Don’t touch that dial

09/30/2010 12:00 AM |

“All your life is Channel 13. Sesame Street. What does it mean?”

To Billy Joel, those lyrics from his 1982 song “Pressure” were part of his description of the stresses of everyday living. But throughout the New York area, Channel 13 ¬­– and on Long Island Channel 21 as well — are a more welcome part of everyday life and represent the world of public broadcasting. Millions of viewers rely on that programming as an essential alternative to the mindless drivel, squawking cable commentators and sleazy reality shows that pass for news and entertainment. It’s hard to imagine television without “Sesame Street,” the “NewsHour” or specials such as Ken Burns’ “The Civil War.”

It’s not all about TV, of course, and millions of listeners happily include National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” in their weekday routine, at home, work or while driving. Here on the East End, Long Island University’s WLIU, formerly WPBX, was the Channel 13 of radio and Long Island’s only locally based NPR affiliate. For more than two decades, the school broadcast from Southampton College. But in 2006, SUNY/Stony Brook bought the campus and WLIU became a paying tenant in its own studio. Last year, Long Island University put the station on the market, and the future of East End public radio was very much in doubt.

Enter Peconic Public Broadcasting, a group of LIU veterans and supporters that stepped in to run the station with the hope of purchasing it outright. The $2.4 million sale price for the license and equipment includes $850,000 in cash plus technical support for LIU’s Brookville station. That’s a daunting sum for a noncommercial station run by many former WLIU staffers, who previously made a $213,000 down payment and obtained multiple extensions on the $637,000 final payment due June 30.

But now, through donations and a loan from Bridgehampton National Bank, PPB can close the deal and keep local public radio on the air.

Yes, the East End is served by a variety of commercial stations, many with deep community roots. But WLIU stands apart, and always has, and the silencing of that local signal would have been a significant loss.

All things considered, the lack of a morning edition would have been the talk of the nation.