Controversy behind the closure of WQUN radio station

Chatwan Mongkol, Associate News Editor

After over a year of WQUN’s silence, Quinnipiac University sold its controversial AM radio station to Clark Media.

“Quinnipiac completed the sale of the radio station’s transmitter towers and property on Denslow Hill Road to Vertical Bridge on July 31, 2020, and is in the process of transferring the station’s license to Clark Media,” said John Morgan, associate vice president for public relations.

The university filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Oct. 9, to assign WQUN’s license to the new owner. The station’s call sign was changed to WATX in May 2020, according to the FCC database.

Quinnipiac University sold WQUN in July 2020 and is in the process of transferring the license to Clark Media. (Connor Lawless)

Clark Media is a New Hampshire-based company that is owned by Clark Smidt, a broadcast advisor and a radio programmer based in Boston, Massachusetts.

The Chronicle reached out to Smidt but did not receive a response.

Vertical Bridge is a Florida-based owner and operator of communications infrastructure and locations in the United States. According to its website, it owns over 280,000 properties across the country as well as seven towers and two rooftops in Hamden, Connecticut.

Since the property that housed the old station on Whitney Avenue was not a part of the sale, Morgan said the university will determine its use during the master facilities planning process.

Quinnipiac bought WQUN in 1996 for $500,000 and started to air in February 1997. It stopped broadcasting in May 2019 and was officially closed in June 2019. According to the FCC, WQUN needed to resume broadcasting before June 2, 2020 or it would lose its license. WQUN went back on the air in May 2020 and went silent again in June 2020. As a result, the license will now expire on April 1, 2022.

As the Chronicle reported in January 2019, former Vice President for Public Affairs Lynn Bushnell said the decline of students’ interests in the radio industry led to the closure. However, students and a former employee said otherwise.

Emma Spagnuolo, former general manager of WQAQ, the student-run radio station at Quinnipiac, said over 100 members were involved with WQAQ at the time, according to the Chronicle’s report in February 2019.

“For administration to say that students aren’t interested in radio as a career is simply inaccurate,” Spagnuolo said, as quoted in the same report.

Even over a year after that, current WQAQ General Manager Andrew White said students’ interests have not slowed down.

“In fact, due to COVID-19, we have more shows than we have had in recent years this year,” White said.

Morgan said the decision to close the station down was difficult to make but it came after carefully considering the number of students who wanted to complete internships there.

Pam Landry, an operation manager and a midday host for WQUN who was not allowed to give media interviews after the decision to close was announced, said it was heartbreaking, and it was hard to believe the administration’s reason considering the number of interns at the time.

“I honestly don’t know what the real reasons were behind the decision to close WQUN,” Landry said. “But I can tell you that President (Judy) Olian never set foot inside the door of the radio station. Of course she was invited, both before and after we learned of her decision to close us down.”

Unlike Olian and her administration, Landry said former President John Lahey was an ardent supporter.

“The staff was never afforded the opportunity to meet with President Olian and, perhaps, discuss setting some goals that might have kept our transmitter on,” Landry said.

As Quinnipiac spokesperson, Morgan did not comment on that matter.

According to the FCC database, the station went silent because of financial reasons. Morgan said the university wanted to shift its revenue into something more students and employers would be interested in, like the podcasting studio that opened earlier this year.

White said podcasts are becoming more relevant. He was glad Quinnipiac was able to present the options of having live commercial radio air time and turning recordings into podcasts.

“This is something that many universities can’t provide its students, and we are very grateful for that privilege,” White said.

The suspension of WQUN sparked criticism from within the university and surrounding communities as Hamden resident and Hamden Zoning Enforcement Officer Holly Masi created a petition to stop the closure.

“I started the petition and wanted to save the station because I truly love local community radio, and WQUN was a staple in our community for a long time,” Masi said.

Even though Landry said the voice from the communities was loud, as the petition received over 1,000 signatures, it failed to avail.

“The former staff of WQUN was greatly touched by those who tried to save the radio station,” Landry said. “It was a testament to our work and how important it was to so many.”

Besides creating a sense of community by promoting local businesses and events, Masi said the radio station was able to connect with people in real time through the broadcasters. However, she said she is happy to see someone who is a seasoned radio professional and a radio lover bought the station.

“I’m hopeful that the new owner will use his expertise and passion to help resurrect the station in some way and to bring back some of the local personalities like Brian Smith, Pam Landry and Ray Andrewsen who are all well known and revered in the community,” Masi said. “I’d also like to help with this endeavor.”