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Sep 7, 2010 2:11 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Radio station gets third reprieve, one month to come up with $600k

Sep 7, 2010 2:11 PM

Peconic Public Broadcasting and Long Island University on Friday afternoon agreed to yet another last-minute extension of the deadline to complete the sale of the former WLIU 88.3 FM radio station license and equipment, this time till Tuesday, September 28.

The station confirmed the 25-day extension in a brief statement sent out Friday, nearly two and a half hours after PPB missed the deadline to pay the more than $600,000 it still owes LIU.

“While PPB has not raised all of the funds required to complete the purchase, it has indicated that significant progress is being made, and LIU has agreed to the extension based upon their assurances that it will soon have the funding needed to purchase the station,” the statement read.

The radio station’s website continues to solicit donations from listeners, touting a $50,000 “challenge grant” the station received last week from a foundation created by billionaire philanthropist, and local homeowner, George Soros.

Station manager and PPB President Wally Smith said that the fund-raising effort has taken a significant turn for the better in the last week.

“Things are going better than they ever have been,” Mr. Smith said on Monday. “That’s why LIU was willing to grant us the extension. As of right now I’m very optimistic.”

PPB was formed a year ago by former employees of WLIU, which was owned and operated by Long Island University for 20 years. Last year the university, which had been spending more than $1 million a year in recent years to cover the operating expenses of the company.

Mr. Smith, who says he has not been taking a salary from the station in recent months, has said that if the deal can be closed, a variety of cost-cutting measures implemented since PPB took over from the university will make it possible for the station to sustain itself on fund-raising and underwriting revenues.

The university put the station’s equipment and licenses up for auction in September 2009. Buoyed by grassroots support from the East End’s arts community, the fledgling organization put in an $850,000 bid to purchase the broadcasting licenses and studio equipment.

The deal was supposed to close by June 30, but the university gave PPB a 60-day extension when it hadn’t raised the money. As the new August 31 deadline approached and the group acknowledged it still hadn’t raised the money it needed, several local officials, including U.S. Representative Tim Bishop, a former LIU provost, convinced the university to give PPB another 72 hours. According to Robert Altholz, the university’s chief financial officer, that three-day extension was a time of intense discussion of just what the realities of PPB coming up with the money were. In the end, Mr. Smith’s group convinced the university it would be worth another month’s wait. “The extension to September 28th was really based on some information that Mr. Smith gave us about specific fund-raising, pledges and initiatives,” Mr. Altholz said. “Based on how far through this process we’ve gone with them, we thought another three weeks was reasonable.”

The group has already paid the university more than $150,000 for the licenses and equipment, all raised from private donations. If the station is ultimately not able to close the deal that money would be forfeited. The station still owes the university $637,000. Mr. Smith has said that, in addition to Mr. Soros’s challenge grant, the station has pledges of more than $100,000, which are contingent on other donations being gathered.

Mr. Altholz said he expects the new September 28 deadline actually will be the final chance for the station to make the purchase before the university puts the licenses and equipment back up for auction—or sale to one of the two other groups that had entered bids on the station a year ago. He said that closing the deal with Peconic makes more financial and logistic sense, however.

“From a financial and expedience point of view, this is clearly our preference,” he said. “That being said, it’s been a long time. We think September 28th is more than enough time for them to get this done. If they are not able to do it we’ll have to move on. That would not be good for us or good for them but we’ll have to draw a line at some point.”

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Question: even if they manage to raise the dough for purchase, where are they getting the $ to continue operations? Previous stories mention people working there for no pay. I think this should be mentioned in any future articles.
By Laszlo Lowenstein (37), East Hampton on Sep 4, 10 2:34 PM
Good qestion, as always Lazlo, I agrre with you
By local 84 (353), riverhead on Sep 5, 10 10:27 PM
Why can't LIU just end this sham? They have enabled Wally Smith's ego long enough. He doesn't have the money.

Funny, he surely earned enough over the years to easily buy the station himself.
By Mr Suffolk (113), Twin Forks on Sep 4, 10 8:25 PM
2 members liked this comment
The only honest thing to do is extend the deadline until all money paid has been used up. Once the $150k is gone, the doors will lock. Fairly generous on the part of LIU, as there are ongoing costs associated with running the station which they seem to be "throwing in" with the extension. Probably has something to do with all the bad press they've been getting.
By Noah Way (450), Southampton on Sep 5, 10 11:42 AM
If there was approximately 800 students that were displaced, why don't you just take the $150k give $187.50 to each one and call it a day. they can buy a shirt downtown.
By dylan32 (64), east hampton on Sep 5, 10 2:59 PM
The only assumption one can only draw from the repeated extensions granted PPR: LIU really does not have any other serious offers for the station. Either that or there is some "inside baseball' going on here that we don't know about.

To Laszo's point, considering the proven fiscal irresponsibility of the current management, and the apparent indifference of donors, how long will the station last, even if PPR can close this deal?

By Rich Keith (4), Lake Ronkonkoma on Sep 6, 10 9:42 PM
Ultimately, if one makes a donation to WLIU what is the value?

1. NPR and BBC? There are several other channels within listening range with those feeds.

2. Jazz music? There was a new invention called an iPod where one can have thousands of jazz songs loaded. Or satellite or Internet radio for that.

3. Morning shows that basically regurgitate the arts and society content of the local weekly papers? These are generally the least-read parts of the papers, and the people ...more
By Mr Suffolk (113), Twin Forks on Sep 7, 10 5:30 PM
Point 4....a pretty good description of the entire operation.
By Rich Keith (4), Lake Ronkonkoma on Sep 20, 10 8:46 PM
Point 4....a pretty good description of the entire operation.
By Rich Keith (4), Lake Ronkonkoma on Sep 20, 10 8:48 PM
Point 4....a pretty good description of the entire operation.
By Rich Keith (4), Lake Ronkonkoma on Sep 20, 10 8:49 PM
I say just give it back to the kids, obviously they were more competent in the act of running the station, and had a better track record...
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Sep 7, 10 6:23 PM
1 member liked this comment
Yeah, I recently moved out of the area and still have 88.3 in my presets. I was happy to find here a station at that part of the dial actually run by students. There's no format. They stink at selling ads. But they mostly play 80s music which seems to fit my mood perfectly.
By Mr Suffolk (113), Twin Forks on Sep 7, 10 8:33 PM