Laurel Redington is a swirl of good karma. Sitting across from her in her studio at MVY Radio, she radiates positive energy as she talks about the shows and programs she’s produced at the station that manage to shine a light on people’s lives.
Her broadcasting career began in 1991, and she had Carly Simon to thank for giving her the motivation. In the late ’80s, Redington had come to the Island after college, and like so many at that age, she was trying to sort out her life. In college she had been an athlete, and even given some to thought to pursuing basketball as a career. “But I loved music and poetry,” Redington said, “and I felt that was something I couldn’t ignore.”
At the time she was working as a housecleaner for Simon, and she asked her if she had any advice she could give her. Redington recalls that she quoted the song, “One Who Is Touched by the Sun,” from the album “Letters Never Sent.”
“Let my wings of desire
Soar over the night
I need to let them say
‘She must have been mad’
And I, I want to get there
I, I want to be one
One who is touched by the sun,
One who is touched by the sun.”
The song gave Redington the inspiration to follow her passion, and when a job opened up at WMVY (the predecessor of MVY Radio), she took it. She started out as a part-time disc jockey, and soon found she had not only a love for broadcasting, but a gift as well. She stayed with the station until 1994, when (Redington remembers it was on Neil Young’s birthday) she spread her wings for the big city and went to Boston to work first at WZLX Classic Rock, and then at WCRB, Boston’s classical music station. Redington then moved on to work at stations in upstate New York, but the allure of the Island drew her back home.
In 1998 Redington returned to the Vineyard to raise her daughter, Tess, and started in again at the station the next year. It was during this period that she and Barbara Dacey, program director at WMVY, hatched the idea for Person of the Week. “It was a team effort,” Redington said, “it just sort of came up from the ether. There was so much dark news out there, we thought it would be good to do something positive and highlight people in the community.” Person of the Week has been running for nearly 20 years now.
The format is simple: Every week the three-minute segment introduces the community to someone who works for a nonprofit, or someone, Redington said, who is “simply doing important work to make the neighborhood a nicer place to be.”
There have been literally thousands of people profiled over the years. To give you a taste of the shows, in 2016 Island resident Lori Robinson Fisher talked about creating the “Break the Silence” events and how she helped bring Billy Pfaff, founder of Heroin Is Killing My Town, to the Island. In 2017, Rose Guerin, Island musician and co-organizer of a community Christmas Party at the Ritz, went on-air to raise money for the Island Food Pantry.
And in 2018, Lish Olson of Water 1st International talked to listeners about the Walk for Water. More than 400 people carried water for five kilometers, walking in solidarity with the 1 billion people around the world who still carry water every day.
As an aside, while Laurel and I were talking, she was broadcasting her afternoon show, and you could hear the music playing in the background. She doesn’t use headphones; as she says, she “likes to feel the room.” Suddenly, as if some internal clock went off in her head, she turned to the mic and said without so much as a note, “‘Knocking on your screen door,’ that was John Prine we just played, and coming up we’ve got Mindbender, and this one has to do with the poet Thomas Warton, who was born on this day today and who, along John Keats and Thomas Gray …” I thought to myself, Talk about multitasking.
In 2014, Redington and her husband Ray Whitaker (whose show “Just Four Guys” runs on the station) and their daughter and her best friend were returning from a family vacation in Florida when they were involved in a serious automobile accident.
“It was particularly grave,” Redington said, “we were lucky to survive.” It proved to be one of the defining moments in Redington’s life.
“It’s like I had an epiphany,” Redington said, “I knew from that time on that I wanted to do more with my life.” When she came home, she went to MVY Radio program director P.J. Finn and asked if she could give up her morning show — she would still fill in at the station — but she needed more time to figure out how she could give back to the community. “P.J. is the best program director,” Redington said, “he’s smart and believes in people, and he shaped what I do today.” It was during this time that she became more involved with reaching out to the community, including working with Tony Lombardi on kids’ programs at Alex’s Place at the YMCA.
But as fulfilling as the work was that she did in the community, Redington soon realized that she could do the most good in the place she was most comfortable: at the radio station. In 2017, Redington initiated the position of MVY Radio community outreach director, where she’s been able to produce a series of programs that link her to the community.
In addition to Person of the Week, the Vineyard Current program just recently recorded its185th show. This 30-minute weekly program consists of Island news and then a series of individually produced segments covering a wide range of subjects and people that highlight Island life.
Last November, Redington won a Massachusetts Broadcasters Award for the Vineyard Current for the third consecutive year, for a segment she produced titled “Island Students Walk Out for Parkland.” The shows run the gamut of Island life; in another show, Bonny Stacy, curator of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, took listeners on an audio tour of the new museum.
The show that Redington is currently most excited about is Night Casts, a two-hour broadcast that combines music with people’s stories. “We try to paint an audio picture,” Redington says, “there are stories, and the music helps us to process the stories.”
Each show begins with a haunting flute solo, the sound of surf in the background, and a fishing lure hitting the water — “night casting,” if you will. Regarding the show, Redington explains, “You never know what you’re going to get.”
The shows are leisurely paced and aery, giving the stories a chance to breathe. Often there’s a mystical theme, as when Polly Simpkins, founder of the Cup of Karma Project, talked about wishes … the desire to make things happen — or not happen. She talked about designating a wishing tree for the community. In another show, Jennifer Knight, life coach and founder of the Empowered Mamas Workshop, talked about effort, and how we can use it to be our best selves.
In addition to broadcasting, Redington often goes out in the community to work with Island kids. Every Tuesday during the school year, she presents Radio Games at the Edgartown library for elementary and middle school students. “We try to teach the kids communication skills they can use in any situation life presents,” Redington says.
And Redington produces the annual Summer Youth Music Deck Concert Series at the Aquinnah library, which is heading into its fifth season. It gives teen musicians the opportunity to play 20-minute sets in front of a live audience. “It teaches kids how to conduct themselves at a gig,” Redington said, “build confidence so they can schedule their own gigs.”
But Redington believes her real calling is getting people to tell stories. “The work I’m doing allows me to be the conduit to bring people’s voices to the air,” Redington said. She believes there’s a tremendous value to sharing stories so we don’t feel so alone:
“In 30 years in business, I’ve seen people who don’t feel valuable say to me, ‘Oh, you don’t want to interview me,’ and I say ‘Oh yes, I do. You have a story to tell.’ I’m so excited to put the spotlight on other people — it’s like being a witness to life.”