WILI is located at 720 Main Street, Willimantic, Ct.
We broadcast 24 hours a day at 1400 on the AM dial at a power of 1000 watts, and starting in 2017 we simulcast our AM programming on 95.3 FM. Besides extensive local news, sports and weather programming, we are affiliates of the ABC-Entertainment Radio Network, the Connecticut Radio Network, the UConn/IMG Sports Network, and the World Champion Boston Red Sox Radio Network. We are now owned by Hall Communications.
Here’s a bit of WILI History…
WILI first went on the air October 5, 1957. In celebration of our 40th anniversary, Wayne Norman featured an entire week of morning show guests from WILI’s past. Former announcers, newscasters (including former WTIC-TV news anchor Pat Sheehan), and weathermen reflected on the “old” days. And on our 50th anniversary, Wayne had a similar week of shows with alumni. All of those interviews can be heard here and by scrolling down to October, 2007.
October 5, 1957 was a Saturday. WILI was launched with a party at Willimantic’s Capitol Theater by invitation only, sent to leaders of the community. Bill and Mildred Potter, original owners of Potter’s oil, attended along with Mayor Florimand Bergeron.
WILI was engineered by Donald Howe, a professor of electrical engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. The frequency of 1400 at 250 watts was non-directional. It was chosen because it had been vacated by WICH in Norwich when WICH moved to a regional frequency. But there was a competing applicant–Robert Mensel of Willimantic–who was proposing a daytime-only station at 500 watts on 1430 kHz. The 1400 plan was a tight fit with the FCC’s interference rules at the time. Howe had to construct a test antenna site on the John Pollack farm (our current site near Recreation Park). Howe used a six-foot diameter gas-filled balloon to lift 200 feet of #17 (fine) wire. Nine 200-foot lengths of aluminum wire were used for the ground system. The radiated power was 51 watts on 1200 kHz. With this signal, Howe made the field measurements to prove 1400 would work, and the application won.
The first owners were three French-Canadian businessmen from Central Falls, RI: Goyette, Lanthier, and Cote. They also owned WPCT in Putnam (later WINY) and were in the fuel oil and lumber business in Rhode Island.
Bob Chasse was the radio station engineer when WILI first turned the transmitter on in 1957. His son Michael was born at Windham Hospital about 9:00 the same morning after 30 hours of labor. News Director Les Douglas made the announcement several times that afternoon. Bob’s mother, Flurette, never heard the announcement. Everytime it was made she was out of the car doing an errand. She didn’t find out about it until later in the day by someone else. Bob said “Donald Howe, the installation engineer, was a non-stop worker. He would go anywhere from 12-20 hours non-stop. Then he would flop on a cot for a short nap and start over again.” Bob left WILI in 1958 to become chief engineer at a radio station in Florida, before starting a 35-year career with the FAA, including 27 years in the air traffic control tower in West Palm Beach, Florida.
The late Herbert C. Rice bought WILI in May of 1959. The studios were located on Route 6, at the corner of Airport Road in North Windham. The Lewis Insurance Agency later occupied that building. Studios were in the back, and offices were in the front. The station was 250 watts day/night, on the air from 6 A.M. to 11:15 P.M.. On a typical afternoon, the announcer was Ed Read. He worked Noon-6 P.M. Monday through Saturday. Les Douglas was the News Director. He worked a split shift–5 A.M. to noon, then came back for the afternoon shift. Les drove an Edsel. The studio air-conditioner was a window-mounted unit high on the wall close behind the air chair. When you turned on the mic, the a/c was shut off to lower background noise. This encouraged much more music on hot days! The music format was contemporary 45’s with occasional big band oldies from the ’30s and ’40s
Herb Rice was the General Manager and sold advertising. His brother Robert was the Sales Manager. His wife Ethel ran the office and handled billing. All office work was done on mechanical typewriters from scratch every day. The copying process was carbon paper. The production studio had a grand piano which was used occasionally for special programs. A remote was scheduled for July 1960 as Lefty’s Playmore Park was opening for the season. Lefty’s was located where Windham Heights is now. It had a driving range, Roessler’s Yellow Tag hot dogs, Hosmer Mountain Soda, and neighborhood kids on bikes with nothing to do.