This story originally appeared on 27east.com. Read it here.
From this point forward, October 16 will be known as “Wally Smith Day.”
On Saturday afternoon, about 50 friends and colleagues gathered for a private party at The Clubhouse in East Hampton, celebrating Smith’s legacy as a pillar of public radio — on the East End and beyond — with food, music, speeches, laughter and even a few tears.
“Oh, it was extraordinary,” Smith said during a telephone interview on Sunday afternoon from his home in North Sea. “It was a wonderful day, more than I deserved. It was very, very beautiful, and I felt very much appreciated by the community.”
In January 2020, Southampton’s 88.3 WPPB-FM — where Smith served as its longtime general manager and president of Peconic Public Broadcasting — was sold to WNET, America’s flagship PBS station, which renamed the station WLIW-FM and shifted his role to general manager emeritus without much fanfare, considering the COVID-19 pandemic landing on the East End two months later.
And so, his friend Karen Meyer decided to remedy that.
“He was never given a party or honored that way with a social event,” the organizer said. “It’s a lifetime of what he’s done with public radio. This is his love, this is his joy, this is in his blood. He dedicated his life to this, before the East End, but definitely out here. He lived and spoke that dream of his for public radio — and it was his life, socially, too.”
Smith fell into public radio by complete accident. He was finishing his graduate studies at the University of Southern California when, in 1972, National Public Radio was scouring the country in search of a college radio station to serve as the Los Angeles anchor. Under pressure from the student body, the university agreed — and hired Smith as its founding manager.
“There’s a long history of my involvement in public broadcasting since its earliest days, and it has been an extraordinary experience for me,” he said. “It gave me meaning for getting up every day and doing whatever it was I did, because it all related to being able to help share what we all go through in life and report on things that are important.”
Gianna Volpe, host of the “Heart of the East End” morning show on WLIW-FM, presented Smith with the “Wally Smith Day” proclamation that recognized his 25 years of leadership at Peconic Public Broadcasting and the impact he has made on the community — leaving it “better than when joined it and, in doing so, inspires all of us to do the same.”
“[We] encourage all citizens to thank Wally for his friendship,” it reads, “applaud him for his dedicated service to our community, wish him the very best as he begins his next adventures and honor him by giving generously and caring mightily for all of our neighbors.”