After nine years marked by court dates, rejections and a severe heart attack, Hipolito Cuevas is finally ready to celebrate.
Cuevas, the general manager of Super Max WEPA — New Haven’s newest Hispanic radio station — has fought for the right to broadcast since 1998, when he was taken to court by the Federal Communications Commission on charges of piracy. Because licenses were at that time unavailable to operators of low-power radio stations — defined as anything under 6,000 watts — Cuevas said he found himself unable to legally run his 90-watt radio station, La Nueva Radio Musicale 104.5 FM.
After being shut down by the FCC in 2000, Cuevas gathered 7,000 community members’ signatures on a petition in support of the station and later took the case to court, where he lost after two years of fighting for a license. But as a result of his efforts, the FCC created a new license for low-power nonprofit stations, under the FCC Part 15 regulation, he said.
Norma Rodriguez-Reyes, whom Cuevas said was his biggest supporter during his legal ordeal, said New Haven is in urgent need of the broadcaster’s services.
“At the time that Cuevas put together his illegal radio program, the only other Hispanic station in New Haven was a religious station, and that actually is still the case today,” Rodriguez-Reyes said.
Cuevas said his station is filling a void in the city’s radio community.
“Those in New Haven who don’t speak English can’t get any local news, because the only things we get here are national,” Cuevas said.
Super Max WEPA broadcasts reports from Noti Uno — Puerto Rico’s premier news station — as well as local news stories and cultural music. To maintain the costs needed to run the station, Cuevas sells advertising slots for $2 a piece.
Julio Lugo, owner of Lugo’s Hispanic Bookstore in New Haven, was one of the first to take advantage of the advertising deal.
“I want to support Cuevas, and I want to encourage the Spanish community to use my services,” said Lugo.
Rodriguez-Reyes said the entire Hispanic population of New Haven — an estimated 20,000 at the time — used to tune into La Nueva Radio Musicale during its short lifespan.
Cuevas said he hopes more advertisers will realize the benefits of catering to New Haven’s growing Hispanic community, because the station desperately needs financial support in order to keep broadcasting.
“It is a high cost to get a radio station started, and … to keep it running,” he said.
Cuevas said he tried to purchase a station during his legal battle, but he was unable to come up with the money to finance such an expensive endeavor.
Rodriguez-Reyes said she credits Cuevas with making relatively cheap and legal radio stations a reality.
“To purchase a radio station costs millions of dollars, and there wasn’t any Spanish organization that had that kind of money to invest in a station,” she said. “Hipolito found a way to make things happen. I think a lot of people in the FCC understood, and that’s why they have this new nonprofit law.”
Cuevas currently runs two transmitters, one on Grand Avenue and one in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven. He said he has plans to add another two transmitters soon, one downtown and one in West Hill.
“That should cover the entire city of New Haven … and basically, the city of New Haven is as far as I want to go,” Cuevas said. “I would rather serve a small population, and serve them well, than serve the entire state and not really serve anybody.”
Super Max will host an open house Monday, which will include visits from city and state dignitaries, a press conference and a ribbon-cutting ceremony.