WILI Reunion, 2005.
Rich Conway on the air in 1988.
The history of 98.3 FM in Willimantic began in 1971, with two competing proposals for the allocation of 98.3 in Connecticut: A proposal for the allocation to go to Willimantic submitted by Colin K. Rice and his family’s Nutmeg Broadcasting, and a competing proposal from a group headed by Randal Mayer of WWUH and WHCN-FM and Kenneth N. Dawson of WKND to allocate the frequency to Enfield. In early 1972, the FCC allocated the frequency to Willimantic, making 98.3 the only FM in Windham County.
By December 1972, Nutmeg Broadcasting and the newly formed Windham Broadcast Group were competing for the 98.3 license in Willimantic. The Windham Broadcast Group was also backed by Mayer and Dawson, the petitioners to have the frequency allocated to
The FCC decided in favor of The Windham Broadcast Group in February 1975. The station was assigned the call letters WXLS, and went on the air featuring a beautiful music format in June of 1975 with studios at 1491 West Main Street, Willimantic (Across from Capitol Chrysler Dodge Jeep, currently a drug treatment facility) and with transmitting facilities on Hosmer Mountain, off Route 289 in Willimantic. The station broadcast with 3,000 watts from a single bay circularly polarized antenna, powered by a Rockwell-Collins 831F-2 Generation 4 transmitter that could put out 12,000 watts. Several engineers in the area reported “stronger than usual” power output from the site. Immediately residents complained of severe interference to television reception caused by WXLS. General Manager Peter Aucion met with the town’s Common Council four weeks after the station took to the air and agreed to provide $5,000.00 in rebates to residents to purchase antenna filters to block out 98.3. In 1975 WXLS applied to build a tower on Gates Hill in
In August of 1978 it was announced that Nutmeg Broadcasting had filed to purchase WXLS from the XLS Broadcasting Corp. Also in 1978, Nutmeg applied to build a 300 foot tower off route 87 in
However, Nutmeg once again lost out on the $200,000 purchase of WXLS, and the station was sold to Delta Communications Co. of Washington, D.C. in 1979. Delta was a minority owned company, making the station the state’s first minority owned FM station. The station was sold for $175,000 under the FCC’s distressed sale policy, allowing stations facing license renewal hearings to avoid losing their license by selling to minority owned companies at prices below market value. WXLS and co-owned WKND were facing allegations of fraudulent billing practices and staff mismanagement. Both stations were sold to separate minority-owned companies.
Studios were relocated to 75 Bridge Street at the foot of Hosmer Mountain, and call letters were changed to WNOU on June 10, 1980. The station dropped beautiful music and changed to urban adult contemporary as “New 98 FM,” and billed themselves as “The Heart and Soul of Connecticut.” The station featured mornings with “The Dynamic Duo,” with Ray Pender and Mark Virdone on news from 5:30-10. PD Gregg Dixon was on the air 10-3, Sara worked 3-7, and Eddie “The Cowboy” Schaffer on “The Night Service,” 7-Midnight. Additional programming featured minority-produced syndicated “Coast to Coast Top 20” with Doug Steele, and from 1983-1985 the daily syndicated feature Radioscope with Lee Bailey, also a minority-owned program. Sundays featured Music of the City at 9, Carribbean Vibes from 10-2 and “All That Jazz” evenings with TJ Magnum, the stage name for station owner Sullivan Brown. Brown also took to the airwaves Saturdays as TJ Magnum.
On the morning of February 21, 1985, the morning team of Ray Pender and Mark Virdone took to the air to describe the financial disrepair and mismanagement of WNOU, staying on the air until 12 noon, calling for any investors to come forward to purchase the station. Dubbed the “98gate,” the hosts invited in listeners and media crews, including WFSB-TV Channel 3. Telephones had already been disconnected by the telephone company for nonpayment. Owner Sullivan Brown came from his home in Bloomfield and removed the personalities from the station and took over broadcasting, as if nothing had happened. Around 3 PM, midday personality and Program Director Gregg Dixon forcefully kicked in the door to the control room and removed the power supply to the control board, taking the station off the air. New 98 FM never returned to the air. At the time, Brown admitted that the station was under foreclosure proceedings.
On July 31, 1985 the FCC approved the sale of silent WNOU to Nutmeg Broadcasting Co. for $645,000, including the payment of federal back taxes owed by Delta. According to an article in the Hartford Courant, the majority of the purchase price was used to pay off the debts of the financially troubled station. The call letters were changed to WILI-FM on October 7, 1985 and the station returned to the air as a simulcast of WILI-AM.
In January of 1986, the simulcast was split, with WILI becoming an adult contemporary station featuring more talk programming, and WILI-FM becoming a Contemporary Hit Radio station billed as “I-98.” Separate studios were built in a closet at 948 Main Street while new facilities were built at 720 Main Street.
WILI and WILI-FM both moved to 720 Main Street in the fall of 1987.
In 2005, The Nutmeg Broadcasting Company was purchased by Hall Communications from the Rice family for $1.8 million. Hall continues to operate Nutmeg Broadcasting as a subsidiary, and has maintained all local services and facilities at 720 Main Street in Willimantic.