Around 2002, Chilmark photographer and sometime DJ Peter Simon recorded and gave airplay to a song by local musician Willy Mason on his show on WMVY radio. An associate of popular indie/folk musician Conor Oberst was tuned in to MVY and heard the song, “Oxygen.”
The associate brought the young Island musician to the attention of Mr. Oberst, who signed Mr. Mason to Team Love, a recently launched record label. It was an important moment in the Island singer’s career.
“Willy started expanding his career on a much more national and international level,” WMVY director of worldwide programming Barbara Dacey told The Times.
While Ms. Dacey does not take credit for Mr. Mason’s success, she is proud of the fact that MVY has always supported local and regional artists — many of them at the beginning of their careers. For example, Susan Tedeschi, a Boston-area blues singer, spent a lot of time on the Vineyard playing at local venues early in her career. Ms. Dacey notes that MVY played the Grammy-nominated artist’s early records and had her as a guest on her show. “We were there at the start and continue to play her today,” she said.
“We’ve always had a local music show,” said Ms. Dacey, “We’ve always incorporated the local music into the mix. It made sense. If it’s a good song, there’s no reason not to play it. We have championed many local musicians because it just was a natural thing to do.”
Ms. Dacey said that the Island has a history of nurturing musical talent. “The music community on the Vineyard has always been strong. It was when we started in 1983.”
And local charities. On Saturday, January 26, MVY will sponsor the 27th annual Big Chili contest. Last year’s event raised close to $35,000 for the Red Stocking Fund.
But the opportunities that MVY provided to local musicians and songwriters to reach a wide listening audience are undergoing a transformation. After nearly three decades, the local FM station has lost its 92.7 spot on the FM dial. In November, Boston public radio station WBUR purchased the radio station in order to acquire its signal.
The MVY staff has launched a fundraising campaign (mvyradio.org) in an effort to survive as a nonprofit listener-supported Internet station. In late November they began a pledge drive with a goal of raising $600,000, which would cover one year’s operating expenses.
So far, 2,035 people have made pledges totaling $282,000. A pledge does not become a donation unless they can raise the full amount. They hope to reach their goal by the end of January. “We set out to do it in 60 days,” Ms. Dacey said.
Loss of local venue
One band involved in the music scene in the early days of MVY was Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish. “I appreciate the commitment the deejays had to promoting local music,” said Jeremy Berlin, a founding member of the band.
Although he said that the station eventually fell into relying on a set playlist, the support was important and could be counted on. “I always knew that if musicians needed a hand they would get around the commercial radio thing,” he said. “They would put local music before the almighty dollar.”
Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish are just one of many local bands and artists who enjoyed the opportunity to promote shows by appearing live on the station. “We’ve always done what we could to keep the door open for musicians to come in and play,” said Ms. Dacey.
It’s been a reciprocal relationship. “They did things to push the connection between the musicians and community along and they would ask for their help in return. It was a nice collaboration. It reached its apex in that concert for Barbara Dacey,” Mr. Berlin said, referring to a show MVY hosted at Dreamland a couple of years ago. “There was a nice symbiotic world between the musicians and MVY and the community.”
“We’ve had a long history of representing the music,” said Ms. Dacey, “And we’ve needed the support of the local musicians.”
She said that popular folk musicians Patty Larkin and Dar Williams played at a show celebrating MVY’s 20th anniversary. Nationally recognized artists Ben Taylor and John Cruz have also lent their talents to events sponsored by MVY.
“If you do it long enough you have all these people who are part of your life as a radio station and you’re part of their lives as musicians,” said Ms. Dacey.
She named some of the artists with whom the station has had a lasting relationship, including a handful who played at her anniversary concert, John Cruz, Kate Taylor, and Livingston Taylor among them. “The Taylors have been so integral in the musical life of the Vineyard. They’ve always been really big supporters of what we do.”
Kate Taylor was equally appreciative. “The deejays have been very generous with their airtime,” she said. “They’ve had me in there and played my music. I just feel like they’re part of my family.
“It’s an invaluable resource. There are precious few stations like this today. They’re highly valuable to the community and to the larger community — the World Wide Web. The music they play is excellent. It’s the place you can go to hear all kinds of new stuff as well as a collection of old songs. The deejays are very knowledgeable, as well as great to listen to.”
Musician/producer Jim Parr said that he has been listening to MVY since he moved to the Vineyard in 1985. “It’s been great to have a local music show as an option for some of my local clients to be heard,” he said. “It’s a great sounding board to know somebody’s going to play the music in a format that people are going to listen to.”
He names some artists besides his clients who have enjoyed airplay on MVY — Mike Benjamin, Steve Tully, Joanne Cassidy, and the late Maynard Silva.
The absence of MVY would change the musical landscape. “For lesser known musicians the only option would be online where people can be heard and ultimately market their music,” Mr. Parr said. “There will be a huge void. No doubt about that.”
Tom Major, founder of the popular touring band Entrain, credits MVY with helping the band to get heard in their formative years,” he said. “MVY has been our biggest supporter over the years. They were the first station to ever play our music and they have continued on for 20 years. I’m hopeful that they will continue online. It’s one of those stations that really responds to the community.
“There are so few stations around the country where there’s somebody there answering the phone that you can actually communicate with.”
Mr. Parr expressed the general sentiment of those interviewed when he said, “I am really distraught about the possibility that MVY might disappear altogether. I’m a huge fan and it’s been a wonderful addition to the community. I feel like I can speak for the collective of the musicians. We really hope than they can reach their goals and we would love to have them back on regular airwaves again.”