On the Air With WLNG’s ‘Swap and Shop

From fish traps to cement mixers, but no puppies!
Gary Sapiane
Gary Sapiane got his start at WLNG in 1966, when he was a junior in high school, and has been there ever since. Heather Dubin

    Standing under four clocks that tell tide times at Montauk Point, Plum Gut, Three Mile Harbor, and Sag Harbor, Gary Sapiane, the voice behind “Swap and Shop,” a WLNG radio program, greeted his first caller of the day.
    “Good morning, you’re on the air with ‘Swap and Shop,’ ” Mr. Sapiane said Friday as he casually leaned into the microphone.
    In a studio lined with shelves of old cassettes and modern sound equipment, Mr. Sapiane, president and general manager of the Sag Harbor station, is host of the show where locals can sell their wares live on air starting at 10 a.m. Monday through Friday, for an hour.
    Started in 1964, “Swap and Shop” used to beg its audience to call in with items for sale, Mr. Sapiane said. Now, 47 years later, the show is so popular that a mailbag for written listings has been added for those who cannot get through the backed-up phone lines. “Sometimes they send photos,” Mr. Sapiane said with a smile, “which really doesn’t help on radio.”
    The show begins with its theme song, “Second Hand Rose” by Teresa Brewer, and a listing of the rules. “No guns, we stopped that after the Long Island Rail Road shooting in 1991. No animals for sale because of puppy mills, and no real estate or yard sales,” Mr. Sapiane said. Callers are limited to only four items, but according to Mr. Sapiane, people try to sneak more in.
    Listeners are encouraged to refrain from daily calls as a courtesy to others; however, there are the regulars who call all the time, said Mr. Sapiane. “People from businesses sometimes disguise things. When a bunch of cars come on, you know it’s suspicious.”
    There is no screening process, which adds to the element of surprise. Mr. Sapiane admits that there have been some real characters over the years. “People call with jokes and I have fun with them. I can tongue and cheek with them pretty good,” he said.
    When asked about his wildest caller, Mr. Sapiane remembered a man from East Hampton in the 1980s who wanted to swap his house for a date, and he was in his 80s.
    Another caller asked for buyers to meet him in a parking lot in Hampton Bays, which raised concerns over his legitimacy. Cops were involved, and “several burglaries on the South Fork were solved” as a result, Mr. Sapiane said.
    In recent years, the calls have been tamer, he said, but there is a monthly caller who says that he has not received his Social Security check, and he has baseball cards to sell for $40 that are worth thousands. Mr. Sapiane wondered how this caller could have new cards to sell every month.
    On Friday, with a pencil at the ready, Mr. Sapiane speedily wrote down callers’ numbers on a legal pad. As many as 20 calls can come in during a show, and sometimes there are enough to fill the front and back of a piece of paper with his distinctive scrawl. “People can’t read my handwriting,” he said.
    Calls rolled in for items for sale ranging from an electric mixer to three sets of luggage, two for women and one for a man that were described as “breathtaking colors, and lightweight.” Mr. Sapiane took a sip of his tea and fielded more calls for fish traps, mud rakes, two cast-iron vintage pans from the 1930s, a Swedish trunk, and a comforter for a queen-size bed. Larger items on offer included a Jet Ski trailer, a commercial cement mixer, and cars, cars, cars.
    For a switch, a few people called in search of such things as wine corks for an art project and a fiberglass boat. But selling takes up the bulk of the calls. People offered a 300-foot wire fence, Hot Wheels, photo equipment, including an enlarger, a plaid couch, a camper, a fish tank, and a reproduction ship’s cannon, circa 1810, touted as “good for a flag- pole area, bulkhead, or lawn.”
    During a commercial break, Mr. Sapiane said, “Everything used to be [recorded] on cartridges, but it’s all on computers now, and it’s easier to walk away.” However, the most fundamental aspect of radio remains true at WLNG. “We’re one of the few stations that use live voices,” Mr. Sapiane said. The 13 people on staff cover 24 hours of radio a day. “We offer something they can’t get anywhere else on the dial,” he said. “Swap and Shop” keeps with this tradition by allotting people a real voice of authenticity in the world of technology and commerce.