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Move to save Southampton College radio station

An ambitious program to raise $3 million and save WLIU-FM, the public radio station at Southampton College, is under way, but its supporters will have only two weeks to bid on its license.

Long Island University, which owns the federal license to broadcast on the station's 88.3 FM frequency, has told a half-dozen potential bidders to file their purchase offers by Sept. 23.

"This is part of our community fabric," State Assemb. Fred W. Thiele (R-Sag Harbor) said at a news conference at the station last week. He said it was as important to preserve the public radio station as it was to save the East End's wetlands and beaches.

As he spoke, about three dozen people gathered at the Southampton station, turning the news conference into a pep rally.

They also heard State Sen. Kenneth P. LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) say that public and private officials were on the way toward creating a not-for-profit entity that could buy the 25,000-watt station and move it to a new home.

LaValle, a staunch Republican, even took a line from President Obama as he told the crowd that Stony Brook University was joining their efforts. "We are all going to say, 'Yes, we can,' " he said, drawing applause.

Stony Brook bought the campus in 2006, but Long Island University still operates the public radio station, which has an agreement with Stony Brook to remain in its spacious campus offices until Dec. 3.

But LIU lost about $1.4 million on the station this year, and a similar amount the year before. It put the license up for bid last month, although it can be sold only to a not-for-profit, educational or religious-affiliated entity.

The independent local group seeking to save the station is now incorporating, and expects to be one of the bidders to LIU, said Rob Altholz, LIU's vice president for finance.

He said WLIU had been an operating unit of the university for two decades and "it does wonderful stuff. It's an NPR (National Public Radio) affiliate, it does local news . . . it does fundraising and obtained a CPB (Corporation for Public Broadcasting) grant."

The station also plays a variety of music, including jazz, rhythm and blues and Broadway tunes.

The university has given potential bidders until Sept. 23 to submit bids, and Altholz said it would take about a week or two to review their qualifications. He said it was likely that the top bidder would get the license.

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