WLIW-FM GM Wally Smith Remembered as Public Radio Pioneer

WPPB President Dr. Wally Smith
WPPB President Dr. Wally Smith

Wally Smith, the longtime general manager of Southampton-based public radio station 88.3 FM and public radio pioneer whose soothing voice filled East End airwaves for decades, died on October 27. He was 87.

Smith was the steady hand that guided the station through two college ownerships, taking it independent under the nonprofit Peconic Public Broadcasting and being acquired in 2020 by WNET, America’s flagship PBS station, when its call letters became WLIW-FM and he was named GM emeritus.

“We are the only national public radio station on Long Island,” Smith said at the time. “Broadcasting is a regulated and important community resource. We want to preserve that community resource.”

Born in Pennsylvania on November 29, 1934 to Helen Wallace Smith and Clarence Arnold Smith, Wally graduated from Waynesburg College with a Bachelor Degree, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary with a divinity degree and University of Southern California with a Ph.D.

The North Sea resident died of congenital heart failure at the Kansas Center for Hospice Care in Quiogue.

During his time in California he was hired to manage the university’s then-upstate public radio station in 1972. Twenty-five years later, he arrived on Long Island to lead Southampton College’s WPBX, which Long Island University later acquired and changed to WLIU.

When the relationship with LIU ended, Smith played a key role in an effort to form WPPB and have it become a National Public Radio member station before WNET took over.

“He was one of the founders of American Public Radio in the 1980s and he managed KUSC-FM, the largest classical station in L.A., where he made radical format changes before landing on Long Island and giving voice to the East End community and a variety of local programs that continue on the air today,” WLIW wrote in an obituary.

Smith’s career in public media dovetailed with that of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary classmate of Fred Rogers, who would go on to host Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which aired on PBS for 33 years. The kindred spirits remained friends long after each became ordained ministers.

Smith is predeceased by his brother Donald and survived by his brother Roy, nieces and nephews.

He was interred following services at Shelter Island Cemetery behind Shelter Island Presbyterian Church.

In lieu of flowers, donate to wliw.org/radio.

More from Our Sister Sites