10 Questions with ... PJ Finn
April 15, 2013
1. Tell us about the recent change in ownership of the station.
We had been owned by Aritaur Communications for about 15 years. At one time Aritaur had owned a number of radio stations, but one by one had sold them off, keeping WMVY in tact and trying to move it forward. They had also pursued several tech enterprises and were finding success in those fields. In the wake of the Great Recession, advertising dollars just dried up for us. The company was able to weather the worst of it and trudge forward with a minimum of cutbacks, but the recovery has been too slow. They needed to sell despite their love of the station, the brand and the concept.
The solution was pretty inventive. WBUR, Public Radio in Boston, was looking for a way to improve their coverage of Cape Cod. I think with most ownerships they would have just sold off the business -- lock, stock and barrel. But because Aritaur was sincere in their desire to preserve the station, they chose a less-simple, but more gratifying path.
The 92.7FM frequency, which had carried WMVY for nearly 30 years, is now owned by WBUR, which rebroadcasts their Boston-based content. But the staff, facilities and intellectual property of WMVY is being donated to Friends of mvyradio, which is a non-profit administered by Public Radio Capital. So, going forward, we will be a non-commercial, non-profit radio station.
2. Congrats on the fund drive you recently did - tell us about what that will allow you guys to do.
Raising $600,000 in 60 days gives us a little running room. That number represents the full operating budget for a year. It allowed everyone to keep their jobs, and for the station to not have to make any programming changes. This includes keeping all our home-grown specialty shows, and our live streaming concert coverage.
Now that we are covered through the end of 2013, we are working on fundraising plans to make budget for 2014 and beyond. Our sales department has shifted gears to sell underwriting. And we have some time to try to write grants.
3. MVY already had a strong Internet presence; how do you plan to enhance that?
One of the big pushes we are making is to increase our distribution points. We've created a station widget/player that has just been added to the home page of the local newspapers, the Chamber Of Commerce homepage and other Martha's Vineyard related sites. The widget streams the station and includes embedding code so that anyone can have an mvyradio player on their webpage, blog, etc.
4. Where can the station still be heard via radio?
For the last 10 years or so, we have been carried on 96.5FM in Newport, a low-power translator station owned by David Maxson. Because the signal was not owned by Aritaur, it was not part of the sale to WBUR. Mr. Maxson has kindly agreed to keep mvyradio on 96.5FM. And thanks to an agreement with Rhode Island Public Radio, we are still able to feed that translator via RIPR's HD2 signal.
5. Goals for an FM signal in Martha's Vineyard again?
Getting back on the FM on Martha's Vineyard is a top priority. There are a few low-power license holders on the Island, so we are exploring possible buy or lease options. Nothing is imminent, but we know being on the FM is important to our listeners.
6. Has the sound of the station changed at all?
The pitch of the Save mvyradio campaign was that if we could raise the full amount of money, we could keep everything, programming-wise, in tact. So we have worked really hard on delivering a sense of continuity. The worst possible outcome of the fundraising would be for people to have contributed, and for them to feel like we then became something else. Many listeners were concerned that their favorite show might go away, or that we would drop local news and other Vineyard coverage. We promised that this would not change one bit.
We have gone from being commercial, to being non-commercial and the disappearance of commercial content does change the sound and the flow. It also frees up an average of 10 to 12 minutes per hour that had previous been spot breaks, and are now more songs. So the trick has been to try to keep the same balance of old to new, rocking to folky, alternative to mainstream, while playing another 50 to 70 songs each day. Statistical heaven for programming geeks!
7. How much of the staff made the transition?
We did have one salesperson who felt that selling underwriting would not provide enough personal income. Otherwise, we're thrilled to say that everyone on staff is still with us. We have a very stable staff. The last new hire I made was four years ago, and most of the on-air staff has been with the station for 10 years or more.
8. Of the many you no doubt face, what are your most immediate challenges?
We have two immediate challenges: One is to do our best to convert our FM listeners to streaming. We have a great base of online listening -- over half the donations to Save mvyradio came from addresses outside of our old FM signal area. But many, many of our longtime local listeners had never listened to the station online. So we're helping folks with the learning curve as best we can. We're producing how-to videos and tutorials. And we've asked the listeners who DO stream to send in pictures of how they connect to the station. If you visit our Facebook page, you'll find photos of various Internet radios, stereo hook-ups, and mobile devices patched into car sound systems.
The second major challenge is to start fundraising. In the wake of what was a 60-day fund drive, we've kept things quiet for the first part of this year. But we're going to have to really gear up our efforts to shore up listener donations for 2014's budget. And our sales department has the task of converting former advertisers into underwriters. That will be a big leap for some businesses.
9. How do you feel about the current climate of music?
It's a great time for Triple A radio. The focus of the whole music business has largely shifted away from creating superstar acts, and leaned more toward having artists build modest but devoted followings. Our foundation has been built on artists like John Hiatt and Patty Griffin. Their next album isn't going to sell a million copies, but that doesn't mean they'll get dropped by their label. Instead, they'll just make another great record next year. So the pressure for the artist isn't on sales, so much as it is about creating something that folks care deeply about. That's a good environment to be programming a radio station in.
10. What is the one truth that has held constant throughout your career?
If you make people a part of something, and allow them to connect in a real way, they will care and they will stay. It's the reason that our staff has been with the station so long, and why no one jumped ship even when it seemed like we might all lose our jobs. And it's the reason that listeners were quick and generous with donations to save the station. Years of conversational on-air delivery, personally answering every e-mail that comes into the station, sending hand-written thank-you notes ... it makes MVY something more than just an application that spits out music. Listeners react to the station, and to the DJs, as real live humans.
What is your typical day like?
I'm up by 6a, making coffee, lunches for everyone, get my wife off to work and the kids dressed, fed and off to pre-school, and then I'm on my commute -- a ferry ride from the mainland to Martha's Vineyard. There's WiFi on the ride, so I'm answering e-mails and doing show prep. Into the station by 10:30a for any meetings, phone calls and staff needs. I'm into music scheduling or taking music calls by noon. And my air shift starts at 1p. I might squeeze in a music meeting with Barbara Dacey somewhere in the middle of the day, and I track-ahead the last hour of my shift. Back on the ferry to the mainland at 5p. Dinner with the family and then after the kids' bedtime, the laptop comes back out to circle back on any communication, and to write a post for "Every Day I Write The Blog."
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time away from work?
I have a five-year-old daughter and the three-year-old son, so my wife and I spend as much time as possible enjoying these years when the kids are small. My wife is an elementary school art teacher, so you're likely to find the four of us in her home studio making art and listening to music. And for the few months of the year it's warm enough, we're on Cape Cod's beautiful beaches as much as possible.