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The Boston Globe

Business

WBUR expanding its reach on Cape Cod, Islands

Boston public radio station WBUR is expanding its reach on Cape Cod and the Islands, announcing on Tuesday the purchase of the 92.7 FM signal in Tisbury currently held by rock station WMVY.

For WBUR, the acquisition for an undisclosed sum fulfills a two-decade effort to expand its presence in the area and will allow it to broadcast to as many as 60,000 new listeners, starting early next year.

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“It’s a dream realized,” said WBUR general manager Charlie Kravetz.

For WMVY, the sale by parent company Aritaur Communications means an uncertain future. The station, which has broadcast on 92.7 FM for nearly 30 years, will attempt to continue as a nonprofit, streaming commercial-free music online and possibly broadcasting on a new FM channel. But it must raise $600,000 by the end of January to cover its annual operating costs and avoid a complete shutdown.

“We do see it as a realistic goal, based on the support we have from the audience we’ve already built online,” said Barbara Dacey, WMVY’s director of worldwide programming.

Longtime WMVY listeners, however, were upset at the prospect of losing a staple of island life. The station features a blend of new and classic rock music, spotlights local artists, and sometimes introduces listeners to up-and-coming musicians.

Singer-songwriter Carly Simon, who lives on the Vineyard, said she has fond memories of visiting the small building that houses WMVY to promote performances at the Hot Tin Roof, a former night club in Edgartown that Simon co-owned. Simon said she and other WMVY listeners feel personal connections to the station’s disc jockeys.

Whenever she would return to the Vineyard by car, Simon said, she would “always see at what point I can get 92.7 because it’s part of Martha’s Vineyard. It’s a beacon. To lose it would be unimaginable.”

WMVY listeners who called the station Tuesday voiced their disappointment at the possibility it could disappear from the radio airwaves. Others posted supportive messages on the websites of local media outlets and pledged to contribute to keep WMVY alive.

Kerry Alley, an Oak Bluffs resident and codirector of the Red Stocking Fund of Martha’s Vineyard, said in an interview that WMVY’s instability is a “very scary thing” for his group, which collects money for needy children’s Christmas gifts and delivers holiday meals to local families.

“We have three big fund-raising events that raise most of our $75,000 or $80,000 each year, and two of them are sponsored by the radio station,” Alley said.

For WBUR, adding 92.7 FM is the latest move in its long-running competition with public radio rival WGBH, which broadcasts a mix of syndicated and local programming on WCAI in Woods Hole.

WGBH has made a series of recent moves to challenge WBUR’s local news presence, including cutting jazz shows to increase its news and talk programs, and in July purchasing Public Radio International, a syndicator of popular shows such as “This American Life.”

WBUR’s new signal also extends its potential donor pool to the affluent summer retreat of Martha’s Vineyard.

“Any time you can grow your audience, you can grow your support base,” Kravetz said. “We’re excited about that, but that was not the driving force.”

With new audience members in mind, WBUR will likely cover the Cape and Islands more extensively, Kravetz said. But there will be no new bureau or major personnel changes. The 92.7 signal will carry the same content that airs on 90.9 FM, WBUR’s flagship station.

WBUR has been eyeing the Cape and Islands for over 20 years, Kravetz said, and made unsuccessful bids earlier this year for stations in the region.

WBUR already broadcasts on two FM stations on Cape Cod, WSDH in Sandwich and WCCT in Harwich, but the 3,000-watt signal at 92.7 is significantly more powerful than those two little stations.

Callum Borchers can be reached at callum.borchers@globe.com.
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