In the foyer of the American Hotel in Sag Harbor, Christie Brinkley raised a flute of pink Champagne to toast Steven Gaines upon the completion of the final broadcast of his weekly radio show Sunday Brunch Live With Steven Gaines. For the past seven years, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, Mr. Gaines has hosted the hour-long broadcast at noon every Sunday for 88.3 WLIU, the public radio station of the East End.
In the past year, the beloved station, which has been taken over by the locally formed Peconic Bay Broadcasting (PBB), a nonprofit led by Porter Bibb, one of the original publishers of Rolling Stone, and station manager Wally Smith, has become a local cause célèbre with endorsements both vocal and financial from such A-list East Enders as Alec Baldwin, Ms. Brinkley, David Paterson, Eric Fischl, Jann Wenner and Joy Behar. Ms. Brinkley recently lamented, “We’ve got to save that radio station. We can’t let our beautiful small-town way of life out here get whittled away from us!”
The deadline for payment to the station’s seller, Long Island University, was the end of June, then it was the end of August–Mr. Smith asked, and was granted, a two-month extension to raise the necessary $500,000 from the deep-pocketed seasonal population–then it moved to Sept. 3 and now Sept. 31–an extension granted by LIU upon a plea from local congressman Tim Bishop and a matching grant of $50,000 offered by George Soros.
To save the radio station, Mr. Bishop told The Observer, “some things are going to have to come together very quickly.” The station will continue to operate for 30 days after the end-of-the-month ultimatum. “It’s not as if the doors are going to be locked and the microphones are going to go silent.”
He also noted that LIU has been generous in granting two extensions.
However, before the most recent extension, LIU CFO Robert Altholz threatened, “There will be no more extensions” if the payment was not made by close of business on Sept. 3. (It was not.) And if a payment of $637,000 is not made to the university by Sept. 30, PBB will forfeit the $160,000 down payment to LIU raised through private donations.
Mr. Bishop confirmed that while there are likely other bidders willing to take over should Peconic Bay Broadcasting not fulfill its pledge, they will not be local radio stations. “We’re the home team,” he explained, speaking for the station. “We know the region. We know the people. It’s not something that’s going to be simulcast from New York City.”
Aug. 29 was the last Sunday to see Mr. Gaines wear headphones and welcome guests on live radio. The 61-year-old author of Philistines at the Hedgerow was joined, from left, by journalist Carl Bernstein, Ms. Brinkley and writer Philip Galanes. The four were discussing Mr. Bernstein and Ms. Brinkley’s rock-star progeny and they were broadcasting live.
Ms. Brinkley gushed about her daughter Alexa Ray Joel’s music career.
“I love being a rock ‘n’ roll mom!” she said.
Mr. Bernstein, who before Watergate was a rock critic, said, “I love that my children wanna do the two things I love the most–rock ‘n’ roll and journalism.” One of Mr. Bernstein’s sons is a writer at the Daily Beast, the other plays bass and guitar for Ke$ha: “You know, she’s this pop star with the money sign in her name?”
“Oh yeah, yeah, sure” Ms. Brinkley nodded.
“Yeah, a lot of movement of the crotch.”
A discreet sound station was set up in the corner behind Mr. Gaines; a young sound technician with a full-sleeve tattoo operated the sound board.
Mr. Galanes sat next to the restaurant door but remained unbothered by the constant bustle of customers arriving for a Sunday brunch of their own. Mr. Gaines and his guests wore headphones to block out the ambient restaurant noise. Ms. Brinkley’s straw fedora, which shielded her famously fair skin, forced her to wear her headphones around her neck like orthodontic mouth gear.
Ms. Brinkley complained about the indecency of the press and how the New York Post makes a habit of publishing libel about her life.
“Welcome to journalism,” offered Mr. Bernstein, a veritable rainbow in tomato red bathing trunks, an aqua polo shirt and yellow converse low-tops,
A revolving coterie of guests waited in the sitting area next to the broadcast, including Ms. Brinkley’s 15-year-old son, Jack Cook; the supermodel’s mother, Marjorie Brinkley; stem-cell advocate Susan Solomon, who was a guest during the early part of the show; her husband, New Yorker architecture critic Paul Goldberger; and former Fox News correspondent Bill McCuddy, a later guest on the show.
“And what are you working on right now?” Mr. Gaines asked Mr. Bernstein
“I’m doing a movie with Soderbergh about politics.”
“Is it called Sex, Lies and Videotape, the Story of our Government?” quipped Ms. Brinkley.
Mr. Gaines laughed, turning a shade of red similar to Mr. Bernstein’s trunks.
Asked about the station’s shuttering, Mr. Bernstein said, “I’m not an expert in Neilson ratings or radio ratings. Radio remains enormously popular. There’s a long history of how and whether this particular station can finance itself that is beyond my comprehension.
“I wouldn’t make any generalization about radio based on the experience of this station. There are still plenty of people listening to radio.”
Ted Conklin, owner of the American Hotel, told The Observer, “We just had fun with it for seven years, and Steven is the communications anchor of the East End. It’s been a great, proper venue for him. Before the first show, we joked that anything can happen on live radio, and not 15 minutes later, a customer fainted and had a heart attack in the middle of his meal and had to be wheeled out on a gurney past the microphone!”
He chuckled. “So that’s how the show started!”
And this, it seems, was how it ended.