Today the music dies on 92.7 FM when the signal formerly owned by Island-centric WMVY will pass to WBUR, a Boston-based National Public Radio station.
Those of us accustomed to filling our homes, our offices and especially our cars with the eclectic blues-folk-rock sounds of WMVY will have some adjusting to do. Thanks to generous listeners, MVY will live on for at least another year online, a concept that seems less foreign with each passing day. Last year, twenty-nine per cent of people aged twelve and older listened to radio online each week, according to the ratings agency Arbitron which has been tracking this trend with Edison Research since 1998. And that figure has been growing at a rate of thirty per cent a year.
But more than easy access to a familiar music station, what the Island mourns is the loss of something distinctly home-grown. Does any place love local more than Martha’s Vineyard? While the rest of the country seems to have long since resigned itself to media consolidation, megastores and fast food franchises, the appearance of Starbucks cups on-Island can still trigger heated debate.
As fans of public radio, we welcome WBUR, using the call letters here of WBUA, to the local dial even as some wonder whether getting another strong NPR signal on-Island isn’t a surfeit of riches. The Vineyard is already well served by WCAI, based in Woods Hole and an arm of WGBH in Boston, which includes a layer of local programming, including Mindy Todd’s weekday public affairs show and audio essays contributed by the Vineyard’s Shelley Christiansen.
For the moment, WBUR plans the same programming it offers elsewhere via a stronger, crisper signal for listeners on the Vineyard and nearby. There will be some duplication of national programming with WCAI, but the new signal will also bring WBUR’s own distinctive news and information shows, including On Point with Tom Ashbrook and Radio Boston.
As time goes on, we hope WBUA will find ways to offer something more particular for the Vineyard. A modest effort might allocate a weekend hour or late-night slot for an Island public affairs program. Or even give a microphone to Island authors, musicians and artists.
Since the federal government began regulating the broadcast industry, it has broadly recognized that the airwaves belong to the public and station owners were merely custodians of the public trust. Over the years, market-based deregulation and consolidation have diluted that mission and yielded less local programming.
WBUR made a smart business decision when it learned that WMVY was for sale, and that is something to applaud.
Now WBUA has an opportunity to provide something new for the Vineyard, and we look forward to seeing how it interprets its mission in the years ahead.