First Listen: Clark Smidt’s WATX (X-Factor Radio)

Here’s what veteran programmer and consultant Clark Smidt went through to put WQUN-AM New Haven, Conn., back on the air as Oldies WATX last week:

“After Quinnipiac University asked me to sell the station and protect the license, I ended up not being able to use the Denslow Hill tower site in [city of license] Hamden that I worked at in summer ’67 [when the station was] WDEE.

“I got [only] the license, the change of calls to WATX, and permission to take the equipment. I had to go looking to get another [short term authorization] STA to [keep the station off the air without losing the license] beyond the first one granted May 2020.

“The second open area I found within 1.5 miles of the original site is the Nadeau Farm, a privately owned 125 acres selling fresh chicken eggs, doing 501c3 animal rescue work, and offering goat yoga. The very nice folks arranged for me to use an old dynamite shack for the transmitter we took from the original site three weeks ago.

The station “was fired up last Saturday [May 8] before the May 21 deadline at 75 watts for a range of about seven miles. This past Thursday [engineer] Grady Moates tweaked the day/night power to 250 watts day/76 watts night with the old 9100 AM Optimod.

Smidt says WATX is playing “real Connecticut gold—Platters through Blondie, Motown/Four Seasons/Beatles/British Invasion, a New York/Connecticut researched list from the soundtrack of my life. [Boston/New York radio veteran] Dick Summer is doing the liners.”

In one of its many subsequent incarnations, WDUN became Top 40 WCDQ. For about a six month period in the mid-‘70s, it was the author’s local daytime Top 40 station, because it was even faster on new music than New Haven’s WAVZ. It went on to a rapid succession of changes, including soft rock WOMN (Woman Radio) and then WPLR-2, a companion to the better-known heritage rock FM. 

It was a big story when subsequent owner Quinnipiac decided to shut down the station after more than 20 years. That said, given the number of colleges getting out of broadcasting, the biggest anomaly was that Quinnipiac was on the commercial dial, or on AM, in the first place. 

Other far more dominant-in-their-time AMs have gone away in recent years because a new transmitter site wasn’t worth securing. So it’s impressive that Smidt wanted to return 1220 to the air and did. WATX launches a year after a more prominent AM of the time, WMEX Boston pulled off a similarly ambitious relaunch a year ago.

For radio history junkies, there’ll be one additional source of amusement. Smidt is using some of the liners associated with the old WPIX New York, including “Your ‘X’ wants you back.” There’s also a sweeper encouraging listeners to “support local, buy local, listen local.” (If you want to go further, there’s a place on the station site to buy $12.20 sponsorships.)

Here’s WATX on May 14:

  • Outsiders, “Time Won’t Let Me”
  • Smokey Robinson & Miracles, “Tears of a Clown”
  • Bobby Darin, “Beyond the Sea”
  • Crystals, “Then He Kissed Me”
  • Beach Boys, “Wendy”
  • MFSB, “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)”
  • Four Tops, “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)”
  • Gentrys, “Keep on Dancing”
  • Johnny Tillotson, “Poetry In Motion”
  • Diana Ross, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”
  • Supremes, “Back in My Arms Again”
  • Lovin’ Spoonful, “Daydream”
  • Murmaids, “Popsicles and Icicles”
  • Paul & Paula, “Hey Paula”
  • King Harvest, “Dancing in the Moonlight”
  • Marvelettes, “Don’t Mess With Bill”

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