’Tis but an hour ago since it was nine,
And after one hour more ’twill be eleven;
And so, from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe,
And then, from hour to hour, we rot and rot;
And thereby hangs a tale.
-William Shakespeare, As You Like It
The meeting about Radio Kingston at the Kingston Library November 29 finished within its allotted two-hour time slot. Afterwards, meeting organizer Jimmy Buff gracefully deflected a compliment for the well-timed end to the open-format session attended by a packed second-floor room of 100 people. “I’m used to finishing before the hour,” said the longtime radio personality, executive director of the new superhyperlocal non-profit that’s taken ownership of WKNY, 1490 on the AM dial, from Townsquare Media.
Buff told the crowd that the 24/7 station would fill all 168 hours a week with programming. The present WKNY programming, with station manager Warren Lawrence as the anchor, will take almost half the hours. For the remaining hours, the audience had a broad range of suggestions: yoga, food, music, performing arts, minority programming, drug recovery, etc. Buff encouraged all ideas. “The airwaves belong to the people,” he said.
Everybody who wanted to talk had full opportunity to do so. The meeting may be a precursor of the kind of vox populi to which Radio Kingston aspires. “We’re all in this together,” said Buff at its conclusion. “This is what it’ll look like. So thanks for being here.”
“I’m incredibly heartened by the turnout tonight,” Buff told the meeting at its end. He saw the Kingston community as “now coming into its own,” but recognizing that “it has issues that need addressing.” The radio station – “radio by the people for the people” — would provide the public airwaves with which the Kingston community could find its way.
It was a happy, optimistic moment. The Kingston audience heartily applauded Buff and itself.
The block heading downtown beyond the Broadway Lights Diner consists of three unpromising structures: a storefront office and parking area for J’s Detailing and Car Washing, an eccentric, deteriorated many-sided 1866 brick structure with an auction sign at 693 Broadway, and the small Meraz Motors auto repair shop and impoundment. To call the streetscape between Liberty Street and Franklin Street undistinguished would be generous.
The tax-sale auction on the brick middle building has already taken place. An aldermanic committee has approved the sale price for the former home of Tangles hair salon to Radio Kingston, and Kingston’s full common council was expected to approve the sale Tuesday evening.
Though the structure at 693 Broadway appears solid, Radio Kingston will have a lot to do to fix it up for the purposes the self-defined superhyperlocal enterprise intends to use it. The gritty midtown Kingston premises will be both a construction challenge and an aspirational statement. Passersby will be able to look into the large glass front window and see a sound studio providing 24/7 broadcasting. Welcome to the neighborhood.
At the meeting last week, Buff introduced John Storyk, head of the Walters-Storyk Design Group (WSDG) in Highland, acoustic consultants and media systems engineers. There are plans for an extensive technological upgrade, including three sound studios in the building. Live broadcasts will be made at local events. Local tech and marketing company Evolving Media will develop a platform for online content, live streaming over the Internet and archived shows; Kale Kaposhilin was right there videotaping the Kingston Library event.
Storyk cut his aural teeth designing Electric Lady Studios for Jimi Hendrix and worked for Albert Grossman in Bearsville many decades ago. Storyk must have done hundreds of installations through his distinguished career, Buff said. Standing near him, Storyk murmured a word: “Thousands.”
Like Buff and Storyk, Peter Buffett is a sound guy. When he was 19, he received an inheritance of about $90,000 from the sale of his grandfather’s farm. It was, he was told, everything he should ever expect. The young Buffett worked up a budget so the money would last as long as possible. He expanded his recording equipment, played the piano, wrote tunes and experimented with electronic music. He made his studio in San Francisco available for recordings.
His big break came from providing sound snippets for ten-second digital pop-up ads called intersticials. Though his varied career making musical scores, producing albums and writing books, one of which sold over a half-million copies, was successful, Peter’s financial life was not always smooth. There were times when he fell behind on his mortgage, but he never asked his very wealthy dad, Warren, to help him out.
Two significant financial events changed his life. When his mother died in 2004, she — unexpectedly to him — left him $10 million. In 2006 his father announced he was giving away his vast fortune of many billions of dollars, including a billion dollars each to his three children’s then-modest charities. Peter put the money gifted to him in the NoVo Foundation co-chaired by himself and his wife Jennifer. As of the end of 2015, according to the IRS, the foundation had $528 million in assets.
The Buffetts are co-chairs of NoVo. They pay themselves a dollar a year. They live quite comfortably on his mother’s bequest.
A grant from NoVo to the Kingston-based Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley is bankrolling the Radio Kingston project, of which Peter Buffett is chairman of the board — highly unusual for a NoVo-funded enterprise.
“When you have a billion-dollar foundation, you’re better-looking, your jokes are funnier, you’re invited everywhere,” the Washington Post reported Peter Buffett as telling a Washington audience in 2014.
Peter and Jennifer Buffett lived in her native Milwaukee for years, where he helped establish a not-for-profit radio station, 88Nine Radio Milwaukee, not dissimilar in concept to what Radio Kingston intends. They moved to Manhattan, center of the philanthropic universe, for several years, and five years ago bought a 50-acre farm in Ulster County. Peter said last week that he doesn’t go to New York City very often these days.
A year after Peter and Jennifer Buffett moved to Ulster County, the NoVo Foundation gifted the Local Economies Project (LEP) of the New World Foundation $13 million to purchase the 1255-acre Gill farm in the Esopus Valley. The LEP also contributes to local causes.
The silver spoon of privilege has not corroded the Buffetts’ instincts. They have good radar. Warren Buffett’s 59-year-old youngest son shared a philanthropic slogan that he said he had considered for the foundation that he and his wife head: “Putting money out of its misery.” The miseries extreme economic inequality has heaped on the world are not entirely lost on the Buffetts.
The market capitalization of Berkshire Hathaway, the holding company Warren Buffett chairs, was estimated this May at $410 billion. The equalized value of all the real property in Ulster County, your house and mine, Peter Buffett’s farm, all the stone houses and Ulster County’s oft-green and pleasant land, plus all you readers’ local property, is about $17 billion — approximately the annual amount by which Berkshire Hathaway’s assets have been on average increasing in recent years.