Since 1983, WMVY Radio has provided the soundtrack for the Island of Martha’s Vineyard. From the beginning it stood out in an era of preprogrammed, formalized playlists for its emphasis on quality, underappreciated artists and laid-back DJs — Pete Sawyers “Fly By Night” show and Peter Simon’s “Private Collection” show remain Island classics.
The station has grown from being a local treasure into a streaming giant, heard by dedicated listeners all over the world. It’s interesting to think of someone in New Zealand listening to the Steamship Authority updates, but apparently the local color is all part of the station’s charm. And from the very beginning, the home of the station has been a modest house down a dirt road on Carroll’s Way in Vineyard Haven.
It would be easy to pass by the house and think that a station with such a big presence couldn’t possibly be located in such a funky little house. On second glance, however, you notice a huge tower in the backyard, which should be a tip-off that there’s something unusual going on inside this little bungalow.
“It really just looks like a little house,” P.J. Finn, the station’s general manager, says. “And on the inside, I guess the operative word would be cramped.” To illustrate his point, Finn describes what happens when a band comes in to do an interview and a live broadcast.
“If there are three musicians,” Finn said, “two can be in the studio, and the third has to stand out in the hall.” Space has been a problem for the station for years, and the former owner, Joe Gallagher of Aritaur Communications, always dreamed of putting a studio on Martha’s Vineyard that was modeled after Levon Helm’s barn in Woodstock N.Y that would have space for a radio station and performance space.
In 2012, Aritaur decided to sell WMVY, but a novel plan was hatched. Rather than shut down the station or hand it over to a corporate group, Aritaur sold the 92.7 FM signal license to a Boston station, which wanted a presence on the Cape and Islands. But Aritaur did not sell the content or the equipment or the brand. The SAVE MVY campaign was launched, and in 60 days, Friends of MVYRadio, Inc, a registered 501(c)(3) organization, raised $600,000 from listeners to cover one year’s operating expenses. In February 2013, WMVY became an internet-only station, meaning you couldn’t get it on your radio.
Then, 15 months later, WMVY re-emerged on 88.7 FM, as an independent, listener-supported station, still playing the same curated hits and projecting the same mellow vibe that made the station so beloved. And if anything, since that time, the station’s programming has become even more robust; its local programming has been widely recognized and honored including Laurel Redington who has won seven Mass Broadcasters Association awards for programming features that have aired on MVY over the previous four years.
And yet all this time, even with expanded capabilities, the station has been crammed into a little house down a dirt road on Carroll’s Way.
Jim Attwood, chair of the MVY capital campaign, said that finding a new home for the station has long been a priority. “The old place is kind of charming,” he said, “but we’ve totally outgrown it.” So for the past few years, the committee has been on the lookout for a new location; two years ago they found a location that, according to Attwood, “ticks off all the boxes.”
“The building is at 40 State Road in West Tisbury,” Finn said, “and it has the perfect footprint and a great location.” The building, which is currently undergoing extensive renovations, is located in the West Tisbury business district next to up-Island Cronig’s, and across the street from the Martha’s Vineyard Bank.
Finn took me through a virtual tour of the new facility. “The basement,” he said “is a large, multipurpose space where we’ll have our main studio. There’s room for a DJ and our news person, Joe Stickles, to actually work in the same place, which was not possible in the old location. It’s also an area where when a band comes in, we can do a live broadcast [presumably without having one of the band members stand out in the hall].
“The basement also has a large conference room,” Finn continues, “where 22 people can comfortably meet. We can hold our board meetings there, and outside nonprofits are welcome to use the space as well. We want to be a good resource for the community.”
Finn continues on with his virtual tour: “On the main floor is our reception area, an area for offices, and there’s room for four fully equipped studios where DJs can tape their prerecorded shows, like Bill Narkiewicz’s ‘Blues at Eight,’ Laurel Redington’s ‘The Vineyard Current,’ or Jer Bear’s ‘Shakedown Street.’ On the top floor there’s room for more offices, more production, and a kitchen.”
Currently MVY has a full-time staff of 12 and a part-time staff of 12, as well as many community advisors and volunteers who often come to the station, and the new space should be able to accommodate all. ”Everybody is really excited,” Finn said, “and they can’t wait to move in.”
“Currently we’re in the midst of a fundraising campaign,” Attwood says. “Our target is $2.5 million, and we’re already about 70 percent of the way there.” Donations are coming from all over the world; currently half of the donations are from off-Island, which for a little station down a dirt road is pretty impressive. And this is a great time to donate, because from now until the end of the year, one of the station’s trustees will match donations, meaning donations made now will be effectively doubled.
“We’re hoping to have the fundraising wrapped up and the construction completed in the first quarter of 2021, and we’re hoping to move in in April,” Attwood says. “The community has been incredibly generous, and I’d like to thank them.”
Putting things into perspective, Attwood says, “It’s not like we’re offering a cure for cancer here, but the station serves a valuable role in the community — we bring a lot of joy to people, and these days that’s something that’s in short supply.”