MVY DJs provide the soundtrack to an Island

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MVY DJs PJ Finn, Jess Phaneuf, and Barbara Dacey at the Newport Folk Festival.

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MVY DJs Share: What was the best song you played on air this past week?

  • Barbara Dacey, director of worldwide programming, host of “The Lunch Hour” and “Uncharted Waters”: Robert Plant’s “Little Maggie” from his new album “lullaby and … The Ceaseless Roar”
  • Jess Phaneuf, morning DJ:  Robert Plant’s “Rainbow”: “I can’t get enough of this one.”
  • Amy Vanneman, evening DJ: Delta Generators’ “Spider Bite.” “A super-high-energy Allman Brothers-sequence tune. It revs me up for the task at hand.”
  • Barnes Newberry, host of the folk show “My Back Pages”: The Piedmont Brothers Band’s “Love Hurts”: “Perhaps THE definitive version.”
  • Dave Kish, host of “Sunday Morning & All That Jazz”: Gerald Wilson’s “Viva Tirado.”
  • Bill Narkiewicz, host of “The Blues At 8”: Johnny Hoy & the Bluefish “Daddy Right.” “It shows just how versatile this band is, and it’s fun!”
  • Jer Bear, host of “Shakedown Stream”: Grateful Dead “Stella Blue.” “It was one of Jerry’s favorites. Everything is right with the way he played that tune.”

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The Island’s local radio station, WMVY, returned to the airwaves this spring at 88.7 FM. After their former signal of almost 30 years was sold, the fundraising efforts of the nonprofit Friends of MVY Radio helped revive the station, paying testament to the love of music on Martha’s Vineyard. In an email to The Times, MVY station manager and program director PJ Finn discussed how the jocks at MVY select the soundtrack for the Island.

How do you pick the music on your station?

The station has been here for a long time, over 30 years.  So a good chunk of what we do is based on history. Our idea of following a certain kind of artist and sound has remained pretty constant. And generally, if we find an artist we really like, we’ll follow them for years, through albums and evolution.

We listen to a lot of new music. When we find songs that we think will fit the station, we’ll play them for one another and discuss. It’s up to me to make the final call as to whether it goes into regular rotation or not. That call is based on my opinion, the opinions of other staffers, and loads of other factors including listener comments, record sales, critical acclaim, and more.

Beyond our regular rotation, we have a number of specialty shows, and the hosts put together their own playlists, without my oversight.

What kind of audience are you catering to, and what do you think they want to hear?

We do try to make the station “sound like the Island.”  And by that, I mean that we want to reflect the Island’s personality in the music we choose and the way we present ourselves. Words like casual, eclectic, intelligent, literate, artistic, inclusive, I think can fairly describe both the Vineyard community’s personality and much of the music we play.

The largest part of our audience is between 45 and 65 years old, and we try to cater to those folks who were avid music listeners in their youth, and still are. We want to recall the great music that they grew up with (The Band, U2, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell) but play deeper tracks. And we want to try to find new artists (Jason Isbell, The Decemberists, John Fullbright, Laura Marling) who are mining the same territory as those early artists.

How much does time of day matter when picking music and shows?

The heaviest listening hours are in the morning. So in the evenings and on the weekends, we feel like we have room to be more experimental, or dive fully into one genre.  We have a nightly blues program, a weekend jazz show, a local music program, and a new-releases show, among others. For some listeners, those hours might be a bit esoteric, but for folks passionate about the particular genre, having the chance to hear an hour of Hawaiian and West Coast music from the ’60s and ’70s (like one DJ did on a recent “Hot Seat” program) is pretty special.

What is the balance between playing new music and playing the songs people already know?

In a regular daytime hour, about one-quarter of the hour would be “new” releases,  meaning the song came out sometime in the past 6 months. Hopefully, even in the older songs, there are tracks we play that are fun surprises because the listener has never heard them, or hasn’t heard them in years. Occasionally, we’ll play a song like David Bromberg’s “Sharon.” It’s an amazing song from 1972, and even though it’s been around for 40-plus years, some folks are just discovering it.

What is the balance between playing music you like and playing music the audience will like?

Our first priority is to play the music we think, by our best guesses, that the listeners want to hear. I can play something for my own enjoyment at home. Being on the air, my duty is to serve the listeners. That being said, while no DJ can like every song their station plays, we are pretty fortunate at MVY to play quality artists and good songs.

How do you find new music?

The main way we find out about music is through the various major and independent record labels. They send us CDs and MP3s of artists with new albums. Our listeners are a great resource as well, sending us suggestions. We know if loads of unconnected folks are asking about a particular band, then they are worth checking out.

Reading helps. We follow the Billboard charts, read music magazine and blogs, listen to podcasts, find out what songs and bands are gaining popularity in other parts of the country. And we see lots of shows. Going to events like the Newport Folk Festival invariably exposes us to bands we might otherwise not have heard.

What’s on your iPod now? Who are some of your favorite artists?

My laptop playlist is filled with new releases. Most of my listening time is spent sifting through the digital piles of songs we are sent. I have over 100 songs on the list right now, of tracks that record labels and artists have sent to me and I have promised to listen to and give feedback on. From that list, only about 3 songs per week make it into regular rotation.

Some new artists I’m excited about, whose full albums I’m listening to, include Lake Street Dive and Bahamas. And, of course, the new Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish album.