“In all the years we’ve been in the business, our phone number hasn’t changed,” said Ernie Schimizzi, who, with his brother, Greg, has had a stronghold on the local television market for almost two decades.
“We’re the last family-owned and run station on Long Island,” he added, referring to WVVH-TV, which can be seen as Hamptons TV on Cablevision Channel 78, on Fios at Channel 14, on YouTube, as a computer Web stream, and even on a smartphone through a recently available app, with an estimated 5 million viewers.
“We’re now seen in millions of homes from Montauk to Manhattan,” said Ernie Schimizzi.
The Schimizzi brothers grew up in Bensonhurst and were obsessed with the latest innovation — television — from a very early age. “ ‘The Honeymooners’ was supposed to be in Bensonhurst,” Greg Schimizzi recalled. “We grew up convinced that Jackie Gleason lived in one of the buildings on our block.” But it was a trip into the city with their father in 1957 that really sealed their fate.
“It was 1957 on a Sunday,” Greg Schimizzi said. “We ended up at NBC Studios.”
“A Sunday,” said his brother. “And the whole place was open.” After being allowed to wander around the vast production sound stages, they watched the filming of some of the shows, including the “Today” show with Dave Garroway, a legend from the golden age of television.
“It was magic,” Ernie Schimizzi said. The photo of the two, standing in front of the studios at 30 Rockefeller Center, still hangs in their office in Wainscott.
Their father died only five years later (“from his one and only heart attack,” said Ernie Schimizzi) at the age of 46, and it was up to Mrs. Schimizzi, a dressmaker, to raise the boys on her own.
She worked with top designers of the time, like Oleg Cassini. “Jackie Kennedy wore a black cape with a red lining to the inauguration,” Greg Schimizzi said. “Our mom sewed that.”
The Schimizzis made the money that they used to buy the station license and start their parent company, Video Voice, on a patent they obtained from inventing an anti-theft device for automobile trunks.
The patent, which they had shopped at all the big auto companies in Detroit, was initially refused. However, when a friend bought a new Chrysler, it came with a version of the Schimizzis’ invention built in. In the case of patent infringement, the brothers came out victorious — and it led to what they termed a deep understanding of the integrity necessary in art.
“You have to protect the artist,” Ernie Schimizzi said. “Our art happens to be television, and we’re mindful and respectful of the people we work with.”
“We don’t know any other way to be,” Greg Schimizzi added.
The brothers have been growing the Hamptons TV brand over the last decade, with new and expanded studios on Industrial Road, next to LTV. But the primary goal still is to stay local. “We don’t see the Hamptons as just a resort community, or even primarily a resort community,” Ernie Schimizzi said. “It’s about family, and small businesses, and history.”
The brothers still like to be hands-on with their station. They invented a new form of live streaming for the Web which does not require any downloading, and were both recently certified as broadcast engineers. “If we owned an airplane, we would learn how to fly it,” Greg Schimizzi said with a grin.
Some of the programs, like the morning show “The Daily Buzz,” are not generated locally, but many of them — “American Dreams,” “The Real Hamptons,” and coverage of the Hampton Classic Horse Show and Hamptons International Film Festival — are.
“We now have the ability to do live TV,” Ernie Schimizzi said with no small amount of excitement. His brother was also enthused at the prospect.
A link to the past or a link to the future? Only the Schimizzi brothers know for sure.