Q&A: New General Manager Says WPPB Will Become WLIW, Move To New Studios And Become Part Of An Islandwide Multimedia Plan

The studios at WLIW-FM on Hill Street.

On Monday, June 15, the recent acquisition of Southampton-based WPPB-FM will begin to bear fruit, as the station will switch its call letters to WLIW-FM and add more national programming to its lineup.

Long Island’s only National Public Radio station was acquired by The WNET Group, parent company of several public television stations in the New York metropolitan area, earlier this year. The plan is to utilize the television infrastructure to the west and the radio outpost on the East End to create a web of coverage that will utilize both media plus streaming, via wliw.org/radio, social media and other platforms.

Diane Masciale
General Manager, WLIW

All of it will be guided by Diane Masciale, vice president and general manager of WLIW21, the PBS television station based in Plainview, and also the new general manager of WLIW-FM. The Lynbrook native, now a resident of Rockville Centre, is a veteran broadcast executive who is familiar with the East End: Her grandparents had a house in Ridge that was “just heaven,” and allowed regular visits to both the North Fork and the South Fork.

She spoke last week about the new lineup, which will continue to include local personalities, like Brian Cosgrove, Ed German, Michael Mackey and Gianna Volpe, but will add NPR national shows like “Morning Edition,” “All Things Considered,” “Fresh Air” and “This American Life,” and also announced the location of a brand new studio to open later this month or in July: a stone’s throw away from the station’s current digs, but this time in a more visible spot along Hill Street.

Q: What was the genesis of WNET having an interest in WPPB — where did that come from?

Well, you’ve probably read or heard that I am a lifelong Long Islander. I’ve spent my career in media, and when I became the general manager of WLIW21 … it was a really full circle for me to be able to oversee a broadcast media operation in the place where I grew up, where I live, where I raised my family, where I care so much about the communities
… I looked and I said, well, who are the other public media organizations on Long Island that might have the same interests, which is serving our community and really focusing on Long Island, that I might be able to partner with? And, of course, I came upon WPPB.

I reached out to Dr. Wally Smith [the former general manager, now general manager emeritus], and we started a dialogue and a conversation that lasted a number of years about our common interests, our common goals, and some of the things that we were both trying to do. And it evolved into the possibility of us, WNET, acquiring WPPB as a means to continue to support public media on Long Island.

Q: So this is a conversation that’s been going on for a while? It’s not something that just came up in the last two years or so?

No. I started talking to Dr. Smith maybe five years ago.
… We were talking off and on and, you know, I’d come out and see him and meet people and talk about what we were doing, and he would talk about what he was doing, what our aspirations were, ways that we might be able to work together. … And then one day he called me and said, ‘You know what? I think now is the time for us to have some other kinds of conversations.’ And so that was about two years ago.

Q: When you did your due diligence on WPPB, what was your takeaway on what the station is for the community?

Well, that’s a great question. I mean, I think that the station is a really important part of the community. I think that Dr. Smith and the local hosts and the board are really committed to the community. They seem to have really strong roots.
… And so I think that it has a real place in the community and a real importance in the community, and I think by us acquiring the station, we can continue to do that work and do even more — and that’s one of the things that really excites me, and also I’m passionate about, and I know that the station is as well, and all the people who work there.

I mean, they’ve all worked there under very challenging circumstances. They’ve done that because they believe in the station, they believe in the work that they’re doing, they believe in the community. I think that is an extremely powerful part of what WPPB is, and what I hope we’re going to be able to grow from

Q: A lot of listeners were worried when this came about, because they were concerned about the future for the local on-air personnel. Was there ever a conversation about not keeping them?

No. Never. Not one single second. That’s not something that ever was a part of the conversation — and it won’t be, and it isn’t.

That’s the essence of what WPPB is, in terms of its connection to the community and the passion that it has for the community. The people who are on the air … embody the community, and there was never a discussion about that.

The only discussion was about enhancing the station by supporting the local programs and the local staff … to grow the audience, to grow the fundraising and donations, and to be able to enhance the programming so that people who listen to WPPB, which will soon be — I’m going to start saying WLIW-FM — who tune in to listen to Michael Mackey, or Gianna Volpe, or Brian Cosgrove, or Ed German, or Bridget LeRoy and Alec Sokolow, and all the other … you know, John Landes, and all the other local program hosts — but then they have to change the dial to listen to “All Things Considered,” or “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me,” or “The Moth,” or some of the favorite syndicated public radio [programs] that are drivers of audience and drivers of dollars as well. …

I think, hopefully, [that’s] going to translate into an even stronger connection with the community overall.

Q: Is that also the financial plan? That by bringing in the national programs that really weren’t a part of the programming at WPPB, WLIW-FM will be able to get over the challenges the station has faced financially over the last few years?

Yes. That’s the hope. I mean, I’m really hoping. You know, obviously, we have made a tremendous financial commitment to the station.

You know, the reason that the acquisition happened was because it was needed, and because we feel really committed to Long Island, we felt that it was the right thing to do, and also because we also did some projections — who knows if they’re right, but, hopefully, they are — that there is the possibility for greater listener support.

So we do hope that by creating a better listener experience by adding these kinds of favorite public radio programs, as well as keeping and really supporting all of the local programs, that we’ll be able to get greater listener support, and also do more underwriting and more fundraising.

Q: How many people on the East End within the new WLIW-FM’s broadcast range are also sustaining members of Connecticut-based WSHU-FM? I’m wondering if you see an opportunity here: Does it become sort of a battleground with WSHU for support? Because I think WSHU has been fairly transparent that they consider the East End of Long Island part of their coverage area.

Well, that is true — and coastal Connecticut is a part of our coverage area also.
Yeah, there’s no question we overlap, and, hopefully, there’s enough room for all of us. I was very mindful, when we were looking at the new program schedule, to look at all of the program schedules — to look at the WSHU program schedule, to look at the WNPR program schedule — and to see what programs do they carry, when do they carry them, and to create a program schedule for WLIW-FM that had some of the same programs, but not at the same time. So I’m not trying to go head to head and compete with them in that way.

Q: So when a listener tunes in to the new WLIW-FM on June 15, what will they notice that’s different?

Well, I’ll say first: What they’ll notice is that the local hosts and programs that they love are still there. And then they’ll notice that the local host will be talking about the new program schedule and the excitement of the new program schedule, and the enhancements to their listening experience. … They’re getting more local news and public affairs. …
And the other thing is, we are building brand new studios. I don’t know if you’re aware of that, but right next to the movie theater [on Hill Street], despite the pandemic, we were given permission, because we are a news organization, essential, to continue the construction on our new studios, in safe ways, of course. …

So it’s going to be one big studio, with room, actually, for a small performance space, and then a smaller space, and that studio can hold two hosts and three guests. And then the other studio right next to it we’ll have two studios that we can operate the same time. The other studio is big enough for one host and two guests. And we’ll have a narration studio. We have what they call the rack room, which is where all the equipment is, and we’ll also have a little sitting area for guests for when they come in.

… So, to have a studio that’s on the air live, but also have the ability to be taping another show, or a guest, at the same time, and also to be doing narration. It really allows us to exponentially do so much more than what the station has been able to do now.

… In the new studios, there are going to be cameras in there. Now, they’re not always going to be on, but we have the ability to take things, not just for live streaming on radio, but also potentially for television.
… So I felt strongly that if we’re going to be multi-platform — we’re in a multi-platform

world — everything that we do, we have to be able to utilize all of the various platforms. … So putting cameras in our new studios makes a lot of sense from that perspective.

… I think that we just wanted to position ourselves technologically to be able to do as much as possible in the future.