Thirty-five years ago, radio station WMVY went on the air from a tiny suite of studios here on Martha’s Vineyard.

It was May of 1983 and Jeff Damon had just moved to the Island. He was a veteran radio disc jockey who had worked in Colorado, and become disenchanted with the ever tightening playlists dictated from corporate management. One day, just a few months after WMVY hit the airwaves, he tuned in, and the reaction was immediate.

“I turned on my radio and heard it in August of ‘83, and listened to it, and I said to myself, I get it. I know exactly what they’re doing. For people who really loved music, the radio station was a hero.”

Mark Alan Lovewell

A few months later, Mr. Damon was the program director at the new radio venture.

With the exception of the first few months of operation, WMVY has had only three program directors in its 35-year history.

Recently, Mr. Damon sat down with the other two, Barbara Dacey, who was program director from 1993 to 2005, and current program director PJ Finn, to reminisce about what has kept the unique programming going for more than three decades.

While the artists and the industry have changed over the years, the radio station program director still chooses music like it was done when the station first went on the air.

“Many of your favorite songs weren’t the song that was on the radio, or the song that people talked about, or the song that made it sell at the record stores, it was the other songs on the record,” Mr. Damon said. “So there was a steady diet of the other songs.”

Programming wasn’t limited to music. From the start, the radio station picked up a Vineyard vibe, with features aimed at people who were on the Island, and those who wished they were.

Peter Simon, Jeff Damon and Carly Simon in the deejay booth, circa 1988. — Peter Simon

“They did the morning fish prices and landings off the New Bedford docks,” Mr. Damon said. “It was a very serious thing. Our signal went way out in the water so the fishermen could get us. They would wait until they found out what the price was and the landings were before they would bring in their catch. It was a major deal.”

In the early days, the playlist was limited by the small music library. Mr. Damon said things changed for the better when Ms. Dacey became program director, and she cold-called record companies to get more music.

“Getting in with the record companies was a big, big deal,” Ms. Dacey said. “It was a big time of evolving. Each of us, at any given time, were meeting a time in the culture, in the music culture and the culture at large. Because we would play what came to us, according to what we thought was right for the radio station, we were always evolving. We always met the time.”

At a small radio station, program directors do lots of jobs. The three program directors always doubled as disc jockeys, playing their own picks. Ms. Dacey said air talent was just as important to the station’s overall personality as the music they played.

“Air talent was so important, and the way the air talent mixes in with the music, it’s like a segue,” she said. “I was always interested in the energy of the radio station and the sound of the radio station, thought of it as the grand piece, and everything had to work together.”

Mr. Finn said the key to keeping listeners listening is the same as it was for his two predecessors.

“We have to embrace the one thing we have that no one else has, and that’s that we’re here on the Vineyard,” Mr. Finn said. “We can put that in and around everything we do. You could have a radio station that plays this exact playlist, but if it’s somewhere else, it’s not going to feel the same.”

While the nuts and bolts of programming the radio station remain similar, there is a lot more music to choose from now. With technology changes and social media, artists have a lot more ways to get their music to listeners, and a lot more ways to make it known.

Mark Alan Lovewell

“The number of releases in the market is astronomically higher than it was in the 80’s,” Mr. Finn said. “There’s a lot more music to listen to, though there is probably an equal amount of music that is not good but great. You go through a lot of really good to try to find the really great. That’s not a terrible problem to have.”

Still, the station has avoided the tightly controlled, tightly scripted format that has taken over at many music stations. Mr. Finn picks certain songs

that go into rotation, but the disc jockeys have plenty of latitude to introduce their own favorites, or songs they think will work on the air.

“I can set up the staff with the bones of what you can do,” Mr. Finn said. “From there they can shuffle, add, change, take requests. There are gaps in the playlist for features that are completely programmed by whoever is on the air at that moment.”

The three programmers agreed that the station has changed over 35 years, as the artists and the music have evolved. But it all fits within the same framework that has made it staple on the Vineyard and far beyond its shores.

“The content of the radio station is a very different radio station than it was in 1983,” Ms. Dacey said. “But the feeling, the vibe, all the glue that holds it together, is the same.”

This summer, to celebrate 35 years on the air, MVY has teamed up with the Martha’s Vineyard Concert Series to host a series of benefit concerts for the radio station. Tom Rush performed on July 25, and Mavis Staples will perform at the Performing Arts Center on August 14. Visit or for information and tickets.