For the past three years, the static of nearby stations filled radio frequency 93.7 FM. On Friday morning a week ago, the static was replaced with silence. Around 4:30 p.m, there was a beep. And then a song came over the airwaves.
So that night, even as a slew of Island musicians took the stage at the Chilmark Community Center to raise money for an Island family, and as Islanders took cover from the steady drizzle and caught up with friends over freshly baked cornbread and homemade chowder, a radio from a car parked outside blared a steady stream of music.
Over the course of the night, a small crowd assembled on the center steps where they could hear the car radio. Despite the live music inside, those gathered outside listened on in quiet celebration.
The moment was a culmination of a dogged effort, over years, by a group of Vineyard residents committed to bringing a community radio station to Martha’s Vineyard.
The idea of an Island community radio station dates back to about eight years ago, when a group called Free Radio Martha’s Vineyard tried to broadcast an alternative to commercial radio out of a West Tisbury barn. The fledgling effort lasted a week before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) shut the station down because the signal interfered with communications at the airport. The group behind the project did not lose heart.
Community radio stations provide a forum for community members to try deejaying, and oftentimes they broadcast local news and music programming which commercial stations can overlook.
After the pirate enterprise shut down, a group continued talking about how to fill the need on Island for a station created by locals, for locals and showcasing local talent. They called themselves Martha’s Vineyard Community Radio.
“Yes, we have WMVY and WCAI, but they are not accessible to anyone who wants to go on the air,” Maria Danielson, group president and station manager, said this week. “Our mission is to play everything, an eclectic range, and to cater to everybody.”
Three years ago, the FCC awarded the group a license to put up a radio antenna and gave them the call letters WVVY and frequency 93.7.
Under the terms of the construction license, the group had until the end of this year to get on the airwaves. Interest in the project has ebbed and flowed. Last year, they started streaming music online, but rarely had listeners. “If we had five that was a large number,” Ms. Danielson said from the basement studio where the group holds their weekly meetings.
“We had nine once, remember?” piped in program director Bob Lee. Funding was always the main obstacle barring access to the airwaves. Benefit concerts and fund-raising efforts, including a compilation compact disc released this spring, failed to bring in the $20,000 needed to purchase an antenna and necessary equipment.
As this summer came to a close, the group was over $10,000 short. “I was convinced this wasn’t going to happen,” Ms. Danielson said. So, she sent out an e-mail pleading for a last-ditch effort, the deadline now weeks away.
Craig Hockmeyer, owner of Craig’s Bicycle’s, came forward with a donation which allowed the group to purchase a transmitter. GPCS Massachusetts, a company working toward installing an Islandwide fiber optic communications network, helped the group purchase and install the antenna. A radio lobby group based out of Philadelphia, Penn., came to the Vineyard to provide much-needed consultations at a fraction of the going rate.
And on Friday, the group finally heard the results over the airwaves. “We’re like pirates on parole,” Mr. Lee laughed. “We’re legal!”
Legal, yes, but the team still considers this a trial stage. This past week, without a firm schedule in place or microphones to broadcast live, the station played the same material broadcast online, a steady stream of music generated from a computer database. Ms. Danielson expected to go live today.
Already, the group has received proposals ranging from a show on sound tracks and show tunes, to a look at the historical roots of rock. Ms. Danielson plans to take the microphone Wednesday mornings with a play list of psychedelic and danceable tunes, and Mr. Lee will broadcast old blues, among other tunes, in a show called Coconut Headset. The station will feature local music every day at lunchtime. “This will allow those people who’ve always had them to fulfill their long-lost college deejay dreams,” said Ms. Danielson. She encouraged those interested in getting their own three-hour show to submit a proposal.
A year from now, Ms. Danielson hopes the station will be financially stable with one paid station manager. She is submitting grant applications and seeking out better equipment — much of it now is on loan — and increased programming. Down the road, she hopes to work with Island students and offer internships. Currently, the group is recording and broadcasting where they can. “We are literally two turntables and a microphone,” Mr. Lee said. A permanent home is high on the wish list. “This is just the beginning,” Ms. Danielson said. “We’ll be a constant in the years to come.”
To get involved with Martha’s Vineyard Community Radio or to make a donation, visit Web site wvvy.org, call 508-693-9687, or see them tomorrow at the Oak Bluffs School Holiday Bazaar.
Due to transmitter troubles, WVVY was off the air at presstime. It is expected to resume broadcasting within days.