November 27, 2012

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WMVY is mvyradioa delightful music station on Martha’s Vineyard, with a great history, that I always enjoy tuning in when I head down that way to visit friends in Falmouth or Woods Hole. Alas, like so many other good small radio stations, it’s is going off the air. The station’s signal on 92.7fm has been sold to WBUR, one of Boston’s two big public radio stations. (WGBH is the other.)

Here’s WBUR’s press release, issued early this morning. The gist:

The sale of the 92.7 FM signal paves the way for WBUR to reach listeners on Martha’s Vineyard and most of Cape Cod and Nantucket, as well as the Massachusetts ‘SouthCoast’ including New Bedford, Fall River, Falmouth, Westport and Marion. WMVY, known on air and online as mvyradio, plans to create a non-profit, commercial-free business model going forward.

WBUR will now have all these signals:

  1. WBUR-FM/90.9 in Boston. (Coverage Map.)
  2. WBUR-AM/1240 in West Yarmouth (Coverage Map.)
  3. WSDH-FM/91.5 in Sandwich (Coverage Map.)
  4. WCCT-FM/903 in Harwich  (Coverage Map.)
  5. WMVY-FM/92.7 in Tisbury (Coverage Map.)

WMVY will remain on the Web. If you go to their website, a brief message directs you to this page, where an all-text message says,

This is real. We must evolve. Or face extinction.

By early 2013, mvyradio will either become a non-commerical, listener-supported operation or go silent. It’s that urgent and that simple.

For almost 30 years, mvyradio has broadcast on 92.7FM, bringing the Cape, Islands and Southcoast an eclectic mix of music and a spirit deeply rooted in our surroundings. It’s also been a fixture on listeners’ home computers, smart phones, tablets and internet radios.

Despite a devoted listenership, mvyradio has not been solvent.

We’ve been fortunate. Aritaur Communications has covered our losses, but that is no longer feasible.

As a result, Aritaur has sold the 92.7FM frequency to WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station. Once approved by the FCC in early 2013, WBUR will be heard on 92.7FM.

This is both an opportunity and a pretty gigantic challenge.

First, the opportunity. Only the FM signal has been sold to WBUR. Aritaur is contributing mvyradio’s programming, online content, equipment and staff to the non-profit Friends of mvyradio. So, the core is there.

That means mvyradio, as you know it — all the music, personalities, shows and web content — can live on as a non-commercial, internet public radio station.

That’s the opportunity. The future. Commercial-free.

Now the challenge. We need — the Friends of mvyradio needs — to raise $600,000 in pledges by the end of January.

Yes, that’s an enormous lift. But, one well worth making to keep an independent radio gem like mvyradio on the air.

Do you want mvyradio to live on? Or will it die like so many other independent broadcast treasures?

Please click through to the pledge page and help save mvyradio.

It goes on, but that’s the pitch.

Now let’s say you live on the Cape and like noncommercial radio. In addition to WBUR and mvyradio, you also have WCAI, the Cape And Islands station. Located in Woods Hole, it broadcasts from Martha’s Vineyard on 90.1fm, plus over WZAI/94.3 in Brewster and WNAN/91.1 in Nantucket. While WCAI is “a service of WGBH,” it operates independently, and is very much a regional station. Its only drawback is its dinky home station signal, which radiates from the same tower as WMVY. While WMVY is 300o watts, horizontal and vertical, at 315 feet above average terrain (height matters at least as much as power), WCAI is 1300 watts at 249 feet.It also radiates only in the vertical plane, and at full power only to the north, toward Woods Hole. In other directions it’s as little as 234 watts. (You can see the directional pattern here and the coverage here.) WCAI does have a construction permit for 12500 watts at 241 feet, from a different tower in the same location. That signal is directional too, but the dent is smaller and only toward the northeast, where the notch in its null is still 5087 watts. WZAI and WNAN are also good-size signals.

Then there is noncommercial classical WNCK in Nantucket, with these translators on Cape Cod:

  1. W230AW-FM/93.9 in Centerville (Coverage Map.)
  2. W246BA-FM/100.7 in Harwich Port (Coverage Map.)

WNCK carries WGBH’s classical programming from WCRB. It wants funding too.

That’s a lot of radio mouths for listeners to feed. I’m curious to see how it all sorts out, with WBUR horning in on WCAI’s home turf, and with mvyradio going Internet-only. As a “statutory webcaster,” mvyradio’s music royalty rates might be a bit higher at first. (See here.) In any case, they’ll have serious costs. They’ll also be competing with every other webcaster in the world.

This is a liminal time for radio, as the bulk of usage gradually tilts between over-the-air and over-the-Net. In the long run, the latter will outperform the former, just as FM outperformed AM back when the difference began to fully matter.

Coverage via the Net is worldwide: basically, anywhere with a good mobile data connection. Right now navigating one’s way to a stream is still complicated. Even good “tuners” on phones, such as TuneIn, can be frustrating to use. And without the old “dial” positions or “channels,” stations can be hard to find. And then there’s the whole matter of data charges by mobile phone companies, “caps” on usage and the rest of it. But we’ll work that out in time.

Meanwhile, check out the ratings (from Radio-Info.com) for the top markets. Look closely at Washington, D.C. (where I’m headed on Amtrak while I write this). WAMU a public station, has the top position with an 8.7 share. By radio standards, that’s just huge. And it’s ahead of all-news WTOP, which is the top-billing station in the whole country. Then scan down to the low-rated stations. WAMU’s stream gets an 0.3 share. That’s tied with several AM stations and 3 times the share of bottom-rated WFED, Federal News Radio, which transmits from WTOP’s original 50,000-watt powerhouse transmitter on 1500am. That’s a harbinger if I ever saw one.

Curious to know if any readers are following this, and how they weigh in on the changes. I can’t help writing about it, because I know the field — so well, in fact, that I can see whole parts of it going away.