Long Island's only public radio station opened a new chapter last week, with new call letters, too — WLIW-FM.
Now the tricky part: Making certain Long Islanders can actually get it.
Launched over a decade ago as WLIU/88.3 — then Long Island University's radio station based at Southampton College — the former WPBB has since become an East End fixture, but a fixture with limited and diminishing resources. That's about to change too. WNET, the PBS flagship and public broadcasting goliath, paid just under $1 million for the station in March. Diane Masciale, the station's new general manager — and chief of Plainview-based WLIW/21 which is also owned by WNET — said in an interview Friday "that it's important for us focus on and figure out" how to build-out the station so Long Islanders from Montauk to Mineola will be served by the station. "We've made a huge financial commitment and big commitment to Long Island by doing this [but] we're just beginning."
Masciale — who grew up in Lynbrook and now lives in Rockville Centre — said the new owners have broken ground on new studios near the current ones on Hill Street in Southampton, adding that at least one of those will be equipped to produce streaming TV, as part of the multimedia future the former college radio station is about to enter.
She added that there are plans to upgrade the transmitter too — WLIW's signal barely reaches mid-Island while listeners in Connecticut have better access to it. "I want to get as much as we can, and whatever is humanly possible, to expand our footprint across Long Island," she said. Meanwhile, all the popular regular series along with their hosts — which include "Heart of the East End with Gianna Volpe" and "The Afternoon Ramble with Brian Cosgrove" — will remain part of the lineup. Some national shows will be added to the mix (like "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered") along with audio editions of "PBS NewsHour" and Ch. 21's "MetroFocus."
Launched out of a dorm room, LIU put the station's license up for sale in 2009 because it was losing $1.4 million a year, according to a Newsday report at the time. An East End bold-face-name grassroots drive — Alec Baldwin, Joy Behar, Jann Wenner among those names — got behind the bid of Wally Smith, who was WLIU general manager at the time, and public radio finally got a toehold on Long Island. Smith's newly formed Peconic Public Broadcasting bequeathed the call-letters. When WNET bought the station, he was named general manager emeritus.
Smith, now 85 and a Sag Harbor resident, couldn't be reached Friday but told the Sag Harbor Express in February, “given the circumstances, [the sale to WNET is] a very good thing, because it will provide stability and opportunity that we haven’t been able to find, and secure the station."