Think back to 1973. Richard Nixon was in the White House, nobody had heard the Watergate tapes, and the newfangled cassette player was your best bet for listening to music in the car. That was the year I started as a disc jockey on listener-sponsored WPKN-FM, which dates back to 1963. That makes it 50 years old this year and, amazingly enough, WPKN is still on the air, now as a listener-supported outlet but still as free-form and community oriented as ever.
To celebrate the 50th, Bridgeport's WPKN (89.5 FM) is combining my two favorite things: music and cars. There's a big fundraising party Saturday, November 3, 7 p.m., at Dragone Classic Motorcars, 178 Post Road West in Westport. The information number is (203)349-8840. Music will have a gypsy jazz theme, featuring Connecticut based Café Musette (featuring chanteuse Noreen Mola and guitarist Larry Urbon), and the ukulele swing of the Edukated Fleas, with Wendy Matthews and Greg Doyle. There will be food, drink and a silent auction.
Steve di Costanzo, general manager of WPKN, said, "It's actually our pre-50th, because officially 2013 is our 50th year of broadcasting. To get the celebration rolling, this is our first big special event. We're excited to do it in Westport, a big listening community for us, in a beautiful showroom full of classic automobiles."
WPKN is facing the next 50 years with a tougher challenge, since many of the listeners are strapped by the recession and running the station keeps getting more expensive. But the community is loyal. That support includes the Dragone brothers, Manny and George, who are big WPKN listeners. The showroom, which is a showcase for mouth-watering classics that are sold all over the world, has become something of a go-to destination for local non-profits. You couldn't ask for a better party backdrop than Pierce-Arrows, pre-war Rolls-Royces, muscle cars and, serendipitously, a world-class collection of vintage radios.
A favorite in the collection is a 1950 Cadillac 62 sedan that once belonged to Bridgeport's legendary Father Panik of Father Panik Village fame. The story goes, "One day, Father Panik bought a church raffle ticket from the St. Cyril's Church. When the winning ticket was pulled, Father Panik found himself to be the owner of a brand-new Series 62 Cadillac Sport Sedan. Father Panik must have felt humbled by the experience as he rarely ever drove the Cadillac." And that's why it's still in mint original condition, and for sale.
I haven't driven, but much admire, the Dragones'1898 Riker, which Manny Dragone says "is probably the earliest American electric car in existence, and it's certainly the earliest one that raced." The Dragones are getting it back on the road, for the first time since 1910.
So, vintage cars and a vintage radio station together for a good cause.