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.