Purchase Of Island Radio Station Could Have Impact On Woods Hole’s WCAI
By: Brent Runyon
The Cape Cod and Islands radio market underwent a significant change on Tuesday when WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station, announced the purchase of 92.7 FM, the signal for WMVY-FM on Martha’s Vineyard.
The purchase means the end to the eclectic rock music programming WMVY offered at 92.7 FM for the past 30 years and the start of a new ambitious fundraising effort to keep the station alive on the Internet. It also means direct competition for public radio listeners between WBUR and WCAI, the Cape and Islands NPR Station in Woods Hole.
How the addition of WBUR to the airwaves of Cape Cod will impact WCAI is unknown.
Jeanne Hopkins, a spokesman for WGBH, which owns and operates WCAI, said another NPR station serving the Cape and Islands is a positive. “More public radio, we think is always good,” she said.
WBUR has been interested in extending the signal to cover Cape Cod and the Islands for a long time, she said, so the purchase of 92.7 FM was not shocking. “Well it isn’t really a surprise, I think, because we have known that BUR has wanted to extend their signal for a long time,” she said.
WCAI, which is also broadcast on WNAN 91.1 Nantucket and WZAI 94.3 Brewster, provides local coverage that WBUR does not, she said. “CAI and NAN have been there for over a decade and I think are very established in providing a local service,” Ms. Hopkins said.
WCAI began broadcasting from the historic Captain Davis House on Water Street in Woods Hole in 2000, and includes local radio hosts, news staff, and a daily talk show, The Point, hosted by Mindy Todd. There are also local features including the Local Food Report with Elsbeth Hay, Bird News with Vernon Laux, A Cape Cod Notebook with Robert Finch, Living Lab with Dr. Heather Goldstone, and Arts & Ideas, a documentary program produced by Jay Allison and Viki Merrick of Atlantic Public Media, also based in Woods Hole.
Local Coverage May Suffer
Ms. Hopkins said she does not believe WBUR will offer the same level of award-winning local coverage that WCAI does. “WBUR has purchased a frequency basically, and that would mean no more staffing,” she said. “We don’t know their plan, but it would be great if they were adding some local coverage.”
WGBH, which broadcasts on 89.7 FM, switched from a combination music and news format to a full-time news station nearly three years ago, duplicating some of the same programs that WBUR offers. “Our view has always been in the Boston area there is enough of an appetite for two public radio stations,” she said. “As we’ve grown, BUR has not diminished,” she said.
It’s a difficult decision, but unfortunately we could really not afford to fund the sort of losses that we’ve been funding.
Joseph Gallagher CEO Aritaur Communications
The WGBH signal can also be heard in many areas of Cape Cod, and there is overlap among the three stations’ current programming schedules. Flagship NPR programs like Morning Edition and All Things Considered, along with other popular public radio programs like This American Life and Marketplace, are broadcast on all three stations.
Joseph V. Gallagher, president and CEO of Aritaur Communications, the owners of WMVY since 1998, said they are selling the signal because WMVY has been operating at a loss since 2007, when advertising revenues started to decline.
“It’s difficult because MVY has been on that frequency for the past 30 years,” Mr. Gallagher said. “It’s a difficult decision, but unfortunately we could really not afford to fund the sort of losses that we’ve been funding.”
Aritaur made the station available for sale, but deals with buyers who wanted to continue WMVY in the same format could not be worked out. A few months ago, WBUR approached Aritaur about purchasing the license to broadcast the Boston NPR station over the 92.7 FM frequency.
Gaining Foothold On Cape
WBUR General Manager Charles Kravetz said in a press release that WBUR believes that the islands, Cape Cod and South Coast are important parts of the community they cover and serve. “WBUR has long wanted to meet demand from listeners in this region who have been unable to hear our signature programs and outstanding local news reporting,” he said.
WBUR produces public radio programs broadcast nationally including On Point, Here & Now and Only A Game. The station also produces hourly newscasts and a daily news magazine program, Radio Boston.
If the sale goes through, WBUR will broadcast its signal on 92.7 FM, a 3,000-watt station reaching more than 60,000 prospective new listeners. This will be in addition to WBUR’s current 50,000-watt signal on 90.9 FM, which broadcasts across all of metropolitan Boston and eastern Massachusetts.
The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the changeover is expected to take place sometime in early 2013, pending FCC approval.
At the same time, Aritaur will transfer WMVY’s programming and all other assets to the nonprofit Friends of mvyradio. The goal is to continue broadcasting music online via live streaming service at www.mvyradio.com, and to look for a more affordable solution to return to the FM airwaves.
Barbara Dacey, director of worldwide programming for mvyradio, said the nonprofit must raise $600,000 before the end of January to continue. That amount would cover the operating budget for a year while maintaining the 25-member staff, she said.
The station has been streaming online since 2007, when the nonprofit Friends of mvyradio was founded to help offset costs for the station. If they raise enough money, the mvyradio online station will continue to operate out of the same rented studio in Tisbury, she said. But if fundraising goals are not met, mvyradio will cease to exist online and over the airwaves, Ms. Dacey said.
Longtime listeners are having a difficult time with the news, she said. “It’s a lot for people to take in,” she said. “We do have a loyal following. People have listened to this radio station for 30 years.”
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