Sale Of WPPB To New York PBS Stations Is Completed; Local Programming To Continue

Station manager Wally Smith at the 88.3FM studios in Southampton Village in 2010. PRESS FILE

The familiar voices heard on Southampton-based public radio station WPPB are expected to continue to be broadcast to listeners on the East End, according to the operators of television stations WNET in New York and WLIW21 on Long Island, who recently acquired the local station.

The news came just days after the announcement that WNET had overcome regulatory hoops to purchase the local NPR station and had officially taken over operations.
The sale of Long Island’s only National Public Radio station was first announced in late October 2019 but was contingent on approvals from both the FCC and the New York State attorney general’s office.

In a release sent out on Friday, WNET — which operates both New York’s PBS television stations Thirteen, based in Newark, New Jersey, and WLIW 21, based in Garden City — the New York-based television provider said that the approvals, and the purchase, will make WLIW a dual licensee, operating both a PBS television station and NPR radio station.

“Given the circumstances, it’s a very good thing, because it will provide stability and opportunity that we haven’t been able to find, and secure the station,” Dr. Wally Smith, the longtime general manager of the local radio station, said on Tuesday. “It’s friendly. It’s another media organization that has a great reputation in the country, so the association with them will give us some additional value in terms of our relationship to the community of broadcasters and public broadcasting, television and radio listeners.”

Dr. Smith will become general manager emeritus, according to the release, though on Tuesday he said the details about what the new position entails have not been worked out.
Diane Masciale, the vice president and general manager of WLIW21 and executive producer of local productions at WLIW, said she started a conversation with Dr. Smith many years ago after becoming the general manager at WLIW.

Ms. Masciale said WLIW is the only public television station on Long Island, and WPPB is the only licensed NPR radio station on Long Island. Given the similarities, she wanted to figure out ways for WLIW and WPPB to work together to serve the community and support one another.

“A few years ago, we started to enter into the conversation about the acquisition to be able to build onto what Wally has built through WPPB, and to really continue the mission of serving the community, as we both have been doing on Long Island for so long,” she said.

“We just felt if there was going to be an acquisition … it seemed that we both had the same interests at heart, and that joining forces would make both of our institutions and the work we do for the community much stronger.”

Now that the acquisition is complete, the station call letters will be changed from WPPB-FM to WLIW-FM in the coming months, and programming will begin to grow.

Ms. Masciale said the work WPPB does is highly focused on the local community, and that is expected to continue, but with the enhancements of some NPR programming that WPPB has not been able to provide due to financial struggles.

“One of the things we’ve been talking to Wally and NPR about is the bracketing of the news programs,” she said.

Michael Mackey hosts the “Morning Edition” and Brian Cosgrove hosts “The Afternoon Ramble,” and, according to Ms. Masciale, the station may add a show like “All Things Considered” after Mr. Cosgrove’s show, and include more NPR news throughout the day.

The parent company also plans to look at the weekend schedule to find ways to add programs that are fun and interesting, like “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” while maintaining already established local programs. “We want to continue the footprint that WPPB has with the community and what they have been able to establish thus far,” she said.

Ms. Masciale said WPPB has done a lot of great work and have many great programs hosted by Gianna Volpe, Ed German, Mr. Cosgrove and Mr. Mackey, to name a few.

“We want to maintain that, but we also want to grow that and bring more of that if possible to the audience, as well as enhancing the station with some NPR programming,” she added.

On Tuesday, WPPB was hosting a fund drive, which Dr. Smith said was off to a slow start. The station has always been underfunded, he said, and it has been difficult to get the kind of money needed to support the things the station does for the community.

“It’s been the gracious behavior of my staff and of independent producers and others that we’ve been able to put together such top-notch programing, based on our ability,” he said. “If you’re going to be acquired, it’s nice to be acquired by one of the most respected and largest organizations in our medium.”

Neal Shapiro, the president and CEO of WNET, said on Tuesday that what he tries to do is build on local programming, and each time they acquire a station, they have done specifically that — in news and arts especially. The whole point of an acquisition, he said, is to try and find ways to operate more efficiently, so the viewer never sees it, and to put more resources in place.

“We’re very, very excited about what this could be,” Mr. Shapiro said. “The more we invest, the more local support we hope to get. People will realize we’re very serious about this and they’ll join us in helping to build the station and make it stronger and better.”

According to documents filed with the Federal Communications Commission, the public television company paid $944,834 for the 10-year-old public radio station, its public broadcasting licenses and all its equipment.

Peconic Public Broadcasting was created in 2009 when WLIU moved from the Southampton College campus, where it was based, when the school was sold by Long Island University to Stony Brook University, which declined to operate the station. A group was formed by a collection of WLIU employees, including Dr. Smith, who was the station manager at the time, and now is president, operations manager and program director.