Tag Archive | "WLIU Radio"

Saving Radio

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By Karl Grossman

What a scene this weekend: the finest radio station studio facility on Long Island was being prepared to be dismantled. The elements of WLIU radio — microphones, file folders, CDs, etc. — were in cardboard boxes waiting to be moved. And soon, the soundproof walls and ceilings, the little rooms where on-air personalities talked, conducted interviews and played music will be reconstructed for classrooms and offices.

Deadlines have loomed for months for WLIU, the last vestige of Long Island University’s Southampton College, to leave what is now Stony Brook Southampton.

It was good that after LIU shut down Southampton College in 2005, SUNY’s Stony Brook University took over the campus.

In recent times, an East End community-based organization, Peconic Public Broadcasting, made arrangements to acquire WLIU from LIU. This way, WLIU could continue as the only locally owned and operated public broadcasting station on Long Island. This, too, was good. LIU could have gotten more money from some outside entity seeking WLIU’s license — to broadcast who knows what.

Meanwhile, there have been differing views about Stony Brook University saying WLIU had to leave its campus. Some held Stony Brook administrators should let the station stay — and provide a home for it to continue to serve eastern Long Island. But the administrators claimed the space was needed for other things. Generously, they extended deadlines for WLIU to get out.

Walking through the station Saturday, seeing the shambles of what had been a gem of a radio facility, the reality sank in of what will be a lost radio studio resource. This is not good. The WLIU studios were of remarkable design. Their construction came under the chancellorship at Southampton College of Robert F. X. Sillerman, long-time owner of many radio stations in the U.S. He took special interest in the station. Lots of money and intelligence went into building its studios.

Not too long from now, Stony Brook Southampton will have a sizeable student body — its website says “about 2,000 students are expected to enroll within five years” — and like almost every college will want a college radio station. It’s one thing for Stony Brook administrators not to want to partner with Peconic Pubic Broadcasting. But gutting this extraordinary studio space instead of saving it for a Stony Brook Southampton radio station seems so unwise.

In any event, Peconic Public Broadcasting will be endeavoring to go on. WLIU’s general manager, Dr. Wallace A. Smith, steadfast amidst the relative chaos Saturday, said “we have completed lease arrangements” for the station to move to a building at 71 Hill Street in Southampton. There had been consideration of WLIU going to the former Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton but that didn’t work out. The Hill Street site had “always been seen as an alternative location,” he said. A quirky aspect of the 2,000-square foot space is that all the walls are covered by mirrors because it had been an “exercise facility.” To deal with this, wall coverings are to be installed, Mr. Smith said.

Last month, Peconic Public Broadcasting gave LIU a $150,000 down payment towards the $850,000 sale price of WLIU. By June 30 it will have to come up with the rest of the money.

That’s hundreds of thousands of dollars that will need to be raised and rather quickly. Dr. Smith feels it is doable because “the community rallied to support our bid to acquire the license for 88.3 FM and it created Save Public Radio for the East End. We hope people in the same spirit will now rally to support us for the funds we need to complete the purchase and operate the station.”

Also, he said, there was uncertainty among some prospective backers “until we made the first payment, until we had our 501-c-3 status [as a non-profit organization eligible for tax-deductible contributions] and until we had a place to move to … Now all the pieces are together. We have a viable organization. And we are comfortable that will be able to do the fund-raising needed.”

Dr. Smith mused about a “preservationist” aspect of having WLIU go on. “This is the last available piece of broadcast spectrum on Long Island,” he said. “It’s no less a threatened species than farmland or pine barrens. This is an asset for eastern Long Island. It’s the last hope for Long Island to have its own public broadcasting station owned and operated by local people.”

In the end, the studios from where WLIU broadcasts is far less important than what it broadcasts. It will take community support to insure this continues.

Samba Boom Helps Rally to Save WLIU

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Friends of WLIU Ready to Bid for Station

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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.”