Friends of WLIU Set to Bid for Station

Posted on 24 September 2009

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Poised to “Make an offer they can’t refuse,” as station director Wally Smith said, the fans of radio station WLIU rallied last Thursday evening at Bay Street Theatre to both raise awareness of the fragile state of public radio on the East End, and to infuse some energy into the movement that has seen more than 600 people volunteer to help save the station from closing — or be sold to another operator.

The recently-formed non-profit Peconic Public Broadcasting, Inc. delivered a sealed bid late yesterday, Wednesday, meeting a deadline set by the station’s owner, Long Island University, and its broker Public Radio Capital.

Long Island University, which has underwritten the station since its inception and has contributed over one million dollars each of the past two years, has said the station is simply too costly to continue supporting and needs to sell it to the highest bidder.

In an interview yesterday, Smith said the non-profit group Peconic Public Broadcasting, Inc., was to make a “fair and full value bid that is about twice what we believe to be fair market value.” Porter Bibb, a media consultant who has spearheaded the effort to create PPB, Inc. and its fundraising arm, Save Public Radio on the East End (SPREE), said two weeks ago that consultants have estimated the fair market value for the license and equipment to be about $1 million. It is estimated the cost of acquiring the station and its assets, as well as moving it to a new location — likely Wainscott Studios — would cost about $3 million

At Thursday’s rally, Smith said he did not know how many other suitors there were for the station, which would need to be sold to an organization which would run it as a non-profit, but said he and others were prepared to establish a new operating company within eight weeks to take the station over. Yesterday, he said he knew WNYC was “very interested” in the station, as well as several religious organizations.

It was, as on-air personality Bonnie Grice affirmed Thursday, an old fashioned rally. There were pickets and strong statements. Applause and fist pumps. It came with a drum beat, literally, and included a rendition of the 6os folk classic “If I Had a Hammer,” a tribute, in part, to Mary Travers the distaff part of the folky icons Peter, Paul and Mary, who had died just two days earlier.

Sung by local rock icon, Nancy Atlas, however, the song had lost none of its ‘60s-theme of hope and willfulness.

Atlas credited WLIU as being one of the venues through which local artists get their music heard over the airwaves, and urged the audience of about 200 to get ready to show their support.

“I’m up for the fight. Are you guys,” she called out to a round of applause.

Guitarist and singer Gene Casey of the Lone Sharks entertained with the song Louis Armstrong made famous, “What a Wonderful World.” And Casey was followed by singer Caroline Doctorow who did “Someday Never Comes” and thanked WLIU personality Brian Cosgrove and Grice for “playing every song I’ve ever played out.”

Audience members also took the stage to show their support. Walter Dunaway said he owed the station credit for helping him get his own cable television show about poetry. Dunaway said it was an interview on the Bonnie Grice show where he introduced his new book of poetry that helped him establish the contacts that led to his show,

“I’m going to support them,” he told the crowd, “and I don’t know what I’d do without them.”

Civil rights legend Bob Zellner says he gets to spend about four minutes a week saying things on the station that he could probably get arrested for in his native Alabama, and writer Linda Francke of Sagaponack said she remembered the “bad old days” before WLIU and praised the emergence of “this great new voice, Bonnie Grice.”

“It is unacceptable that we lose this station,” demanded Francke.

The evening was bookended by Samba Boom, a drum and percussion group that marched about thirty dancing musicians onstage, all dressed in white, beating drums and cowbells, filling the room with Latin rhythms.

“Stick with us,” called out Smith at the end of the evening, “we’ve got a long way to go.”

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