Riding the Radio Airwaves

With their own distinctive voices, our three radio stations enrich and enliven Vineyarders’ daily lives.

There is that one song that distracts you from your work. That long story that has you entranced, staring into space, causing you to sit in your car long after you’ve arrived home. That intimate conversation coming over the airwaves, and even with soft static in the background, you feel like you’re there.

People tend to have a connection to radio that’s as nuanced as everyday life, and on the Vineyard there are three distinct voices that embrace the quirks and charisma the Island embodies: National Public Radio–affiliate WCAI 90.1, community-radio station WVVY 93.7, and music station WMVY 92.7.

They each have their own contributions to the culture of the Island and thrive as active members of that community.

WCAI 90.1

Sitting in the small converted house in Woods Hole every weekday morning, WCAI host Dan Tritle reports the day’s headlines and weather forecast for Cape Cod, Nantucket, and Martha’s Vineyard. He glances back and forth between his script and the clock above his microphone and desk like a tennis match, tracking the seconds as they go by.

At 9:30 a.m. he throws it to Mindy Todd, host of the talk show The Point, and she takes the cue effortlessly, gliding into her half-hour. Before you know it, conversation has turned from the day’s high temperature to the state of wastewater management or how a local high school basketball star grew to fame, crumbled to drug addiction, and rose from the ashes.

WCAI is the Cape and Islands National Public Radio (NPR) station and maintains a delicate balance of capturing the different voices of the community it represents while upholding a national presence.

Noted NPR producer Jay Allison initiated the idea for WCAI when he moved to the Cape and couldn’t hear his stories on the region’s airwaves. That was twenty years ago, and by 2001 WCAI was up and running under the management of Boston NPR station WGBH. Since then the station has expanded its signal presence to WNAN on Nantucket and WZAI in Brewster.

Between national shows such as Morning Edition, Car Talk, and All Things Considered, WCAI weaves in issues of interest to people who live on the Cape and Islands. Programs such as the Local Food Report with Elspeth Hay or A Cape Cod Notebook with Robert Finch are peppered with sonic identifications that have come to define the voice of WCAI and the community it represents: Carpenters, farmers, chefs, and perhaps your next-door neighbor are featured in short vignettes that describe their experience of the Cape and Islands.

The clapping of Vineyard scallops, Tom Hodgson recalling his time as clock keeper at the West Tisbury Congregational Church, the late Island bluesman Maynard Silva playing his guitar. They capture the sound, the smell, the salty flavor of those who live here.

The station’s audience is smart and demanding, Mindy says, and the topics for interviews and reported stories have to reflect that. “When I first started doing this show, it was amazing to me the expertise and experience of people who come here,” Mindy says. “It’s mind-boggling when you really look around at who’s here....I’ve been doing this show for ten years and I’m still surprised. That just speaks to the place.”

Much of WCAI’s programming focuses on storytelling and shining light on the corners of the seasonal community that might be untouched by other news outlets. There’s more depth to the picturesque fishing and agricultural communities in the area and WCAI wants to record their stories. The regional management of the Cape and Islands alternative energy proposals, the effects of climate change, and a look at the growth of small public libraries, including West Tisbury’s, are a few in WCAI’s repertoire, a portion of which is online at

But there are also the timeless features, such as a look at the cultural history of Oak Bluffs, a profile of Edgartown, and an interview with Oak Bluffs tattoo artist Angel Quinonez. Every other Friday, Martha’s Vineyard Magazine contributing writer Shelly Christiansen contributes commentary essays depicting the subtleties of life on the Vineyard (she’s expanded on one of them for this magazine, on page 92).

Senior reporter Sean Corcoran, whose work on the series “Two Cape Cods: Hidden Poverty on the Cape and Islands” earned the station the prestigious duPont Columbia Award, says listeners know what they want and aren’t afraid to voice their opinions or suggest story ideas.

“They will call up and have dialogues with us and have conversations with us and tell us what they’re interested in and what they want and don’t want,” he says. “There’s an automatic trust there.”

An unwavering trust and appreciation, as it turns out. In addition to listener contributions, WCAI relies heavily on sponsorships by small businesses, whose dedication to the programming WCAI provides keeps them supporting the station even through tougher economic times.

Corporate sales director Georgia McDonald says, “During 2008 when the world started falling apart, we went to our business providers, who said they cut all their marketing except for WCAI....I feel really proud that they love us. They see our value and want to be associated with us.”

The WCAI staff hopes to reach even more listeners in the coming months, as they await court approval to expand their signal to up-Island towns. In turn, they also anticipate expanding their coverage of Vineyard-related issues.

Sean says, “We’ve been building a reputation and we want to continue to grow and serve the community.”

WVVY 93.7

It’s easy for your car radio to slide right over 93.7 to a mainland radio station with a stronger signal. Sifting through the static and sports-radio talk, the dial finally hones in on the Vineyard’s community-based station and a sense of thrill shoots up your spine.

And the low-power WVVY balances it perfectly.

“It’s a unique thing, community radio,” says Station Manager Paul Munafo. “It’s a harder thing to pull off. It’s so much more homespun, I think.”

And the homespun quality is due to the fact that the Vineyard Haven station is made up of gardeners, shinglers, engineers, surveyors, cabinetmakers, artists – Vineyarders, if you will – and they’ve all figured out how to make it work, Paul says.

“Some DJs have come into the studio, have an idea when they get in there, and God knows where it goes from there,” he says. “They may not end up where they started out.”

And perhaps the pirate-like nature is due to the fact that the station indeed once was a pirate radio station in West Tisbury, ordered by the FCC and FAA to cease broadcasting until a formal application was submitted and accepted. In June 2001, Martha’s Vineyard Community Radio Inc. was formed and, in December 2004, received final approval from the FCC to operate the low-power station.

The station is now tucked away in a house off Peacegate Way in Vineyard Haven with a studio no bigger than a closet. Planned upgrades to the space would enable the station to produce live shows, incorporate radio theater, and make it a more user-friendly place. But what the studio lacks in size it makes up for in character. Many of the station’s shows speak for themselves, and there’s no doubt that the station has a distinctively different voice. When it comes to WVVY, you never know what you’re going to get.

Programming includes Global Beats; show tunes and movie sound tracks with Cinema Songbook; Zebra Zonic Electro Adventures Across the Digital Spectrum; Wisdom and Culture, which throws a little Deepak Chopra into the mix; Let’s Talk Facts Folks Sports Radio, which is likely to be about anything but sports; and a popular six-hour block of reggae on Sundays. Paul reflects on a recent funk and soul show with DJ Rockwell: “Who plays funk on Sunday mornings? Josh Rockwell does....It was so cool. I was driving to church and was like, this is awesome.”

The variety of genres, beats, and voices conveys a lively feeling of freedom and recklessness, and the DJs – some experts in their areas, some enthusiastic fans – freely donate their time.

Darcie Lee Hanaway hosts Unknown Tracks, a three-hour block on Wednesday evenings, when you’re bound to hear something you’ve never heard before. “The name came from a joke on myself because my iTunes is such a crapshoot,” Darcie says. “Everything is an unknown track, unknown artist, or unknown album. I don’t have much metal but I play a little bit of everything because that’s what I like.” Darcie pulls songs from her library throughout the week and then during the show, depending on her mood, she’ll pull from the larger body.

The radio station is a nonprofit organization and supports itself through its disc jockeys. Each host pays a nominal fee to use the studio space. DJs are encouraged to have sponsorship and pay for their time through donations, and the studio space is donated. Darcie pays $40 a week for her three hours.

“It’s a community. Everyone has their own responsibilities and that’s how it survives. Everyone does a little bit,” says Darcie. “Carry in, carry out, and donate your time. It’s a good thing to put your efforts towards.”

WVVY was her first experience with radio, and like many hosts, the cave of a studio provides a safe haven for jockeys and artists alike.

“I always wanted to get involved with radio but I’ve always been afraid of microphones, so [WVVY] seemed like a really good way to bridge that gap,” Darcie says. “There’s no one else there....I like that it’s three hours I commit to just music and whoever can be listening. I just go into the basement and that’s what that time block is for: going down, listening to music, and playing good things, and building a really nice cadence.”

Those involved with WVVY are still waiting for it to reach its full potential. More than anything the station is looking to increase its listenership, Paul says, even if that means through the Internet. Listeners can stream programs live through the station’s website,, and given the current constraints of WVVY’s signal coverage, Paul encourages listeners to engage online. More listenership means more programs, and Paul says he’d like to see more issues-based talk shows and broadcasting live from more Island events.

Rooting yourself in the Vineyard community is key to growth, Darcie adds. “We need to pull in more people who want to be connected by music, and communities need that direction.”

WMVY 92.7

Records, tapes, and CDs still line the walls of the studios at WMVY radio in Vineyard Haven. The walls aren’t very high but they are jampacked with everything from greatest-hits albums to one-hit wonders. They may not be in regular rotation but even the record player is used frequently.

If the walls of these studios could sing, they’d quietly and sweetly hum an acoustic tale of folk, rock and roll, roots, bluegrass, and always something new. That’s the home-base sound that has come to define WMVY over the years.

“Everything we do should connect back to that home-base sound,” Program Director PJ Finn says. “I don’t think there’s anything on the air that’s completely divorced from the connection. It goes down a tributary that connects to the same sound.”

A certain kind of artist emerged in the late 1960s through 1980s that has formed a template for other artists to follow, PJ says, and many of those artists can be heard on WMVY. “I think there are bands we listen to and enjoy now that probably listened to the Talking Heads, [who] fully influenced them,” he says. “We can have a very modern radio station that doesn’t sound like two different radio stations when you play the past and present back to back.”

The home-base sound has taken time to mature. WMVY was born on May 1, 1983, with owners Bob and Linda Forrester of Edgartown. Later purchased by Phil Kelly and a group in the Midwest in the early 1990s, the station is currently owned by Aritaur Communications, whose president and CEO, Joe Gallagher of Newport, Rhode Island, bought the station in 1998. There are some quiet conversations about a possible sale of the station but nothing has been formally announced.

From the small rooms of a tiny house off a dirt road near the top of a hill in Vineyard Haven, the WMVY airwaves reach far and wide, and via, they have listeners who have never stepped foot on Island shores. Director of Worldwide Programming and host Barbara Dacey has witnessed the transformation from the beginning to now. During her weekly show Unchartered Waters, she plays new music previously not heard on the radio before: sometimes never heard on MVY, sometimes never heard on any station in the country.

“So much of what the station is about is infusing every single day at the station with new music that’s happening,” Barbara says. “I’m amazed at how alive the thing is. People are creating art, so when you have it and start playing with it, it’s going to change, it’s going to move, it’s going to grow. The whole library itself has that dynamic, and I think that’s what makes the radio station unique.”

WMVY constantly strives to grow and embrace the evolution of the roots sound and looks for new artists to do that. New musicians are chosen to be part of the regular rotation carefully. Sometimes they fizzle; other times they are a knockout.

“There’s no way we can see the future but we do pick artists we think will be with us for a long time,” PJ says. “If we put an artist in rotation, in theory it’s not just: Here’s a hit, let’s spin it on the radio forever, and then throw it away. It’s: Here’s an artist we’re interested in that we want to stick with and continue to see evolve and see what they do.”

Business has ebbed and flowed just like many other Vineyard institutions in recent years. The radio station relies on a similar advertising model to other media outlets on the Vineyard, and thus, summer is the biggest time to make revenue.

With a steady demand from listeners for an advertising-free stream, WMVY turned to the Internet in 1998. Through a new online market and the support of the nonprofit Friends of MVY Radio, the station was able to grow its programs and its listenership. Funds raised through the nonprofit help cover costs incurred by online programming, including bandwidth costs and licensing fees; the live online stream provides the same content with no commercials.

WMVY offers free online streaming for both the main station programs and for specialty programs, which also have benefitted from the station’s online expansion. One recent addition to the online programming is My Back Pages: For four hours on Saturday mornings, listeners can stream 1960s and 1970s folk and folk-rock.

“We don’t put it on the main station because it’s not for everybody, but the people who do listen to it are very passionate about it,” PJ says. “I think we will continue to add online-only programs like that.”

“For many people, they just don’t find a radio station like this,” Barbara says. “Even though we’re on Martha’s Vineyard and giving the Steamship Authority report and the weather for the Vineyard, people find enough of what they like about the music to be able to keep them there. Being online was a way for the radio station to grow.”

WMVY may offer something different, but the gang there knows they’re not the only game in town, and the station is all the better for it.

“I think if we have something in common, [it’s that] we’re all fans of what we do,” PJ says of their neighboring radio stations. “We all seem to manage to do a lot with a little.”

Together the three radio stations complete a full picture, Barbara says. “[WCAI and WVVY are] just a whole other way of being on the radio, that’s made all of us, our existence...a rich market,” she says. “Radio is an amazing medium and the fact that it continues so strongly on the Vineyard with three stations, that’s a pretty good sign. It’s a healthy environment. People love all of us.”

PJ adds, “For the average person, chances are they’ll listen to all three because they all have something different.”

Says Barbara, “That’s the way people use radio – that’s real life.”