Maynard Silva and Pauly Size. Photo by Whit Griswold
Maynard Silva (left) laid down some mean blues, but the crowd stayed up. Pauly Size helps out on rhythm guitar.

Getting together: CAI hosts its listeners

Story and photos by Whit Griswold - February 16, 2006

As many as 100 people packed into the Offshore Ale last Thursday night to meet and mix with the moving forces behind WCAI, the FM outlet in Woods Hole that feeds National Public Radio to the Island with a local twist.

Most of the conversation was of the chitchat variety since five-score chatterers cooked up enough noise to make it hard to remember your own name at times. But the mood was warm, the peanuts plentiful, and the beer pouring freely (but not free). Some of those who attended seemed content to put a face behind the voice they hear on the radio every day - "There's Dan Tritle," "Is that Ali Berlow?" - and enjoy the warmth of a large, vocal group of people out and about on another dreary winter's night. Others were primed to let the WCAI staffers know what they thought of the station's programming.

On the flip side, the folks from the station were eager to hear from Islanders what they liked about that programming and what they wanted more or less of. Also, according to development director Susan Loucks, CAI looks on their pub nights and other similar events as a way to let their audience know that they are appreciated for all that they are, not just for the donations they make to the station.

Bob Skydell, Offshore's founder and sole owner until late last month when he sold the business to Phil and Colleen McAndrews, welcomed the crowd. He drew a parallel between the pub and the radio station, saying that both were about contact and communication, only one was indoors and personal, while the other was out there somewhere on the airwaves, but no less meaningful.

Jay Allison, CAI's executive producer, spoke briefly about the station, saying that it drew its strength, and interest, from its listeners, who he encouraged to communicate with the station often and openly. This kind of outreach and feedback is obviously more than mere public relations for Mr. Allison, who is the host of NPR's "This I Believe," a segment that's aired on Morning Edition and All Things Considered, in which "...Americans from all walks of life share the personal philosophies and core values that guide their daily lives." Mr. Allison founded CAI, which went on the air five years ago, after several years of organizing and fundraising with a group of friends and associates in the Woods Hole area.

Although it will always be a part of the parent WGBH system, WCAI's long-term goal is to be self-sufficient. When the station first went on the air, local revenues contributed barely 20 percent to its operating budget. Currently residents of the Cape, the Islands and the Southeast Massachusetts coast are pitching in 60 percent, with a goal of 80 percent by the end of this year. These numbers reflect an impressive amount of local support, from both businesses and individuals.

Money talks, of course, but the conversation at Offshore Ale last Thursday had little to do with the bottom line and much more to do with a happy synergy between an appreciative audience and an upbeat group of professionals dedicated to communication and contact, coming and going.