Local flair for the airways

Harry and Harry. Photo by Whit Griswold
Hardly the retiring, bookish type, Harry and Harry stepped into the crowd and stirred it up in support of a new community radio station. Photos by Whit Griswold

By Whit Griswold - January 26, 2006

You might have thought that we're well enough saturated with information and media outlets these days, what with all the national radio and TV programming, the Internet, and local TV and radio as well. Not so, apparently.

At least 200 people turned out on Jan. 14 at the Arts Exchange in Oak Bluffs to sample some local and imported musical talent, and to support the new, non-profit community radio station, WVVY, that backers plan to have on the air sometime before the end of the year, and possibly as soon as summer. Pirate's Booty, as the event was called, started a bit before 4 pm and lasted past midnight. Ranging from youthful and amateur - Ful, for example - to polished and professional - Willy Mason - local performers included Pink Socks, Nina Violet, Swamp Rock, Bella Samba, Maynard and Milo Silva, and Dead Horse Beats. Two off-Island acts - Draco and the Malfoys, from Providence, and Harry and the Potters, from Norwood - were a hit with locals, and also drew some fans from the mainland along in their wake.

Draco and Draco. Photo by Whit Griswold
Draco and Draco dressed like good teachers, but their message was evil.

The event raised over $2,000 - enough to purchase a mixing board and lease a studio trailer for one year. The trailer will be situated on Evelyn Way in Vineyard Haven. From there, WVVY's signal will reach up to five miles.

Bill Morancy and a few friends first aired a low power FM (LPFM) station five years ago out of a barn in West Tisbury. Called Free Radio Martha's Vineyard, the pirate outlet was supported by many Islanders who sought an alternative to pre-packaged radio. They believed that the airwaves belonged to the people, not large companies, and they wanted more diverse programming and a voice in the choice of that programming. Technology got in the way of good intentions, however: the Federal Communications Commission shut down the station within a week because its signal interfered with communications at the airport. But the idea didn't die.

Since that first effort, support has come from many quarters. Whether it 's graying boomers who still harbor a DJ fantasy after all these years, or young people who just can't resist another way to join the communication revolution, there's an impressive amount of local interest, and talent.

An original steering committee evolved into the current board of governors: Bill Morancy and Maria Danielson of Oak Bluffs, Nicholas Azzolini and Waye Tackabury of West Tisbury, Nicole Hawkes of Vineyard Haven, and Jim Glavin of Aquinnah.

Twenty Islanders have already signed up to host a program. Some have some experience in radio, some have none. While they have a variety of musical tastes, they have one underlying passion in common. "It's a love of music that drives most of us," says Maria Danielson.

While music is the primary focus of WVVY, there will also be news and public affairs shows that focus on Island issues. Some syndicated news will also be aired - from outlets like Pacifica Radio News and Free Speech Radio News.

According to the WVVY's Mission Statement, "The goal is to celebrate and reflect the extraordinary diversity of the Island community." By the looks of the crowd at Pirate's Booty, they've already made some progress on that front.

"The station will evolve organically," the statement goes on to say, "responding to the desires and input from staff, volunteers, and members of the Island community." By the way a mish-mash of people pitched in to organize a fun, full mini-marathon of live entertainment, they're moving ahead smartly in this area as well. MVVY is casting a wide net, hoping to attract support and participation from all corners of the community. For an annual $25 fee, members will get an orientation session and, if they choose, training in radio engineering, reporting, production, and even "How to be a DJ."

Finally, though, when it comes to radio, it comes down to what the DJs put up on the airwaves. Here, the mission statement is as plain as day: "MVVY is dedicated to creating and presenting great radio to our listening audience."

Fundraisers are planned for every six weeks or so through the winter and spring, with a "wizard-specific" show already scheduled for June, which Harry and the Potters have already agreed to play, after they finish their first national tour.

The idea of a non-profit, community-based radio station may be a bit of a stretch for some Islanders, but the energy and determination of the folks behind WVVY make it sound like a natural. And if the enthusiasm at Pirate's Booty are any indication, MVVY should have a long and interesting life.