PROVIDENCE — Christopher DiPaola, who poured his lifelong passion for radio and the local community into the Westerly radio station WBLQ, has died. He was 49.
A cause of death hasn’t been announced but friends say they suspect he died from a sudden medical episode. The station announced his death Friday, and portions of the broadcast during the day were turned over to reminiscences of the station’s owner and self-described “ring master.”
DiPaola was a longtime fixture in Westerly and the surrounding area, where he was from. Behind the scenes, he’d recently advocated for a long-term lease extension for his station’s radio tower on town land in Westerly. Behind the microphone, he was known as “Crazy” Chris DiPaola, filling up hours of airtime every week with his signature radio-friendly timbre and high-energy patter.
“He was a gem,” said Tom Nall, a Westerly resident who started as a listener to WBLQ and then became a good friend of its owner. “This guy gave his whole heart to his community and his family.”
WBLQ is Westerly’s only local radio station, with a mix of music, sports, and local programming. It’s the only place you’ll be able to listen to Westerly Town Council meetings on the radio, on AM 1230 and 103.1 FM. WBLQ is also available worldwide online, but it focuses on Westerly and surrounding communities including Charlestown, Richmond, and Hopkinton.
“I can’t say I’ve met anyone who loves the community, especially this area, more than that guy,” said DiPaola’s radio right hand man, Steve Conti, who handles the technical aspects of the station and its affiliates. “He was the biggest cheerleader for Westerly and Chariho.”
The station’s AM tower is located in an area that the town is seeking to redevelop. DiPaola and the station’s supporters have attended recent Town Council meetings requesting a 20-year lease extension for the site; the town had considered a five-year lease with extensions.
DiPaola likened a five-year lease extension to telling your spouse you’ll love them forever, but you only want to commit for five years at a time. The tower, which has been there for decades even before DiPaola owned it, would be too expensive to move, DiPaola and his supporters said.
At meetings in the past few weeks, members of the Town Council expressed their support for the radio station, and tried to tamp down fears over the town’s commitment to the station’s future. A lease deal still hasn’t been ironed out. Conti said the station would continue on, though it will be a manpower challenge without DiPaola, who did everything from hosting shows to taking out the trash. DiPaola also owned I-105.5 in the West Warwick and Coventry area.
“To have a successful AM radio station in 2022, that’s a rarity,” Conti said. “So many AM stations are signing off or selling out.”
DiPaola’s long career in radio started at a young age. Longtime friend Caswell Cooke, now a Westerly town councilman, remembers going to Friendly’s one time when they were teenagers. DiPaola ordered water.
“I’m saving my money because I’m going to own a radio station someday,” DiPaola explained.
He was right, eventually. In those childhood days, though, they would play around with a small transmitter in DiPaola’s parents’ backyard, Cooke said, and also record shows on tape decks. DiPaola was a fan of 66 WNBC in New York, which became an inspiration for WBLQ, and the game show host Bob Barker, whose signature skinny microphone DiPaola appropriated for the public events where he was a constant presence.
“He was just so passionate about radio,” Cooke said. “Besides his family and his children and his wife, radio was the major part of his life.”
In the most recent video posted on the station’s Facebook page, DiPaola donned a cowboy hat to give away tickets to a haunted house.
“What’s your favorite station?” DiPaola asked the winning caller in the sort of set-up familiar to listeners of commercial radio everywhere.
“WBLQ,” the winner responded.
But WBLQ was more than just fun and games. They delved into hyper-local local politics in a way you don’t see as much in the modern media age. And for big events, too, WBLQ became indispensable: When Superstorm Sandy hit and people lost power, many turned to WBLQ. DiPaola was out there making sure the station kept running, giving out information in a time of crisis.
People in town still talk about that.
“Westerly loves him,” Cooke said. “He was synonymous with Westerly. He was the voice of Westerly. His radio station, which was him, was part of the glue that keeps the community together.”