WLIU-FM is Long Island’s only local National Public Radio station—and it is threatened. Long Island University—under major economic pressure—has decided it can no longer justify the expense of operating WLIU.
LIU’s support of WLIU is to end on October 3—when all employees would be terminated and the station put up for sale. It is based at what is now Stony Brook Southampton which formerly was LIU’s Southampton College. Earlier, LIU decided it couldn’t justify the costs of operating Southampton College and closed it.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that a group of local citizens is being organized to work with WLIU’s general manager, Dr. Wallace A. Smith, to incorporate an independent non-profit educational company, Long Island Public Radio, which would seek to continue WLIU.
It’s an effort in which you might want to get involved and support.
WLIU is a radio treasure, an exception for Long Island. At a time when radio—on Long Island and across the United States—has been subject to consolidation and monopoly control resulting in an homogenization of radio, WLIU stands out.
Full disclosure: I contribute a weekly commentary segment on WLIU. My full-time job, however, is as a professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury where, for the past 30 years, each semester I’ve taught a course in TV & Radio Journalism. In it, I teach about how, for decades, the Federal Communications Commission had what was called its 7-7-7 rule. To promote a variety of voices in broadcast media in the U.S., under this rule one company could own no more than seven AM radio stations, seven FM radio stations and seven TV stations.
Then came “deregulation” of American broadcasting in recent decades and the 7-7-7 rule was tossed out. Companies led by Clear Channel, which ended up owning more than 1,200 radio stations, moved in, leading to similar sounds, similar and markedly reduced news, a sameness rather than different sounds and voices.
In contrast, WLIU has emphasized a special tapestry of broadcasting—from Bonnie Grice’s focus on the arts and culture locally to Ed German and his jazz program to Lee Davis and his focus on music of Broadway theatre to Joanne Sherman and her humor to Brian Cosgrove and his music offerings, especially blues, to Connie Conway and Michael Mackey and their award-winning local news programs, and on and on.
And there are the national offerings including Morning Edition, Marketplace, Putumayo World Music Hour, Afropop, The Splendid Table and Worldwide Jazz. WLIU is the sole radio source here for NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.
Long Island University’s financial problems are not unique especially in this time of economic stress and other schools in the U.S. with public radio stations have separated from them—and many have arranged to go on independently. This is what needs to happen for WLIU. Such a resource for Long Island can’t be permitted to disappear. Its frequency on the air should not be sold off to just another bidder who’ll provide just more of what now passes for the same in radio.
The airwaves, since the start of radio, have been considered a precious public resource—because they are limited. That is why the FCC was created and regulations established to govern radio and TV in the U.S.
Saving WLIU is in good hands. Dr. Smith is a veteran of public radio—for many years he was on the board of National Public Radio and he was a founder of Public Radio International.
Among those working with him to have WLIU become an independent public radio station are Congressman Tim Bishop and State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. But time is short. With six weeks before LIU support of WLIU is to end, money must be raised and organizational work done. To join in the effort to rescue WLIU, please call or e-mail Dr. Smith at 631-591-7001 or [email protected]
WLIU’s stated mission is to “to be a force in the public interest, a display case for the best of the creative arts, and a forum for public debate.” It has fulfilled that mission splendidly—and must be enabled to continue.
— Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury.