MVRHS students hit the airwaves on 105.5 FM

Martha’s Vineyard school officials are working to create a radio-production Career Technical Education course by fall 2017 or sooner.

MVRHS students Oshantay Waite, WYOB music director, and Jesse Dawson, production director, spoke about their roles in the radio club. — Photo by Cathryn McCann

WYOB 105.5, the Island’s newest radio station, serves up a mix of reggae, classic soul, and rock, and is run entirely by Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School students. Operating out of a small 10- by 10-foot room in the high school’s Career Technical Education (CTE) wing, a group of students can be found on Tuesdays and Saturdays huddled around computers, microphones, and radio boards.

The station is the brainchild of Skip Finley of Oak Bluffs, a nationally recognized radio broadcasting and media executive who retired to the Vineyard after his 40-plus-year career. He got the license for a low-power FM signal, created a board of directors, and presented the idea to high school officials. After an overwhelmingly positive response from the school, Bill Narkiewicz, MVY radio promotions director and on-air host, was tapped to instruct the students.

Currently, the radio operates as a club, but CTE director Barbara-Jean Chauvin said the goal is to develop a full radio-production course by fall 2017, if not sooner. Mr. Narkiewicz is studying to become CTE-certified, and will instruct the course.

“We’re very excited to have this program; we’re really very anxious to turn it into a career path,” Ms. Chauvin said in a recent conversation with The Times. “The community identified the need. We have a pretty robust broadcasting career path here on the Island, but there was no way for the students to enter it at the high school.”

She said the school tries to develop CTE programs that fit three categories: high skill, high demand, high wage. “Sound engineering is huge,” she said. “When you talk about high skill, high demand, high wage, that’s where it is.”

Juggling responsibilities

While school officials work toward getting the radio course certified by the state and approved for funding, it will remain a club. The station has been on air since October, operated by six students, each working in a different official capacity.

Recently, The Times sat down with Mr. Narkiewicz, senior Oshantay Waite, WYOB music director; and junior Jesse Dawson, production director.

Ms. Waite is originally from Jamaica, and writes, sings, and produces her own music. Mr. Narkiewicz said she was the “perfect choice” as music director for their reggae-format station: “She came in one day with a list of songs that she and her parents made and said, ‘We’re not playing these, but we should.’ So she’s helping us find songs online. She’s also our media manager; she manages our Facebook page and our website, as if she doesn’t have enough to do already.”

A full schedule is nothing new to many of the students participating in the club. Most of the students performed in the recent high school musical production of “Chicago.” Ms. Waite runs her own jewelry and T-shirt printing business.

“I’m a very busy person, but I can come here and feel like, all right, I have to get this done, these people are counting on me to get this done,” she said. “In life you have to be able to commit to things, and this is something I want to commit to.”

At the radio, Ms. Waite is in charge of everything musical, including choosing songs for the continuous playlist, and periodically updating it with new songs. She also runs a “song of the week.”

Mr. Dawson is in charge of organizing the recordings of commercials and public service announcements (PSAs), and production scheduling.

“I know a lot of people who are in the radio business, so it was something that I wanted to try,” Mr. Dawson said. “I’m glad I did. I didn’t have a lot of clear incentive, but I’m here.”

Reggae radio

The station landed on a reggae format after Mr. Narkiewicz and the students researched the market area to see what types of music weren’t currently represented.

“Now there are the typical workers, contractors, people on a job site who turn the radio on and they’re listening,” Mr. Narkiewicz said. “We felt that it would be a successful format for the Vineyard at this time.”

And it has been, he said, citing a lot of response to the station on their website and social media pages.

“There’s a big buzz out there; I encounter people all the time that say, ‘Hey I really love that station, really good,’” he said. “I don’t even know who these people are, and I didn’t tell them about the station, they’re just finding it.”

That response spans beyond the Island as well. Reggae artists from Philadelphia to Jamaica have contacted the station with requests for WYOB to give their music airtime.

“In the entire United States of America, there are five reggae stations on the FM dial, so we are in a very select group of stations,” Mr. Narkiewicz said. “It’s a really great opportunity. We’ve only been on the air for three months, and we’re running out of a high school; it’s crazy.”

Community support

At the time of this interview, the radio’s computers were off-site having new production and broadcasting software installed, the same state-of-the-art software that is utilized at major professional radio stations. Once that is complete, the club will begin the stages of implementing a live radio show that focuses on the “issues on Martha’s Vineyard.” Students will also be able to learn the skills necessary to become a sound engineer.

“Some of the students are very much interested in the radio aspect, being on the air, and some of them are interested in the actual software that we’re going to be using, and want training in the software, because as it’s been explained to them, the knowledge of that software is your guarantee of good income,” Mr. Narkiewicz said. “They want to learn the software because it will make them a powerful force in the workforce. They will have skills that most people do not have.”

Meanwhile, the students are currently focusing their efforts on running PSAs for Island nonprofits. Recently they began playing a song produced by a local artist that focuses on domestic violence. To run in conjunction with that, the students produced a PSA that promotes Connect to End Violence on Martha’s Vineyard, which runs every time the song is played.

“This is just one of the PSAs that we’ve done; all the students have been going around and asking the various nonprofits on the Island for information so that we can make PSAs and start to get the message out about important things,” Mr. Narkiewicz said. “Part of the job is to identify the needs of the community and address those needs and concerns. That’s something the students are already doing.”

In turn, WYOB is also looking for support from the community. Any Island business can sponsor the station, and receive a mention on the air. That money will go toward operating costs, scholarships, and a fund to provide paid internships for students interested in working part-time at the radio station during the summer months.

The students said they are looking forward to continuing their participation in the club.

“It’s an experience that’s still moving forward,” Mr. Dawson said. “I’m continuously learning.”

“This is something that we both have our hearts and guts in,” Ms. Waite said. “We actually like doing this.”

Before heading off to another activity, The Times asked the pair if they had anything else to add.

“Tune into WYOB, 105.5,” Mr. Dawson said.