How I Keep Calm: This Radio Station from Martha’s Vineyard

Listening to WMVY allows me to dream of summer days, of being a kid, head out the window, salt air in my nose.

Growing up, my family spent one week every summer on Nantucket, an island 30 miles off the coast of Massachusetts. For me, Nantucket was — and still is — my heaven on Earth. But perhaps my favorite part of these trips was listening to the local radio station. Without fail, the weather was always perfect on our arrival day. And so, when we’d finally drive off the ferry, we’d roll down the windows and turn on WMVY Radio.

Of all the radio stations in the world, MVY ranks among the more obscure. It’s an independent radio station broadcasting out of Martha’s Vineyard, with a wattage reaching about as far as Rhode Island (though that’s a relatively new development). For a time, my family only listened to it once a year, during the week we spent in Nantucket. (Nantucket is 31.5 miles away, by boat, from Martha’s Vineyard.)

We discovered the station originally from the same person who originally told us about Nantucket. He occupies a unique role in my life: He’s my godfather, despite godparents not being a very Jewish thing. While there’s no official godparent role in the Jewish faith, my parents chose four people for my sister and me, not as guides in faith but rather as honorariums to people close to them.

The MVY radio station has been around since 1983, and it tends to feature folk artists, singer-songwriters, and alt-rock. The station has great taste, though it’s certainly not perfect — occasionally, it tends to get a little folksy for my liking. More often than not, however, it tends to be a breath of musical fresh air, the way I wish my Spotify playlists sounded.

And when the playlist is humming just right, there may be nothing better. Song after song is better than the next. Nothing too overpowering, nothing too dramatic. Just damn good music. And when you add on the public radio vibe — there’s the afternoon mind bender with midday DJ Alison Hammond, the “At Work Challenge” with executive director PJ Finn, island-focused news updates — combined with the salt air scent in the background, it’s perfect.

We haven’t been to Nantucket as a family since 2014, and though my wife and I have gone since, we haven’t gone with a car, robbing us of that initial moment of musical bliss.

And so, as we started to go less and less, I started to listen to MVY Radio less and less. And even though MVY has a website and app, for a long time, it was too wonky for regular listening. The app literally crashed upon opening for a few years straight. Sometimes, the website just wouldn’t stream. I’d listen to it occasionally through college, but rarely, preferring hard-charging rock to keep me going through endless papers. The computers at my first job blocked TuneIn, the only reliable way to listen to it at the time. It just sort of fell to the wayside, an icon on my phone’s screen, the occasional stream, but nothing more.

Until now. As the world falls apart, I crave comfort. And since I can’t quite get that from my favorite restaurants, from seeing my friends and family, from living as I usually would, I’ve turned to MVY. Sure, the Beach and Boating forecast doesn’t apply, the updates on COVID-19 testing at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School aren’t quite as pressing as the COVID updates in my backyard, and local job openings, though tempting, aren’t practical.

Nevertheless, it’s oddly comforting to have someone guiding me through the workday, instead of an automated Spotify playlist. It’s refreshing to a have a voice chime in every so often, to talk about the music. And listening to MVY is simply so much better than listening to the news. It allows me to focus. It allows me to relax. It allows me to be. It allows me to dream of summer days, of being a kid, head out the window, salt air in my nose, MVY in my ears.

Every morning, as I log on to work, I tell myself that I’m going to listen to the news. I’m going to be totally informed, I’m going to know every calamity. That lasts, at most, an hour. Then it becomes too much, too daunting. It becomes not a companion, but a distraction.

So, inevitably, I put on MVY. (The app, I’m happy to report, works perfectly now.) And my foot starts tapping. And my head starts bobbing. And I start typing along to the rhythm. And I find, even for a little bit, that the end-times don’t seem quite as near.

My wife and I were planning on going back to Nantucket this summer, along with my parents, sister, brother-in-law, and my 9-month-old niece. It would’ve been the first time in a long time that we would all be there together. It would be the first time in a long time that we would drive there. It would be the first time in a long time that we would drive off the ferry, roll down the windows, and turn on MVY. The weather, I know, would’ve been perfect.

We have, of course, postponed that trip.

Recently, my wife and I decided to get out of our apartment in New Jersey and take a drive. Go anywhere — just away. From our place, we drove down a surprisingly uncrowded Long Island Expressway. We had a destination — Greenport, on the North Fork — but really, we just wanted to see some water.

As we got off the highway, driving through this charming little town, we rolled down the windows and turned on MVY.

At that point, we were two ferry rides and a three-hour drive away from being on our beloved island, from being on vacation, from feeling a semblance of normalcy in these un-normal times.

But for a few hours, at least, the wind was whipping off the water, the air smelled just enough like salt.

And for a few hours, at least, it all felt okay.

how I keep calm

How I Keep Calm is our series featuring different ways people manage anxiety. If you have a pitch for this column, please e-mail with “How I Keep Calm” in the subject line.

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