With just about two and a half weeks left until the deadline for the final $637,000 payment owed on the licenses and equipment of the former WLIU radio station, the station’s manager says the money to complete the purchase is still not in place—and that, in fact, the fledgling corporation’s board of directors has not actively met in many months.
Wally Smith, who managed WLIU and has steered the effort by Peconic Public Broadcasting, a corporation formed by former WLIU employees and supporters to keep the station on the air, said that the group has a significant chunk of the money needed either in hand or in the form of a promised donation should the checks need to be written, but he acknowledged that the bulk of the money has yet to be raised. Nonetheless, he said that the group’s fund-raising team is still working to secure the requisite pledges from major donors to close the deal with Long Island University.
“From our side, everything still remains very positive, and we remain very hopeful that we’re going to meet our deadline and be able to close this deal,” Mr. Smith said. “Can I guarantee it? No. But do I have reason to believe it will happen and be hopeful? Yes.”
While Mr. Smith may be optimistic about the station’s chances of completing the deal, former board members and even some current employees are not of the same mind.
“I like all of them and I think what they are attempting to do is certainly admirable,” said Paul Brennan, a former member of the now-dormant board of directors of Peconic Public Broadcasting. “But I think it’s like pushing that proverbial rock uphill, given the economic circumstances. I appreciated the fact that they wanted me on the board, but people like myself are not the caliber of people that they needed. They needed real heavy-hitters on that board.”
When PBB first formed last fall, a board of directors was seated, including Mr. Smith, Porter Bibb, one of the founders of Peconic Public Broadcasting, Press News Group Publisher Joseph P. Louchheim, former Sag Harbor Village Mayor Pierce Hance and Mr. Brennan, a vice president at Prudential Douglas Elliman. Mr. Smith said the board has not met or been active in the management of the group’s effort to run the station or the fund-raising effort in many months.
Mr. Brennan said that for such a massive fund-raising effort to be successful in the context in which the radio station is operating would require board members who could drive the fund-raising effort themselves, rather than Mr. Smith and other semi-involved volunteers.
Mr. Louchheim, who resigned from the board in March, echoed his sentiments. “I resigned ... because I was too busy with other commitments, and I believed then, as I do now, that the only way the project would succeed is with an extremely active and engaged board of directors,” Mr. Louchheim said.
Mr. Brennan wondered whether the group could have attracted the sort of people to sit on the board who could attract more six-figure donations, or make them themselves. But on-air personality and longtime East End observer Steven Gaines, who hosts a show on 88.3 FM on Sunday mornings, said the potential donors are out there but could not be lured because the group did not have a proper business plan to show would-be investors, and would not offer seats on the board of directors to those who wanted some say in how their investment was managed.
“It’s too late. I’m afraid all is lost, and I think the outcome of this is that the station will change hands,” Mr. Gaines said. “I had someone who I knew could write a check for the whole amount—I was going to ask for $250,000—but I knew I had to have a business plan and offer to be on the board to make that call.”
Mr. Gaines said Mr. Smith wouldn’t guarantee a board seat to major donors, and that the Peconic Public Broadcasting business plan was not updated until late last week.
Mr. Smith said he was never asked if a certain person could have a seat on the board. He said he would be willing to offer a board seat to anyone who demanded it in exchange for a large investment in the station, but that an official process of approval has to be followed by the three official members of the original board.
The station’s business plan, according to Mr. Smith, shows an annual operating budget of just under $1 million and an anticipated revenue stream from fund-raising that would leave a small surplus. Last year, the station’s operating budget was over $1.7 million, but Mr. Smith said that has been slashed drastically though reductions in staff, substantial salary cuts for the station’s remaining employees, and much lower rent at the station’s new studios in Southampton Village, in relation to what it was paying Stony Brook-Southampton to broadcast from the studios on its campus.
Mr. Smith acknowledged the late date of the updating of the business plan but said that limited manpower and changing realities of managing the station dragged the recalculations out.