WCNI Boosts Its Wattage, Changes Its Address On The FM Dial
By DAVID COLLINS
Day Staff Columnist
Published on 6/13/2003
Connecticut college students at one time used to joke that it was
hard to tune into the school's radio station in dormitories at the
extreme ends of the campus, especially on rainy days.
It was Palmer Radio back in the 1960s, a weak-signaled AM station
that was operated as a club at the then all-women's college. Claire
Gaudiani, who went on to become the college president, was once a
student disc jockey, playing classical music on her show.
|DJ Marko Fontaine at work in
the studio during his “Punk Rock Jukebox” show on WCNI radio,
which is boosting its signal and changing its frequency. By
Over the years, the station changed its name, to WCNI, switched to
the FM side of the dial and increased its signal power, from 10
watts to 500 watts. And although it is still located at the college
and welcomes student participation, it has become much more a
community radio station, with a lot of middle- aged DJs and an
alternative music format that station mangers admit doesn't always
appeal to the more mainstream tastes of today's typical college
This week the station will pass another milestone, increasing its
signal power to 2,000 watts, a boost that will extend its range well
beyond the current 30-mile radius, probably well into southern Rhode
Island toward Providence, across eastern Connecticut close to New
Haven and out to eastern Long Island.
It will also move from 91.1 to 90.9 on the dial.
“We're going up in power and down in frequency,” says Charles A.
Butkiewicz, the station president, a self-described “old hippie,”
who wears John Lennon owl-eye wire glasses and is known by almost
everyone as Chucky Daddy.
“We're going to where there's nothing but clean sound.”
The more powerful signal is something that's been in the works for
more than 20 years. Most of that time it was bogged down in Federal
Communications Commission rule changes and clouded by a protest by
WBUR in Boston, which was protecting its claim on the 91.1
In the final compromise, WCNI agreed to an increase to 2,000 watts,
instead of 5,000, and the new place on the dial. A new antenna is
being erected on the WCNI tower at Connecticut College, and the
station, after a brief outage, was expecting to be back on the air,
stronger than ever, either tonight or Saturday.
Butkiewicz and the other volunteers who manage the station say the
changes are coming at an appropriate time, since new FCC rules are
unleashing changes and consolidations in the industry that will make
independent stations like WCNI a more vital perspective on the
The station, they say, presents a unique and diverse mix of music
styles, from jazz and blues and heavy metal or “loud” music to
regular shows on Brazilian music, show tunes and polka. It's also
simulcast on the Web, at wcniradio.org.
There are about 100 DJs working with the station and about 65 of
them regularly do shows. They bring their own music or play from the
station's extensive library, and they pretty much own their
three-hour time slot.
“It's whatever anyone brings to the plate. Diversity is the thing,”
says Jana Savanapridi, the station's general manager who worked at
WCNI while a student at Connecticut College and stayed on after
graduating. She now works in the college bookstore and volunteers
enough time at the station to qualify as a second full-time job.
“Really, the only requirement is that you bring something
alternative, not something you would hear on a commercial station.
And every three hours it changes.”
Butkiewicz calls it: “Real music for real people.”
The station is supported entirely by donations from listeners, money
raised during an annual on-air drive and commercial sponsorships
from local businesses. This year's drive raised about $30,000. The
station gets no money from the college, although the space for the
studio and offices at the student center are free.
Butkiewicz says the station is anxious to have students participate,
and the ratio of student DJs, now about 25 percent, is higher than
it has been in recent years. He says college students today tend to
be influenced by MTV and are more interested in the music being
played on commercial stations.
He says people need to take the time to really listen to music to
acquire a taste for something different and he likes to encourage
them to do that, especially at the college.
“We're always trying to get more kids on the air and get them turned
on to this stuff,” he says. “That's my joy.”
One convert is Doug Schaefer, another Connecticut College graduate
who stayed in the area to work on the station. He's the volunteer
“I got a better education at WCNI than I did at Connecticut
College,” he says. “There's a lot of snobbism and elitism at the
college. Most of the people who work at the radio station don't have
any of that. We represent a big cross section of society, and
everyone gets along for the most part. People are here for the love