Saturday music benefit in Southold supports an unusual Connecticut station

08/04/2011 2:48 PM |

JULIE LANE PHOTO Hazel Kahan of Mattituck works in her home studio, Skyping rather than traveling to Bridgeport to broadcast her monthly program, Tidings, on WPKN.

Why is a Southold merchant holding a benefit for a Connecticut radio station? And why are unpaid North Fork residents willing to provide programming for listener-supported WPKN in Bridgeport, Conn.?

“There are two big things I love — music and art,” Ron Rothman, who runs Rothman’s Department Store and Gallery on the Main Road. He was quick to respond when WPKN on-air broadcaster Hazel Kahan approached him about doing a local benefit there, which will take place Saturday, Aug. 6, from 5 to 7 p.m.

Ms, Kahan is one of two North Fork residents who volunteer their time to produce programs for the station, which can be heard at 89.5 FM. It can also be picked up via the station’s website,

Saturday’s program will feature folk, bluegrass and swing music with The Second Hands’ Geoff Schroeder and Laura Hoch, Job Potter, Rick Hall and Glenn Jochum’s The Earthtones and the Park Avenue Gypsies, who are Mr. Rothman, Southold Slim and Lora Kendall.

An exhibit of the works of regional artist Vincent Quatroche Sr. will also be on display at the gallery.

“It’s getting some really great response,” Mr. Rothman said about the programs and art exhibits.

Admission to Saturday’s benefit is $12 and proceeds will help defray the station’s operating and production costs.

WPKN has only two paid employees, a general manager and a part-time secretary. While the on-air and behind-the-scenses talent works without compensation, they all bring a lot of passion to the shows that include interviews, talk and music.

Why do they do it?

“The stuff people are fed on regular radio stations is awful rubbish,” said Howard Thompson, a retired executive who spent 30 years identifying talent for record labels like CBS, Columbia Records, Electra and Island, as well as Herb Alpert’s and Jerry Moss’ A&M records. He travels to Bridgeport twice a month from his New Suffolk home for a three-hour music broadcast that starts at noon on alternate Fridays.

It takes two weeks to put together each show, said Mr. Thompson, who culls the music from his own extensive collection. While WPKN also has a huge music archive, he generally uses his own. “I’ve been collecting records since I was 6,” he said.

Despite his compelling English accent — he was born and raised in London — he doesn’t speak during his shows and said he doesn’t like the sound of his own voice.

But he does get to expose his audience to music he loves that they otherwise might not hear.

“My show represents my taste,” Mr. Thompson said. He believes a commercial radio station would never play such music because sponsors have their own ideas of what their audiences like.

“Advertisers want a very narrow spectrum,” he said.

Tune in to Mr. Thompson, and you’ll hear reggae, rock, pop, soul and even hard rock.

“I like it all, but the best elements of it all,” Mr. Thompson said.

“Mainstream radio is so boring because it’s the same crap,” he said. We can play anything we like — and we do.”

He’s been with WPKN for a little more than a year and finds it “extremely worth it.”

Ms. Kahan broadcasts her monthly taped interview show via Skype from a second-floor room in her Mattituck home. She chooses subjects based on “something that I want to know more about.”

Her half-hour show airs the second Wednesday of each month at 6:30 p.m. and is often dominated by conversations she has had during her personal travels, especially to Pakistan, where she was born, and Israel, where she often travels to visit friends and relatives.

“I’d love to be paid,” she admits, conceding that’s not in the cards at WPKN.

“So what is it? A hobby? It’s a passion,” she declared.

“This is a lot of work,” she said, work she sometimes thinks she can’t do anymore.

“But how could I not do it? I would miss it,” she said. And because she’s not paid, she’s free to voice any opinion she wants as long as it doesn’t break FCC rules against offensive language.

“I get to pursue in an orderly fashion whatever it is I want to know,” Ms. Kahan said. She also loves the passion her fellow broadcasters bring to their shows and the way the station is run. It’s a true democracy with volunteers voting on just about everything, she said.

“Not everyone is a liberal activist,” she continued. In fact, she describes some WPKN staffers as “quite conservative.” But whatever their philosophy, the publicly supported station provides a forum.

But both Mr. Thompson and Ms. Kahan wish they got more feedback from listeners.

“Tell me I’m alive. Tell me I’ve been heard,” Ms. Kahan said.

People usually only call to complain, not to say they’re happy with the program, Mr. Thompson said.

Both will be present, along with other WPKN broadcasters, at Saturday evening’s benefit.

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Benefit for WPKN 89.5 FM
Saturday, Aug. 6, 5-7 p.m.
Rothman Gallery
54100 Main Road, Southold
Tickets at the door: $12