When independent radio producer Jay Allison settled in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, far from the steady signal of any National Public Radio station, he decided to do something about it. In 1992 he founded the Cape and Islands Community Public Radio [CICPR] organization and applied to the Federal Communications Commission [FCC] to obtain two public radio frequencies – one to cover the upper Cape and the Vineyard, and the other to reach Nantucket. He and his team had a vision of a non-commercial radio station on Cape Cod that would run NPR programming and also air stories of local and regional interest.
In 1996, the FCC granted a license to CICPR, with the call letters WCAI, and in 1997, WGBH Radio agreed to partner with WCAI, and crucial to Allison’s original vision, allow the new station to create its own identity as a station creative at its heart and profoundly connected to community.
Shortly before 6AM on September 25, 2000 WCAI (90.1FM) made its on air debut, joining WNAN (91.1FM) serving Cape Cod and the Islands.
(JAY ALLISON, FOUNDER):
That was the first word spoken…. here on these broadcast frequencies: 90.1 WNAN Nantucket and now 91.1 WCAI Woods Hole/Martha’s Vineyard, the Cape & Island’s new NPR Stations.
And, it has been a long time coming, that word. Eight years to be exact, since a bunch of local Cape and Islands residents decided our community ought to have its own public radio service. Eight years of applications, hearings, fundraising, stamp-licking, and every other volunteer activity that goes along with making something that wasn’t there before.
Then, a few years ago, our local team was lucky enough to gain the support of WGBH-Boston, who took us under their wing and brought us, together, to this day.
Our purpose is community service. A sane and respectful place to talk. An ear on the rest of the world. A crossroads in our daily paths where we can meet and gather, and even create change. That is perhaps a lofty goal for a mere radio signal, but a radio signal has the singular ability to proclaim all our separate identities, while it also spans our boundaries to bring us together.
These radio frequencies are a precious community resource. Non-commercial space on the radio dial. Like conservation land… they don’t make it anymore. In fact, we’re the ONLY new public radio service signing on in the United States in the year 2000, which makes this moment mildly historic.
And it is also a moment full of possibility. We now begin the process of Becoming. Our identity will grow and change over time. It will be made manifest in the words, reports, argument, music, and conversation you’ll hear in the years to come. Many years, we hope. As many as we can imagine.
I’m Jay Allison from Woods Hole, founder of WCAI and WNAN, and on behalf of all the people who have worked and volunteered their time over the last eight years to come to this moment… welcome.
Keep listening. Tell us how we’re doing. We’ll be listening too.
[SOUND OF WAVES]
(JOHN VOCI: STATION DIRECTOR):
And now, WCAI, 90.1 joins WNAN 91.1, Nantucket. This is John Voci, WCAI and WNAN Station Director. Today WCAI begins its broadcast day, its first broadcast day.
Under authorization granted by the Federal Communications Commission, WCAI broadcasts at 90.1 Megahertz and WNAN at 91.1 Megahertz with an effective radiated power of 1300 and 1400 watts respectively.
Both WCAI and WNAN are owned and operated by the WGBH Educational Foundation with studios and offices at 3 Water Street in Woods Hole and transmission facilities at 14 Eel Point Road, Nantucket and 57 Carrolls Way, Vineyard Haven.
Welcome and listen.
After those words aired, we played this “love letter” from Carol Wasserman. We first met Carol when she showed up with a couple of type-written pages. Her writing was beautiful. We produced it and sent it to All Things Considered, where she became a frequent commentator. Hers is a real life story of the occasional magic of public radio.
Imagine that you are a young woman who has made several unfortunate choices, and finds herself alone with her child on the hardscrabble coast of Massachusetts. Without a clue what to do next.
It may come as a surprise that there is a stretch of coastline, in the otherwise prosperous and progressive Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which is not only beautiful, but hard and poor. A place where there are few jobs, no public transportation, and, in winter, lots of little kids without decent winter coats. A place of deep saltwater harbors, cranberry bogs, and profound silence in the weeks after Labor Day.
A place where many of the locals have a couple of long, hungry days at the end of every month, waiting for the foodstamps to come in.
Imagine that you are too far from Boston to benefit from its roiling, explosive energy and opportunities. Too far from Providence. Too far from anywhere except the raggedy, sweet, unpretentious place which you call home. What will you do, and how will you live?
You will take a succession of meaningless jobs, for little money. State law requires an employer to provide health insurance to those who work twenty hours a week. You will be hired to work nineteen. You will spend your life providing the Department of Transitional Assistance with photocopies of your pitiful bank statement and your electricity bills and – frequently – copies of your medical records. So that anyone might answer for themselves the question which you have asked yourself over and over and over, namely: “What is *wrong* with you?”
There is nothing wrong with you, but you don’t know that yet. You spend your evenings with the radio on, listening to the voices in the darkness. You spend your days in a factory, counting things into piles of ten as they pass in front of you on a conveyor belt. But when you get home, public radio is there to tell you what happened while you were gone.
You listen to a woman named Susan Stamberg, who has a deep throaty laugh, and whom you imagine would make a good best friend.
You develop a hopeless crush on John Hockenberry, and wish that you had been gifted with even a small portion of his bravado and wit.
One day the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, upon hearing the voice of an elderly woman named Bailey White. You later find out that she is younger than you are, which merely serves to increase the awe you feel upon hearing her voice in your kitchen in the gathering dark.
You listen for the news from Lake Wobegon, because you believe that Garrison Keillor is delivering sermons meant for your attention.
You listen to Daniel Pinkwater’s stories about Yiddish-speaking dogs.
You listen to everything. All of it. Wishing that you were on the radio, too. An implausible, grandiose idea.
Imagine, then, that one day you are sitting in the public library, using the computers. You read on the internet about a new public radio station being built in Woods Hole, over the Bridge, forty-five minutes and a lifetime away. You send them a resume with not much on it. And a story about what things are like for you, there on the hardscrabble coast of Massachusetts.
One year later, you still sit down at four o’clock each day to listen to All Things Considered. You make yourself a cup of tea, after a morning spent working on the manuscript of a forthcoming book. You are still surprised, on those afternoons when your commentaries air, to hear Noah Adams say your name. And then you pretend to be your young self, listening in, amazed at the woman you have become.
But all you have become is part of the achingly important institution of public radio. Which pulled you from deep water and into the boat. Which gave you a voice, and surprised you with the news that there is nothing wrong with you at all, except that you had not yet told your stories.
Not yet learned to accept the invitation which public radio has always extended to all of us. To listen. And, if we will, speak up.
Carol Wasserman is a writer from Wareham, Massachusetts.