Radio manager, Wallace ‘Wally’ Smith, dies at 87

APR’s founding father and manager Wallace “Wally” Smith, who experimented with the classical music format, passed away on October 27 at the age of 87.

A representative for the WNET Group of New York City stated that congestive heart failure was the cause of death.

Wally Smith’s career and tributes for him.

Early in his career, Smith oversaw the transformation of Los Angeles’ KUSC from a small student-run rock station in the early 1970s to an all-classical NPR station that later attempted to buck the conventions of the traditional classical format. Over a twenty-year period, he served as station manager.

He was one of the station executives that backed the establishment of American Public Radio, the forerunner to Public Radio International, as a different source of national programming. Minnesota Public Radio distributed A Prairie Home Companion and other shows around the country via APR.

Smith “was one of the real lions of the early days of public radio, and his enthusiasm just made an enormous difference in terms of what the vision was for public radio,” Bill Kling, founder, and former president and CEO of MPR and APM told Current.

“He understood how important it was to broaden and diversify the sources of programming,” Kling said.

Wally Smith was someone “with substantial success who was willing to risk it to experiment towards something different and bolder,” said Tom Thomas, Station Resource Group co-founder, and former CEO. At KUSC, Smith took a big risk in 1989 with his concept for a “new sound of classical music.”

Smith oversaw a public radio station in Southampton, New York, throughout the second phase of his career in public radio. He managed two ownership changes so that public radio could continue to broadcast on Long Island’s 88.3 FM frequency.


As general manager of WLIU in 2009, he established a nonprofit to acquire the station from licensee Long Island University. The station started airing with the call letters WPPB once the acquisition received FCC approval.

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Smith ran the station until 2020 when the New York City-based WNET Group bought the license. Smith was made general manager emeritus, and the station’s call signs once more changed to WLIW.

“The WLIW-FM family is saddened by Wally’s passing,” Diane Masciale, VP and GM of WLIW, said in a statement. “We are inspired by the impact he had on the East End and we will keep his memory alive as we continue to build connections in the community through the medium he loved.”

“Wally Smith was the kind of person that people enjoyed having on a board,” Thomas said. “He believed in civil dialogue and being thoughtful before acting, being respectful of management, but being willing to challenge things before saying ‘yes,’ and bringing fresh ingredients ideas to the table.”

“He was a charming guy and always wanting to help,” Kling said. “… It’s a great loss not to have that kind of thinking available as a mentor to new people as they enter the industry.”

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