Tag Archive | "Wally Smith"

WLIU Stumbles With Employee Salaries

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Fans of radio station WLIU may have noticed this week there were more pre-recorded features on the air than usual, and that some of their favorite personalities were not on when they were expected to be. The station is in a transition, as Peconic Public Broadcasting — the group that successfully bid on WLIU’s license in October — has taken over operation of the studio. That transition, however, has left the non-profit PPB short-funded and unable to pay the salaries of the 13 staff members.

Peconic Public Broadcasting — formed earlier this year by local supporters of the station that has broadcast from the Southampton campus of what was originally Long Island University and now-Stony Brook University for nearly three decades — took over management responsibilities on December 1, when their agreement with Long Island University took effect. Until that time, LIU had paid the salaries of the staff, which were considered the university’s employees. On December 1, those employees became the responsibility, apparently unexpectedly, of PPB.

“We thought, since we had an agreement to stay here until March, that LIU would continue to pay the salaries,” said the station’s general manager, Dr. Wally Smith in an interview Tuesday.

Earlier this fall, and prior to the bid opening, the university had sent the staff notices they were to be terminated.

“We thought they would rescind the termination notices,” said Smith. “They didn’t.”

Smith said LIU’s decision to no longer fund salaries came as a surprise, and “we were not prepared for that eventuality,” realizing “we could not handle the December payroll.”

Several of the staff members — Smith said 10 — have decided to come in as “part-time volunteers” to man the station, and he comes in himself to make sure programming continues to be broadcast. Popular morning figure Bonnie Grice, he said, has taken advantage of unused vacation time. Most of the employees are filing for unemployment insurance, and three have decided they cannot volunteer to help, said Smith.

The staffing changes come as Peconic Public Broadcasting and Long Island University prepare to sign an asset purchase agreement, which is expected to occur in the next few days, said Rob Altholz, vice president for finances at LIU. Once that has been completed, the paperwork is sent to Washington, D.C. for final approval by the Federal Communications Commission. PPB and the university would then close on the sale of the station in late February or early March, according to both Altholz and Smith.

At that time, said Smith, Peconic Public Broadcasting would need to have $1,450,000 available to them. Smith said they will need to put $300,000 in an escrow account, adding $100,000 to it monthly for three months, for a total of $600,000. They will also need $850,000 for the university at the closing. The total price bid by PPB for the station and its assets is $2,425,000. None of this includes the cost of moving the station to new quarters — since Stony Brook wants the space currently occupied by the studio for classrooms — or ongoing costs of operation.

When asked how far along the organization was in raising the capital for the acquisition, Smith said they were still in the early stages of fundraising.

“We only received our 501.c.3 status in November,” said Smith, “that’s when we were finally able to say, yes, we can accept your money now.”

Smith said he expects the employees will be working on a volunteer basis for one month, and they were working on plan to reinstate the employees as soon as possible.

“We’ve had extraordinary volunteer help,” said Smith. “When you realize where we were on August 6, we had nothing. We’ve come a long way.”


Peconic Public Broadcasting Wins Bid for WLIU 88.3fm

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According to WLIU General Manager Wally Smith, Peconic Public Broadcasting (PPB) has successfully won the bidding war for the 88.3fm radio license. In late September, PPB offered over $2 million for the license to Long Island University with the financial support of several private backers. Over the last few months, local politicians and community members have been rallying to save the radio station and it appears their efforts have paid off.

Above: WLIU General Manager Wally Smith (center) with local politicians and community figures at a press conference earlier in the year.

“We are thrilled and excited that we were successful,” announced Smith on Friday. “We will carry on the tradition of public radio on the East End and we are grateful to LIU for making this decision [to accept our offer.]“
Smith said the station will be able to continue operations out of their Stony Brook Southampton location until December. He added that there is a possibility the station could extend its stay for a few months into the new year. The station will most likely move on to the Wainscott Studios.
Peconic Public Broadcasting’s bid was most likely sweetened by an offer to continue hosting WCWP, the radio station out of LIU’s C.W. Post campus.
“They, [LIU], don’t have to make an investment in additional staff until they are financial secure,” said Smith of Peconic Public Broadcasting running WCWP.
Smith contended, however, that the organizations work is still cut out for them.
“Now, the fundraising side of this will kick in,” remarked Smith. “But we are confident that we will [raise the funds].”

Friends of WLIU Set to Bid for Station

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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.”

Group Organized to Save WLIU

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While Long Island University, which owns WLIU radio, is “evaluating several options” for the station’s future — including selling it to another organization, creating an operating agreement with another station, or finding another public broadcasting station — a local non-profit group headed by station manager Dr. Wallace Smith is hoping to mount an effort to acquire the station. An apparent victim of the failing economy, the public radio station, which is based on the campus of Stony Brook Southampton, appears ready to go off the air unless officials can construct an 11th hour deal.

WLIU is the last vestige of Long Island University on the Southampton Campus, which the State University of New York took over three years ago. The station has been actively looking for a new location for more than a year, since its lease with SUNY Stony Brook expires on October 3 this year.

“WLIU offers innovative programming and provides an essential community service to Long Island; but, unfortunately, currently runs at a deficit that the university can no longer afford to subsidize,” said Robert Altholz, Long Island University’s vice president for finance and treasurer. The university’s trustees have stipulated that the expenses associated with operating the station must be eliminated, said the release. The university was subsidizing the station by “over a million dollars annually,” said Altholz in an interview this week.

The station had been losing money consistently, and Altholz said the annual deficit was typically in the $500,000 to $700,000 range. But in the past two years the shortfall topped $1 million each year.

“It has simply become too big a loss,” said Altholz.

The school’s treasurer said their decision to unburden themselves of the station was really the combination of two things: WLIU’s dramatic increase in deficit, and the financial pressure the economy has placed on the university itself.

The deficit, he said, would be tough “even in a great environment.”

“That being said, these are tough times for everyone,” added Altholz, who noted that both the endowment and the enrollment at Long Island University have been affected by the downturn in the economy.

“We had to take a look at all our options,” he said.

For the school’s “flagship” radio station (there is a smaller station, WCWP, on the CW Post campus in Greenvale) that meant contracting with a broker to find the best buyer for the station.

“Yesterday, sitting with my staff while the news was being delivered was like having open heart surgery with no anesthesia,” said Dr. Smith in an interview Friday. He said that the turn in the economy was “definitely a part of this.”

The station, which the release said serves about 400,000 people on eastern Long Island, Westchester and the southern Connecticut shore, is the only National Public Radio affiliate on Long Island and regularly features NPR programs like “Car Talk,” “The Splendid Table,” and “A Prairie Home Companion.” In addition, it features the locally-produced Bonnie Grice show, “The Song is You,” which has included guests like k.d. lang, Montel Williams and Michael Feinstein.

While the university is looking at possible agreements with existing organizations, Dr. Smith has been actively cultivating local community members who have an interest in preserving the station.

“I think we have a good shot at putting this together,” said Dr. Smith. “Already the outpouring of support is pretty significant.” He added he felt the ultimate cost of renewing the license and moving the station was “not that great.”

Involved will be literally moving the station and its tower off the Stony Brook Southampton campus and finding a new location. The general operating budget for WLIU is about $2 million annually, said Altholz. The appraised value of the license for acquisition purposes is about $800,000, said Dr. Smith, who quickly added he felt the number was high, and the university was currently doing a re-appraisal based on current economic conditions.

“I’ve put these numbers together and they’re not astronomical; but,” he conceded, “it’s going to be a tough 60 day period.”

“Several prominent citizens of the East End have expressed support for the establishment of a new nonprofit entity that will be able to purchase the license of WLIU,” added Dr. Smith.

To that end, he has begun to establish a board that will hopefully become the new owners of the station and is in the process of creating a website for “Save Public Radio on the East End.” He has given a name to the new venture: Peconic Public Broadcasting. It speaks, he said, to the focus a new station would take, with more locally-generated news and programming, and a re-dedication to the East End of Long Island, freer from obligations WLIU had with the university and West End issues.

Also this week, a trust fund was being established which will be able to receive contributions to help the new organization reach its goal.

Ultimately, though, the management of the station — whether it’s a local non-profit or a commercial entity — will come down to money. The university is obliged to sell to the highest bidder, according to Altholz.

“We have a fiduciary responsibility to the school and its students,” said Altholz, “and we need to accept the highest offer. When you’re a non-profit, you need to get the highest possible price. The net proceeds from the sale go back to the university.”

Altholz said their broker, Public Radio Capital, has “cast a wide net” for potential suitors, and said they already have “a significant number” of interested parties, although he declined to be specific.

Still, Dr. Smith remains optimistic.

 “The way people are responding to this, it’s difficult to ignore a local guy,” he said.


 Above: Inside the WLIU office on the Stony Brook Southampton campus.