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Radio 88.3 is Up Against It

Posted on 19 August 2010

By Francesca Normile

In late September of last year, Peconic Public Broadcasting (PPB) offered over $2 million to Long Island University for the purchase of the 88.3 FM radio license. Winning the bid, WLIU General Manager Wally Smith announced his excitement at the station’s success and expressed his confidence that the station would raise the funds necessary to purchase the license.

Before the capital fundraising campaign for the purchase of the license could begin, however, PPB needed to sign the asset purchase agreement, which they did in mid-February. It was only after signing that agreement that they had the opportunity to begin their efforts toward buying the license.

“And if you recall,” said Smith with a laugh this past Monday, “this was not the perfect winter in fundraising, and not the perfect economy for it either.”

With a deadline set for the end of August, PPB devoted its attention to its campaign, with only six months to raise the money they had bid for the channel.

Smith, when asked how fixed the now fast-approaching deadline actually is, replies, “The university has claimed that it is an absolute deadline and if we fail to meet that deadline, the license will go to someone else.”

If PPB unable to raise the required funds by the end of this month, Smith says he presumes that it will go to the second highest bidder.

“I know there are one or two bidders behind us,” he says. “But I do not [know who the other bidders are]. I asked LIU and, inappropriately, they said they would not tell us.”

Smith explains that a total of $637,000 is due at the end of August in order to purchase the license.

“We have [$137,000] in the capital accounts, so we are working on the alternative 500,000,” says Smith. “It is taking a combination of cash and loans to close the deal. We still need at least $100,000 to $150,000.”

Raising $150,000 in twelve days is certainly a steep task, but Smith appears confident.

“It looks better and better every day,” he says. “Fundraising is not a science, it is an art. Nothing is predictable; nothing is absolute until the check is in the mail. We have every reason to believe that people want to contribute and that they will do so.”

The optimism of PPB half a year ago, when the bid was first won, leads to the question of whether or not the station had, at the start of their campaign, been confident in the contributions of donors who gave their word but did not actually pull through.

In response to this inquiry, Smith simply states, “Some people have contributed [the amount they had said they would], some have contributed at lower levels; but, again, we are feeling quite confident.”

Because the station is not permitted to request funds on the air— if those funds are to be put towards the purchase of the station’s license— PPB has had to get creative.

“We are fundraising in a couple of ways,” explains Smith. “We have been putting together chains of individuals with other individuals to identify prospects— that’s typical in fundraising. We had some members of the board introduce us to sources to donate, though the board is small. We’ve also used the press a lot, as they’ve been very generous, placing ads for us and so on.”

In addition to these methods of fundraising is the upcoming “Locals Live”— a benefit concert scheduled to take place on Wednesday, August 25 at the Old Whalers’ Church — the proceeds of which will go, in part, towards 88.3FM.

Addressing the critical rumors that have been circulating about how the payroll at PPB may be higher than perhaps it should be, Smith responds,

“Generally speaking we don’t comment on payroll issues, but I will say that the entire budget of the station has been modified to reflect the change in our circumstance. That is to say that everything has been reduced: operations, salaries, etc.”

As for the future of the station, should they be able to raise the money necessary to purchase the license at the end of the month, Smith said they will address PPB’s general operating needs

“In the short-term,” he explains, “the next focus will be on operating expenses, in order to sustain the operation of the station. But that has been going on alongside the capital raise and, in fact, over the past several months we’ve raised over $300,000 in operating costs. So we presume that will continue and we’ll just go back to our normal, on-air fund-drives.”

According to Smith, the Federal Communications Commission currently has a request to transfer the license and is prepared to act on it once PPB has completed the purchase of their license from LIU. What is pending now is PPB’s final payment, which will permit the FCC to go through with the final processing of the transfer.

In closing, Smith re-iterates his optimism in community support, saying, “We remain confident and have several major requests out to folks who have the capacity to help us move forward towards the goal of successfully completing this campaign. I’ll simply say, it’s not over til’ it’s over.”

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