For many Falmouth residents, MVY radio on Martha’s Vineyard, which went back on the FM dial at 88.7 May 21, is their hometown station, too.
“MVY radio sounds like home to me,” Leah L. Palmer of Falmouth, who works for the public schools on Martha’s Vineyard, said. “I have been listening to MVY for over 15 years. This last year, I have been at a loss trying to find a radio station that played music and had DJs that matched my personal connection to MVY.”
The radio station’s programming communicates the lifestyle and culture of the Cape and islands that many locals and visitors identify with.
"We really try to reflect the islands and the Cape in what we do,” PJ Finn, MVY radio deejay and station program director, said. “We try to be different and go deeper in terms of the artists we play and eclectic and independent in the musical choices we make.” Mr. Finn has been with the station since 2000 and lived on Martha’s Vineyard before moving to Falmouth.
Francis J. Tietje grew up in Falmouth but now lives in Boston where he streams MVY radio on his computer.
“It keeps me attached year round to the Cape,” Mr. Tietje said.
He comes to his childhood home often, especially in the summer to visit his father, Emil (Bud) Tietje, and his two brothers. Now he looks forward to hearing MVY on the FM radio again as he approaches the Cape.
“When I am driving down to the Cape one of the best feelings is picking it up,” Mr. Tietje said. “Friday night, sitting in traffic, you know you are close.”
Mr. Tietje and other Falmouth listeners like him have been instrumental in keeping MVY radio alive and getting it back on FM radio since its 92.7 frequency was sold to WBUR last year.
“The radio station has received tremendous support from listeners in Falmouth,” Mr. Finn said. “That says to me that there is a strong connection between the town and the station.”
Fifteen months ago MVY radio was in danger of closing down when its owner, Aritaur Communications, based in Rhode Island, sold the broadcast license and transmitter to WBUR of Boston. MVY radio, like many other independent radio stations across the country, had been struggling during the economic downturn.
“We were a commercial radio station,” Mr. Finn said. “Our success depended on business support from the Cape and the islands, which dried up during the recession.”
A management team including Mr. Finn, Barbara Dacey, director of Worldwide Programming, and Joe Gallagher, who had worked at Aritaur and now is on the board of directors, decided that the only way to survive was to convert solely to its nonprofit arm, Friends of mvyradio, which was created a few years before to raise funds for the website. The first goal was raising $600,000 in 60 days to keep the station going online after the sale.
“This bought us enough time for the next steps,” Mr. Gallagher said.
Mr. Finn describes those days as fueled by adrenaline. Although there was one large six-figure donation from an anonymous source, most donations were smaller, in the $100 range, Mr. Finn said. They met their goal on day 60. The sound of ocean waves played right before the signal ended a few days later.
The station had already built a large streaming listener base all over the world. MVY radio was one of the first broadcast outlets to offer its FM programming on the web, Mr. Finn said. It was a way summer visitors could maintain their connection to the Cape and the islands year round.
But they did end up losing listeners when the signal faded on the Cape. The station programming had been rebroadcast on 96.5 FM in Newport, Rhode Island, since 2000 and continued during its FM hiatus from the Cape.
Some listeners, however, did not make the transition to online, Mr. Finn said. He estimates that over the course of the month they had 30,000 FM listeners before the sale and about the same number streaming.
“It is so easy to press a button and get FM radio,” Mr. Finn said.
The core management group realized that fans wanted an FM station, and that it would be beneficial financially for the fledging nonprofit. More people meant more support, Mr. Gallagher said.
Fortunately, there was a signal available. In a particular area there are a limited number of signals possible because they can’t encroach on each other, Mr. Finn said. The owner of Vineyard Public Radio, Dennis Jackson, was willing to negotiate and sell the signal 88.7 to MVY radio last fall. It took several months for the change to go through the FCC but the deal went through and MVY radio started broadcasting late last month, playing “I Got You” by James Brown as its first song officially on air.
“The biggest challenge going forward is to help people understand that we are not a commercial station anymore,” Mr. Finn said. “Instead of our listeners supporting the station by frequenting our advertisers, we’ll be asking them to support us directly.”
So far the signal is reaching farther than expected. Listeners have reported receiving the reception in Brewster and Chatham, as far north as the Bourne Bridge and across the bay in Fairhaven, Mr. Finn said. The next step on the agenda is boosting the signal even further.
Mr. Gallagher said, “88.7 is MVY radio’s home on the Cape and islands. It needed a home.”