When Bob and Linda Forrester founded WMVY in 1981 they had no real radio experience and just one computer. But the couple did have a vision: the “safe” music that other radio stations played at the time was not the way to go.
The Vineyard was too eccentric for ratings books and canned tunes — and this suited Mr. Forrester’s tastes perfectly.
“I wanted to play all 17 and a half minutes of Alice’s Restaurant by Arlo Guthrie,” he said in a recent interview with the Gazette.
Over four decades later the radio station is still going strong, after riding various waves of ownership and even losing its spot on the radio dial for a few years.
DJ Alison Hammond in the booth.
— Jeanna Shepard
To celebrate the past, present and future, the station is hosting a series of birthday events all summer long, including a sold-out benefit concert on July 29 featuring Nickel Creek at the Old Whaling Church, and airing 30 minutes of audio from the MVY archive each Saturday at noon, followed by a song from each year of the radio station’s life.
“Really, it’s kind of a wild comeback story,” said PJ Finn, the station’s executive director. “Even I kind of don’t believe it sometimes.”
In the early days, the Forresters built the listening base by letting DJs play music of all genres, and including information that locals would find useful — local news, fish market prices, weather and even live high school sports coverage.
“People said no one was going to listen to that but they sure will when the Nantucket game is on,” Mr. Forrester said. “That game’s a big deal.”
He and his wife Linda said they always wanted the station to be an extension of the community and a team that worked together to make something out of the “creative chaos.”
The Forresters sold the station in the early 1990s to Broadcast Properties Inc. of Minnesota who then sold the station in 1998 to Aritaur Communications led
by Joe Gallagher.
Executive director PJ Finn started working at the station in 2005.
— Jeanna Shepard
“Joe was the person responsible for us embracing streaming,” Mr. Finn said. “We were one of the first broadcast FM radio stations to take content live on the air to the web. This led to real growth at the station and opened the door to the future for us.”
MVY was just one station in a larger portfolio for Aritaur Communications and, when the company began to wind down operations in 2012, MVY had to pivot again.
“That led to the SAVE MVY Campaign and selling the 92.7 FM signal frequency to WBUR to raise money,” Mr. Finn said.
But the station kept ownership of the brand, equipment and content and continued to stream, he added.
In just 60 days, SAVE MVY campaign raised more than $600,000 for the station’s continuing operations as an online streaming station only. Then, in 2014, it purchased a new signal license, 88.7 FM, and went back on the airwaves as a nonprofit, fully supported by listener donations.
“I think it’s so wonderful that they are a nonprofit because now they are completely dependent on their listenership,” Mr. Forrester said.
The majority of the station’s staff have been at MVY for more than 20 years, through the various sales and the station’s relocation in 2021 to a new building in West Tisbury. Mr. Finn started at MVY in 2005.
Community outreach director Laurel Redington.
— Jeanna Shepard
Like a family, he said, the staff has “gone through life’s phases together.”
“There are DJs who brought their kids in playpens while doing their shift and now those kids are out of college,” he said. “We’ve gone through losses together, and marriages, and all of life’s events.”
Laurel Redington, MVY’s community outreach director, was hired (the first time) in 1991. She joked that the station can’t get rid of her for long — she left twice but came back within five years each time. In the fall she will relocate again, to working at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum.
Ms. Redington said the station is sustainable and evolving. The entire staff works to keep things going, and some younger hires are bringing new perspectives to the institution.
“We feel like we have switched over to a regenerative model,” she said. “We have young people coming in right now, folding in with the veterans and keeping us connected.”
Everyone at the station does a little bit of everything, she added, and it wouldn’t be what it is without every piece of the puzzle.
Mr. Finn agreed, attributing the success of the SAVE MVY campaign and of the station to the people working behind the scenes who don’t always get as much recognition as the station’s leadership.
“It’s pretty common for stations to have gone out of business, been sold, changed formats, just gone off the dial,” he said. “And MVY Radio has managed to not have that happen to it.”
Both Mr. Finn and Ms. Redington said that the station will continue to listen to the community it serves and give listeners what they ask for.
The Forresters said the station is still exactly what they hoped it would be. Part of its charm, Mr. Forrester said, is that people like hearing what happens between the music, too. MVY Radio makes people feel like they are part of the community no matter where they are listening from, be it Vineyard Haven, Manhattan or across the Atlantic.
“We, after a few years, kind of developed a following by people that really cared about music,” he said. “And that’s what makes it today. That’s what makes the difference.”
For more information about MVY Radio’s programming and birthday celebration events, visit mvyradio.org.