The blue front door of radio station WMVY looks like a relic from colonial times. Its last coat of paint was perhaps slapped on before the day in 1986 when a young singer from Wellesley and then Cambridge named Barbara Dacey first knocked on it. Once inside the small studio, she offered to do some unpaid on-air commercials as a way of auditioning for some work.
Today she is one of the Island radio station’s most well-known and well-loved disc jockeys. Islanders who have grown up (or grown old) along with the 27-year-old radio station and its familiar place on the FM dial, 92.7, know Barbara Dacey and her throaty voice like a best friend they have never actually met.
Next week on Thursday, Sept. 16, they will have the chance, when Ms. Dacey and her many Island friends will gather for an event at Nectar’s to celebrate her quarter century at the radio station. Some of her own favorite Island performers will ramp up the sounds, including John Cruz, Kate Taylor, Mike Benjamin, Livingston Taylor, Johnny Hoy and Jeremy Berlin. The talented young singer, guitarist and songwriter Noah Stuber will forego his high school homework for one night to perform as well.
“This is our thank-you to the community,” Ms. Dacey said simply, after a Gazette reporter tracked the veteran deejay madly, from the radio station down a long, bumpy road in the woods of Vineyard Haven, to her guitar teacher Will Luckey’s home across from Lambert’s Cove Beach, and finally to Up-Island Cronig’s. There she sat outside on a bench, her tousled dark blonde hair flowing over a workmanlike blue shirt, sunglasses only partially obscuring sparkling eyes, as she talked about singers and their songs, radio, and life itself.
Ms. Dacey’s love for Vineyard musicians is one of her core passions. “I can’t imagine what the station would be without the amazing music,” she said. Of course the favor works both ways, since WMVY provides a continuous showcase for local performers.
Ms. Dacey has interviewed an impressive number of the musicians who have passed through the Island over the years, including a notable on-air chat with Lou Reed in 1997, and a conversation with Judy Collins before her concert at Outerlands in 2006.
The interviews are all in the radio station’s archives on its Web site. Ms. Dacey is as proud of the Web site as she is of the station itself, and with good reason; for more than a decade WMVY broadcasts have been streamed around the world. “We started streaming in 1997,” she said. “There is so much music available now, and so much variety, it would take a lifetime to listen to all of it.”
Like any good leader, she defers to the people around her, with warm words of praise for her coworkers. There is owner and visionary Joe Gallagher, marketing director Gary Guthrie and the other deejays, including Laurel Redington, P.J. Finn and Ray Whitaker. It’s clear that Ms. Dacey has fun at her job. “It’s a happy, comforting place,” she said.
But radio and music are not Ms. Dacey’s only interests. She also loves yoga and books; she is currently reading Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger. Her devotion to Buddhist teachings and meditation keeps her closely affiliated with the Bodhi Path Buddhist Center in the Long Point area of West Tisbury. In a moment of reflection, she confides: “I never would have projected a radio career for myself.”
From an early age she loved to sing, however, and won a talent contest in junior high school which culminated in a young Barbara Dacey warbling Both Sides Now on radio station WGBH in Boston. During what she calls her Harvard Square years, from 1978 to 1986, she teamed up with a percussionist named Mauricio and a bass player named Enzo. The musicians spoke Italian only while Ms. Dacey sang in English.
So the question arises: Did her songstress talent yield the dulcet tones of her now well-known radio patter? “Not in the beginning,” she said with a laugh. “I had a very soft, meek voice. I was pretty shy.” But over time her speaking voice developed to that familiar voice that we hear on the radio most days at noon: a little husky, smiling and warm.
Does she expect to be spinning the music and talking the talk at the station for another 25 years? She looked surprised at the question, but then acknowledged that there’s no place she’d rather be. Unlike most of us who navigate the music world, holding on to our favorite oldies, Ms. Dacey’s profession places her at the epicenter of new music and music trends.
She said she enjoys seeing a musical style morph into something rich and strange, such as Americana which has become “a great acoustic sound.” The station itself has always specialized in a wide variety of genres, thanks in large part to Barbara Dacey.
“We like to inform as well as entertain. A lot of people tell us we’re an important companion to their day,” she said.
And so the tribute to Barbara Dacey will roll out this coming Thursday. Admission is free and the doors open at 8 p.m., a wonderful gift to Vineyarders after the usual long and hectic summer. As Liza Minnelli sang in Cabaret, “No use in sitting alone in your room, come hear the music play!”
Johnny Hoy, Jeremy Berlin, John Cruz, Kate Taylor, Livingston Taylor, and special guests perform at Nectar’s on Thursday from 8 p.m. Free admission.