Next week, a group of friends of WLIU will announce they have a plan to buy the radio station from Long Island University. And within 15 days — probably sooner — they will make an offer to the university in excess of $800,000 in an effort to take control of a station they plan to focus on East End culture, politics, music and life.
The friends are an impressive lot. With over 300 people already volunteering to help, the organization will have quite a group to choose from when it selects its board of directors. The list includes Loews Hotels chairman Jonathan Tisch, publisher Jann Wenner, actor Alec Baldwin, singer Suzanne Vega, Congressman Tim Bishop, artists April Gornik and Eric Fischl and dozens of others who are cultural or political figures on the East End — or admirers of the non-profit affiliate of National Public Radio.
The station — which is the last vestige of Long Island University on the SUNY Stony Brook Southampton Campus — is expected to be cut loose from LIU on October 3, when funding from LIU will cease. The university has said the losses at the radio station — topping $1 million this year — are too much too subsidize, especially considering the economic times.
LIU vice president Robert Altholz has said the university has an obligation to sell to the highest bidder. But Porter Bibb, who has headed up the effort to create the non-profit corporation to buy the station, disagrees.
“That’s nonsense,” said Bibb in an interview this week. “They can sell for whatever they choose.”
And while the amount the group — which was incorporated as Peconic Public Broadcasting, Inc., a 501 c.3 non-profit last week in Connecticut and is awaiting its New York incorporation — may not be what the university is hoping for, Bibb hopes the preemptive offer will freeze the bidding process.
The university, which has hired a media brokerage to assist in the selling of the station, has set a September 23 deadline for bids, and it is expected they may receive offers from commercial and non-profit organizations alike.
Bibb said, however, a condition of their offer is that they agree to take the station off the market.
“What we are proposing is that we will agree to underwrite all the programming and operations at the station through October and November,” said Bibb.
He argues that if another organization were to acquire the station, they would need to come up with programming immediately to fill the air, which would be unlikely, or would need to re-negotiate contracts with third party-providers like NPR and BBC.
They would either have to shut the station down “or put up Muzak,” contends Bibb.
“That will radically diminish the value of the station,” he added.
Bibb said he has spoken with representatives from the university’s brokers and noted they have not hinted at what LIU is expecting, but said the value of radio stations has sunk in the past year-and-a-half.
“Sales have been pathetically low,” he said.
Bibb estimated that fair market value for a station like WLIU, with no real assets beyond its equipment and license, at between $500,000 and $800,000.
“We’ll offer more than that to be pre-emptive,” he said
If successful in acquiring the station, the Peconic Public Broadcasting’s concerns would not all be behind them. They are still faced with a deadline of December 3 to have the station moved off the Southampton Campus, which is also where their tower is located.
“We’ve been offered a number of venues,” Bibb said confidently. Among them is Wainscott Studios in Wainscott, which is already set up in many ways to handle a radio station, including satellite dishes and a sound studio.
Bibb said they have been offered others across the East End that are “interesting,” but declined to identify them.
Bibb also sees revenue opportunities for the station that WLIU was not able to realize under the university’s ownership.
“The tower itself is a revenue source,” he said, noting that the university already collects leases from services that use the tower.
“That revenue could be coming to us,” he said.
Also, the university limited the size of the station’s staff — including for selling advertising and sponsorships, which was a staff of one.
“The Hampton Classic, for example, had 45 sponsorships, every one of them a potential prospect,” he said.
The business model is one that will make the station self-sustaining, Bibb maintains, and gives much of the credit to the local community who feels strongly about local radio.
“The grass roots support has been tremendous,” he said. “With over 300 people responding and the committee we have, we’ve dwarfed what LIU was able to do with fund drives.”