In August 2021, David Owen of The New Yorker published an article that declared WPKN-FM in Bridgeport, Connecticut, to be “the greatest radio station in the world.” It was a highly subjective opinion, of course, but Owen’s celebration of the community-supported station’s free-form programming made a cogent argument about how this eclectic station was able to maintain its originality and spirit during a time when too much of radio broadcasting has become stale and predictable.
Cob Carlson’s documentary carries over the title of Owen’s work but takes a deeper dive into the station’s tumultuous history, staring in 1963 as the studio radio outlet for the University of Bridgeport and its evolution into a radio station that reflected the great diversity of its community (many of whom keep the station operational as volunteers). Today’s WPKN is the rare New York metropolitan area station that offers eclectic programming absent from the rest of the dial, from old-school blues to contemporary Asian music to invigorating Zydeco.
Audiences from outside the Bridgeport area may want to spend some time with the station’s online site (WPKN.org) to get a feel for its funky vibe prior to arriving at Carlson’s film. To his credit, the filmmaker has crafted a joyful celebration of a collection of indefatigable free-spirited souls bringing something special to the radio airwaves. With its mix of charismatic talking head interviews coupled with the ultimate little-engine-that-could story of a tiny station finding and maintaining a strong and loyal audience, Carlson’s truly marvelous documentary is the feel-good film of the year.