A Community Radio Station Enters its Second Year of Independence

Posted on 19 December 2012

By Kathryn G. Menu

It has been two years since WPPB 88.3 FM left its ivory tower at the Long Island University’s former Southampton campus. The fledgling radio station found a new home in Southampton Village, and according to general manager Wally Smith it has also found a new connection to the North and South forks, with residents and musicians streaming through its very accessible doors.

Walking into the Hill Street home of WPPB 88.3, one is immediately greeted to the left by one of the station’s on-air personalities — Bonnie Grice, Brian Cosgrove, Ed German, Michael Mackey and others — bringing listeners a mix of news, pop culture, arts and numerous genres of music aimed at capturing the heart and soul of East End, according to Smith.

It’s a goal achieved better by being a not-for-profit radio station, said Smith, with a home that gives the station and its personalities — its soul— a more accessible place for residents to reach out to them.

But developing the kind of community programming that makes Peconic Public Broadcasting the public radio station for the East End, requires funding.

The station is currently in the throes of its annual appeal. Residents on the East End or southern Connecticut can support the station by visiting www.peconicpublicbroadcasting.org.

It was just two years ago that WPPB 88.3 was born, changing its call letters to reflect its independence after WLIU was purchased from Long Island University in 2010.

The station had long broadcast out of a state-of-the-art studio at the Southampton campus in Shinnecock Hills, but in 2009 Long Island University announced it would cease funding of the station and sell its license.

For Smith and Grice, as well as much of the 88.3 family, it was immediately apparent there was a community need, and desire, for the station to live on. And so, through fund raising the not-for-profit WPPB 88.3 was created.

While the station is still growing towards having, for example, the local news staff and programming that once existed at WLIU 88.3, on Tuesday Smith said the station’s development is right on track, with new local programming as well as the expansion of existing shows like Grice’s Conversations at the Café. That program, which features local artists, news, music — virtually every aspect of the East End — has evolved to include what Grice and Smith call Sessions at the Café, programming dedicated to live, local music programming.

“What we are really lacking right now is the restoration of our newsroom,” said Smith on Tuesday. “At the very baseline, we want to get back to where we were. At the time we were very successful in regional and local news gathering. We had established a reputation with newsmakers and at one time were bringing down a number of awards from the Long Island Press Association and the Associated Press for radio broadcast journalism. And it was all locally produced.”

“A goal would be to get that back. I see this community as a local community that has things happening of national and international interest,” said Smith. “I can see us developing programming that could eventually provide resources to National Public Radio.”

“The plan is pretty grand, but we wouldn’t be where we are if we didn’t think that way,” laughed Smith.

Musically, the station has thrived, said Smith, from featuring the Jazz Jam at Bay Burger, to programming developed in concert with Crossroads Music owner Michael Clark and Grammy Award winning engineer Cynthia Daniels.

“We have made a significant outreach to that community and this place on some days is more like a concert hall,” said Smith.

Continuing to foster relationships with local media, including featuring newspaper editors weekly, Grice has also developed the Media Mavens— a roundtable of local arts and news editors which records live on Fridays and is rebroadcast on Saturday mornings.

“I think one of the most impressive things that has happened in our relocation from a state of the art facility atop a building at Southampton College is we have come down to earth in a very positive way,” said Smith. “People are literally walking in our doors with ideas, whereas before we were kind of secluded into our ivory tower.”

That connection, noted Smith, will only grow if plans to move the radio station to the proposed Southampton Center for the Arts becomes a reality. The center is a concept being developed by Southampton Village as a not-for-profit entity to revitalize the former Parrish Art Museum space on Jobs Lane. The station is proposed to be a part of that facility, with a street front space where residents meandering down Jobs Lane will literally be able to watch radio broadcasts live.

If that concept does come to fruition, said Smith, it will also enable the WPPB talent to work in private spaces as well, as opposed to its Hill Street office which is largely an open, communal space.

Funding, of course, is always an issue. Smith said the station has proven itself as an entity that is not going anywhere, which has made it easier to fundraise. This fall, the station met its goal during its fall fund drive — a first in station history. For Grice, it is a testament to the community support the station has, but also that it is excelling in providing programming that is truly engaging the community.

“We live here, we work here, and we are inviting people to be a part of this conversation,” said Grice. “It’s music, it’s news, it’s sitting down and telling our stories. No interview is too small. Our independence has allowed us the freedom to do that.”

To learn more, or to contribute to the station’s annual appeal, visit www.peconicpublicbroadcasting.org.

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