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Dec 16, 2009 1:59 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

WLIU employees working without pay; fund-raising struggling

Dec 16, 2009 1:59 PM

Several employees of WLIU 88.3 radio station are working for no pay this month as the upstart non-profit group that is in the process of purchasing the station from Long Island University struggles to raise the money needed to complete the purchase and cover unexpected costs.

Station manager Wally Smith said this week that the group, Peconic Public Broadcasting, had not expected to have to cover its own payroll this month as part of its transfer agreement with the university, which is paying the station’s operating costs until March on the understanding that it will be reimbursed its investments since October.

Mr. Smith said the station expects to be able to restore the full payroll for its 13-person staff after the new year. Most of the staff, 10 in all, has been working part-time on a volunteer basis this month, including the station’s main on-air personalities: Brian Cosgrove, Ed German and Michael Mackey. Bonnie Grice is on a previously scheduled vacation this month, he said.

Others, including news director Connie Conway, have left the station to look for other jobs. And some employees have chosen not to work so that they can receive state unemployment benefits until the station’s payroll is restored in early 2010.

“There’s nothing unusual about the fact that there are rough patches,” Mr. Smith said of the complicated transfer of the station, expected to be completed in early January. “We are doing well on putting together the $300,000 down payment that we need to have in place when we sign our purchase agreement.”

But Mr. Smith also acknowledged that revenues from fund-raising, particularly the large gifts of financial support the station had solicited in the early days of the grassroots effort to save the station, have not been as robust as initially hoped. He would not estimate how much the fund-raising goal is off target, but said he is still confident that the money will be in place to complete the purchase when necessary.

“We had a couple of disappointments. Some [gifts] didn’t come through at the level we anticipated based on the suggestions we had gotten from supporters,” Mr. Smith said. “But there’s not a non-profit in the world that doesn’t experience that.”

Porter Bibb, who has been leading the underwriting effort for PBB, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

Mr. Smith said the station’s payroll problems stemmed from confusion about the agreement Peconic Public Broadcasting had reached with LIU. The new organization had thought the university would cover payroll as part of the operating costs and found out only last week that was not the case. The university, which had planned to shut down the station in early October, did cover the station’s payroll costs for October and November while the sale of the station was being negotiated. The university will pay the operating costs for the station until March 31.

Mr. Smith said that the new organization was handicapped by rules regarding non-profits that prevented them from accepting any donations or setting up a bank account for the group before late last month.

In the meantime, Mr. Smith said the group has also not yet settled on where they will move their studios to—a move that must be completed by the end of March as well. He said four different sites are still in consideration, including the former Rogers Memorial Library building on the corner of Jobs Lane and Main Street in Southampton Village, and Wainscott Studios in East Hampton.

Mr. Smith said he optimistic that everything will be worked out financially and logistically in due time—if only because he has to be.

“It’s the only way I can approach this: it’s a challenge, and I’m confident we’ll get everything in place,” he said.

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I have an idea like any other buisness make your money through the buisness and pay your employees with it. Why take money out of other peoples pockets because of someone else's failure? If you can't make enough money through advertisements then it means no one listens and it will not work.
By poools81 (10), hampton bays on Dec 17, 09 9:18 PM
2 members liked this comment
As a noncommercial, public radio station, WLIU cannot legally broadcast commercials. Instead of advertisers, the station has underwriters.
By BOReilly (135), 27east Web Editor on Dec 21, 09 3:02 PM
While an noble undertaking, it appears whomever is coordinating this and accumulating the fundraising dollars is not keeping good account of the books. To have represented to LIU that the station would have sufficient backers and less than two months later be in a losing fundraising situation is to suggest a lack of candor.

Get your act together friends. Other potential suitors in the fundraising will walk away if you seem to be so disorganized as not to know what is pledged and if it is ...more
By Oshaunnessey (11), Westhampton on Dec 20, 09 10:46 AM
The station has a long way to go to be viewed as a truly public radio station.
I don't see them having different musical programming the way WPKN does.
It's almost seems like an extension of Smith and Grices ego. When you have more diversity in your programming more people will be inclined to support public radio.

Having Steven Gaines ask another guest how many years they been summering in the Hamptons just isn't cutting it.
By ride the truth wave (125), southampton on Dec 20, 09 11:12 AM
Why did WLIU say they had the money to buy the station when they didn't?
Where is that $2 million coming from? Donations? What did they do with the donations from the last fund drive?
Why is this article not in the weekly newspaper and hidden on the Internet site?
By EastEndDenizen (3), East Hampton on Jan 9, 10 7:54 AM
This article ran on December 17 in The Southampton Press-Eastern Edition on page A3.
By BOReilly (135), 27east Web Editor on Jan 9, 10 1:23 PM