25 years marks a silver anniversary. But after spending nearly a quarter century at the microphone, Barbara Dacey’s memories are colored gold. “She was dressed beautifully. She was wearing this big hat and walked into the door in a way that was very dramatic,” said Ms. Dacey, the curly-haired woman who first knocked on the Vineyard Haven doors of radio station 92.7 FM herself in 1981.
The station, with call letters WMVY, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and Ms. Dacey took some time last week to reflect upon the journey. Reaching deep into her personal archives, Ms. Dacey spun oldies but goodies, contemporary memories and some cult classics.
The memory of the aforementioned woman ranked in her top three, and the ‘she’ was American folk singer Judy Collins.
“We sat down in the studio. That was a real challenge. I was daunted by the task. And then at the end she said, ‘That was a great interview.’ I was like, ‘Oh! Thank you!’ A comment like that is one of the most rewarding parts of my job,” said Ms. Dacey. “The bottom line is you have made this artist more understandable to their audience.” The other two which sprang to mind were interviewing rhythm and blues great Solomon Burke in his hotel room and sitting down last month with James Taylor at the Canadian Ottawa Bluesfest, something she has never done on the Vineyard.
Ms. Dacey got her start voicing commercials at WMVY for five dollars a pop. She now holds the lofty title of director of worldwide programming for the small community station that reaches 40,000 listeners a week over the radio airwaves and boasts 100,000 online listeners each day, according to the latest data.
Humble by nature, Ms. Dacey is slow to share memories at first, but once she gets started, she spins them like records, round and round. For the 20th anniversary, WMVY threw a birthday concert at former nightclub the Hot Tin Roof with Dar Williams and Patty Larkin. To advance the show, Ms. Dacey brought Ms. Williams into the studio for a little one-on-one. “Dar had been touring with Ben Taylor and there we were in the studio and Carly Simon walked in the door. She had been listening to the radio and wanted to come in and meet Dar. Dar was so surprised and delighted to meet her,” Ms. Dacey said.
Going back a few decades, Ms. Dacey recalled the early days of the station: “They went on the air on May 1, 1983 as WMVY. It was just a leap of faith, I think. Everything was reels then; everything had to be cued by hand. Within a short while, they continued to do live broadcasts and soon, the station shimmied its way up very quickly to this present structure — a mix of folk, rock and blues and classic rock. That bedrock was laid.”
Two years later, Ms. Dacey came a-knockin’. “I was a musician. It was just me and my guitar and I was beginning to be disillusioned with it. I thought I should maybe focus more on voice work, maybe get into commercials, so I drove over to MVY and literally knocked on their door and volunteered. As a college student at Skidmore I had done a bit of radio, but really, I had no experience.” Today, Ms. Dacey’s voice is confident and smooth. Her brain is filled with a knowledge of music and her tone over the airwaves is almost flirtatious. It is the voice of someone in love with both song and artist. This was not always the case.
“This whole thing has been a process of opening up to myself, of getting comfortable with myself, of learning how to do it. And it took a long time. I had to get confidence and relax and be myself,” she said. “It turned out that when I started doing that, it felt very similar to me to performing music. It was all about the communication. Whatever it was, it felt right.” She continued with a gesture around the small recording studio: “I never knew what this was all about, being in a room and talking on-air. Even that term. On. Air. I was so thrilled about that idea.”
There have been changes over the years. Ms. Dacey worked her way up, becoming a part-time on-air talent, then going full-time. She later became music director, then program director and finally director of worldwide programming, a title she created herself in 2005.
Technology has changed in the past 25 years. The station has changed with it and has often led the way for others. “When I first started, there was a big rack in the back with albums. Then it was CDs. Now, it is a mix of CD and hard drive,” Ms. Dacey said with a sigh of longing for those record days. “That feeling of mixing a show with the albums, your hands on the records . . .” she trailed off.
The station has always broadcast at 3,000 watts to the Cape and the Islands and always had offices on both the mainland and the Vineyard, but today employees span the country and listeners span the globe. Owner Joe Gallagher, who bought the station in 1998, lives in Newport, R.I., and other employees live on the North Shore, in Kentucky and in Los Angeles.
When Mr. Gallagher bought the station, he took it to the Internet. “I had known about MVY since it went on the air and had always been attracted to it, always enjoyed it: it’s eclectic mix of music and the influence that the jocks still had in it at that point in time, which even then was something that was becoming rare in the radio industry,” he said this week. Before buying MVY, he owned and operated other stations and had begun streaming them on the internet in 1995, back when the Web was still a new concept. “It went at eight kilobytes a second. It was a novelty then, not a worthwhile listening experience,” he said.
He bought MVY with an eye toward the expanded audience the Web could attract. “Believing MVY was significantly different from most of the other stations out there, I really did believe it had a place online,” he said.
“The technology was just emerging to be able to carry a station on the Internet. We were pioneers in that and being pioneers, we had to figure it out,” Ms. Dacey remembered. She recalled high-fives when the first Internet broadcast was complete and the giddiness with which the deejays took calls from New York, Nebraska and the Netherlands. “There is the thrill of hearing yourself on air, but then there is the thrill of listening to your programming through the Internet. There you are, for all the world to hear.”
The Internet station, mvyradio.com, allows listeners to tune into the show as it happens on the dial, to listen to archived shows and to material recorded live at music festivals nationwide from the MerleFest to South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. “This year we added about 200 pieces of unique interview and music content, so that brings the roster up to about 700 pieces,” Ms. Dacey said. “Show by show, interview by interview, artist by artist, we’re growing.”
Fifteen months ago, the station created a nonprofit arm, Friends of MVYRadio, which allows the online station to offset the costs of streaming and programming through tax-deductible donations. It is a model similar to those public radio stations use and means that listeners online will hear sponsorship announcements rather than commercials.
Despite all this change, the station has stayed true to its roots. “Things are similar in that this is the same room I walked into, the same door I walked through,” Ms. Dacey said from the studio. “There is a musical energy in this local environment and we were able to tap into it and we let it simmer, change, evolve, but the programming has not changed much.”
Fueled by 25 years of good music, Ms. Dacey has a full play list of memories. “If I don’t do this job, I don’t think there’s another job for me,” the deejay said. Tonight, she and the station will celebrate their anniversary and the evening is sure to be one for the community, just as the station has always been. “We had to be a Vineyard and a community radio station. How could we be here and not do it? It’s a responsibility we’ve felt from the beginning,” Ms. Dacey said. “We are a radio station that is a community member.”
WMVY’s 25th anniversary party is tonight at Outerland at the Martha’s Vineyard airport. John Cruz will perform and tickets are $10. Doors open at 9 p.m.