN began in 1963 as the school radio station of the University of Bridgeport. That affiliation became rocky in the 1980s and, in 1989, the station began a process that culminated in the station formally separating itself from the university in 1992. Despite the separation, WPKN remained located in a building on the UB campus in Bridgeport’s South End for 58 years.
Diligent fundraising efforts and the contributions of listeners made it possible for WPKN to relocate to Bijou Square in downtown Bridgeport in November of 2021. A central feature of Bijou Square, the Bijou Theater, hosts a wide variety of cultural events including many done in conjunction with WPKN. In addition, the move put the station in close proximity to art galleries, a bookstore, the offices of new progressive political organizations, and other institutions transforming downtown Bridgeport.
Long before its move to Bijou Square, WPKN sponsored films and other events at locales in and around Bridgeport. It has also regularly hosted a popular used vinyl record sales extravaganza. During the long run of the Gathering of the Vibes music festival at Bridgeport’s Seaside Park, WPKN broadcast many of the performances live. The list of cultural organizations, venues, and events that the station currently supports and endorses numbers in the dozens and includes galleries, music festivals, performance spaces, arts councils, and museums.
On the Air
The station is on the air 24 hours every day and plays music for most of that time. Over the course of a single day, the station features an incredible variety of genres, artists, and songs.
When not playing music, WPKN turns to public affairs programming and local area news. Part of WPKN’s public affairs programming consists of national broadcasts such as Democracy Now!, CounterSpin, Alternative Radio, Economic Update, First Voices Radio, and the Ralph Nader Radio Hour. Some of those shows have existed for decades and Democracy Now! and CounterSpin have each won numerous awards.
There are also many locally produced and hosted public affairs shows including Counterpoint, Between the Lines, and Writer’s Voice. One of the newest additions to the station’s line-up, Mic Check, is a program dedicated to progressive activities in the Bridgeport area. Area news is presented by WPKN reporters and the station also runs shows dedicated to the arts, health and well-being, and eco-friendly living.
The Future of WPKN
With most of the station’s work done by volunteers, on-air fundraising is essential to its survival. Funds raised in recent years enabled the station to purchase a new transmitter and finance the move to Bijou Square.
As radio evolves, WPKN is continually utilizing new technology. Many programs are now archived and accessible online for the listener’s convenience. Some hosts also provide updates, forthcoming programming schedules, and access to past shows.
Bridgeport native Andy Piascik is an award-winning author who has written for many publications and websites over the last four decades. He is also the author of two books.