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Aug 11, 2009 6:38 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Long Island University to sell WLIU

Aug 11, 2009 6:38 PM

Long Island University has announced that it is putting its Southampton-based radio station, WLIU-FM 88.3, up for sale after more than 20 years of broadcasting from and to the East End.

The university will stop funding the station on October 3 and is putting the licenses for the station and all of its production and broadcasting equipment on the block, according to longtime station manager Wally Smith.

“After 20 years and $13 million in investment, LIU has decided it could no longer afford to sustain support of the station,” he said Friday.

Mr. Smith, who has been the station manager for the last 12 years, said he is in the process of creating a nonprofit corporation that he hopes will be able to raise enough funds to purchase the station’s licenses and equipment and keep WLIU on the air in the same format, and with the same staff.

WLIU remains owned and operated by LIU, although it is based at Stony Brook Southampton, which is a local campus of Stony Brook University. When Stony Brook acquired the former Southampton College campus from the LIU system in 2006, it agreed to allow WLIU to remain on the campus until the fall of 2009.

Mr. Smith said the university first notified the station’s management of its intentions in April, and subsequent negotiations between the station and a number of other public organizations, universities and even a Suffolk County high school failed to result in finding a new East End entity willing to take over support of the station.

Staff members at the station were told of the impending shutdown on Thursday, August 6.

“Unfortunately, it was entirely a financial decision,” LIU’s chief financial officer, Robert Altholz, said this week. “There are a lot of people here who are listeners of WLIU and really appreciate the quality of the programming they offer. But we’ve had to make some significant adjustments to keep a balanced budget.”

The station has a $2.4 million annual operating budget. In the last two years, the portion that Long Island University had to fund had nearly doubled, to about $1.3 million annually. The station brings in about $1 million in underwriting support by some 200 East End businesses, $300,000 from listener contributions, $160,000 from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and smaller amounts from state grants.

The university has cut more than $20 million from its $350 million annual budget in the last year and needs to make further cuts in the coming year, Mr. Altholz said. It has instituted a non-essential hiring freeze, replacing only 10 percent of faculty and staff who have left in the last year.

Mr. Smith said he expects there to be several groups or companies that will bid on the licenses.

“It’s not the hottest radio market in the world, but, yes, people are interested,” Mr. Smith said. “A number of them are religious organizations that are buying up as many frequencies as they can all over the country. But there are also other radio stations, some from New York City or Connecticut, that may be looking to have an extension of their programming here.”

The 25,000-watt WLIU broadcast, which originates from a tower on the Stony Brook Southampton campus, reaches listeners from Patchogue to Montauk and as far north as southern Connecticut—a region with a population of more than 400,000, according to a release issued by LIU this week.

When the state university took over Southampton College three years ago, the radio station and LIU reached an agreement that allowed the station to use the campus’ state-of-the-art broadcasting studios in Chancellors Hall. That agreement also expires on October 3.

Mr. Smith noted that Stony Brook officials have not made a decision about whether they would allow the station to remain on campus if a new nonprofit is able to acquire the licenses and keep the station going.

Mr. Altholz said Stony Brook has expressed a desire to take over the studio’s prime space in its central building—with sprawling views of Shinnecock Bay and the Atlantic—for other purposes, and to tear down the 180-foot broadcasting tower on the campus.

The additional costs of having to find a new location and, presumably, absorb additional costs for a lease, added to the financial considerations for LIU, Mr. Altholz said.

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I remember the station the day it started well over 20 years ago. It was on another assigned frequency in the educational portion of the FM band and had different call letters that I don;t recall. The station was assigned to broadcast with a power of only 10 watts then, but I could still hear the station ten miles away with a roof top yagi antenna at my home in Sag Harbor. It was really done on the cheap with a short tower, and three pieces of coax having to be spliced together to reach the antenna ...more
By BruceB (142), Sag Harbor on Aug 7, 09 5:53 PM
1 member liked this comment
I was a former Manager, On air personality of WPBX from 1982 through 1994...the station went through a lot of changes even then! As much hard work we students put into it the more donations and equiptment we recieved and really the first big item was a satalite dish from the Metropolitan Opera, so we could broadcast with a much better signal! That kept donations coming in and the station grew from there! I did jazz Saturday Nights for many years but because of the diversity of programging, I did ...more
By PBXER (3), Watermill on Aug 8, 09 4:59 PM
1 member liked this comment
The day the take-over of Southampton University by Long Island University was announced rumors of the closing of the station began to float about. It is no longer a rumor and the loss of the station is is an example of bean counting up-island managers rum amok. They have no idea of the nature of the East End community and how important this link is. Not everything a university (like a local government) does is expected to return a profit. Some good things just cost money to do - period.
By barberosa (39), Watermill on Aug 9, 09 2:04 PM
1 member liked this comment
Government for the people, by the people...yeah right!
By kelbas (30), Southampton on Aug 11, 09 11:14 PM